You've arrived in Cambridge expecting the splendour of King's College Chapel... or at the very least an obvious route to see it. Instead you are confused outside a Caffe Nero. A sign points to town, though a windswept sign a little further own the road is pointing in a different direction.
This is one of many quirks, complexities, and accessibility issues affecting visitors to the city. The Hack the City event was a wayfinding exercise, aimed at finding new ideas to improve navigating in Cambridge.
The event was not aimed specifically at finding routes for tourists. During the hackathon, teams travelled from the station to the Guildhall, and from the Guildhall to the Bradfield Centre at the science park. Along the way, we had to consider our journey from the point of view of someone visiting for business or leisure, and not people who lived here. We were not allowed to use cars or taxis.
There was a big group of us on the day and John, Amy and Gowthami from Eastpoint joined up with new friend Arthur to form the legendary 'Eastpoint and Arthur' team (neva4get).
Having travelled the wayfinding route (walking to the Guildhall and then bussing to the science park) we started to think about the problem's we'd had. From there we narrowed down our solution to target a specific type of visitor and problem.
We had several digital ideas, including a wayfinding mobile app for walkers and cyclists. We decided to shrink our ambitions to something we felt the council could implement quickly as a 'first step' and in retrospect probably went too lo-fi in our search for something immediately feasible.
Our idea was to utilise an existing asset - bins - and use them to signpost routes into the city. We did a few sketches to brainstorm what this could look like and what information would be provided.
Routes are all from the station, and visitors can pick based on their needs, the time they have, where they want to end up, etc. For example, there could be an accessible route with wide paths, a more scenic route that goes to King's, and a longer, 'park route' that winds round to St John's.
In addition, we came up with a design idea, based on the London Underground map. We drew up a basic first go at this which was more stylised and sparse than we would expect to actually use, but it gives an idea of what we mean. Essentially, visitors can pick a coloured route and then follow that colour 'at a glance', a concept many visitors are already aware of from the underground, or perhaps hiking routes.
Our idea didn't win any prizes on the day but we had a great time and it really was awesome to hear everyone else's ideas. All in all this hackathon really made us think much more about wayfinding in Cambridge and I recommend going to this type of event if you get the opportunity.
Many thanks to Smart Cambridge, Cambridge Association of Architects and Cambridge Hack for putting on this excellent free event.