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It’s a left turn here…right?

Maps. They usually either have a heart-felt or anger ridden memory attached to them. Personally, I love maps. I love the fact you can always rely on them to be accurate, are full of interesting icons and generally please my slight OCD with their neatness. So when Knowsley Safari asked us to look into the design of their maps, I was instantly intrigued. 

Maps have come a long way in their lengthy history. From the simple hand drawn houses of the Bodleian Map (thought of as the first known map of the British isles, dated around 1360) to the hand-drawn maps of hipster spots that now adorn the walls of popular craft ale establishments. In between, Ordnance Survey maps have helped navigate walkers and military strategists alike.  

However, theme park and zoo maps are a world of their own. Often places choc-a-block full of activities, places to eat and things to see, the visitor experience needs to be carefully considered when designing maps and wayfinding devices. Consistency is key across signage, maps, guides, apps and more. There’s also health and safety to be considered - in an emergency people immediately need to know where to find help. Quite often the illustration style and typography hinder these needs rather than help. Generally, the more 3D text and icons littering the map, the harder it is to actually see where anything is (I won’t name names!).   

We decided to keep things simple with the Knowsley maps to help visitors find their favourite animals as soon as they enter the safari drive or foot safari. Here’s how:

  • Zones are clearly marked and a colour coding system was adopted, which was also consistent within the guidebook 
  • We wanted to include illustrations to add personality and show off the broad range of animals and activities available at Knowsley Safari, but we kept it simple. Flat colours, with shadow and detail kept to a minimum 
  • Paths and roads are clearly shown in a bright contrasting colour to the background. ‘Private’ paths were removed to avoid visitor confusion
  • Typographical hierarchy is important - smaller attraction names need to be seen after the zone or area name
  • We made sure necessities such as toilets, first aid and refreshments were clearly marked with icons and a supporting key
Knowsley Safari map
Knowsley Safari map
 
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Most importantly, being able to easily find key points of interest, dining and other facilities allows visitors to enjoy a less stressful experience. When you have your own little monkeys to look after, the last thing you need is a heated discussion about whether you’ve been past this viewing point before.

GPS and digital mapping obviously is a huge benefit for modern day smart phone users. Knowsley Safari already has a companion app, which pin-points your exact location and tells you about the animals in that area. There is also a new VR element to their offering where visitors can scan pages from the guidebook to see virtual versions of the safari animals. 

Knowsley Safari companion app
Tech company Metaio developed a ‘penguin satnav’
 
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What’s in store for the future of wayfinding, you ask? I think virtual and augmented reality is going to have a big impact. There are already companies exploring this avenue – tech company Metaio developed a ‘penguin satnav’, where users follow a group of adorable penguins to the front door of a Japanese zoo. There is a lot of potential to take navigation from an anxiety-ridden experience to a fun, memorable one. I can’t wait.

Vicky Carlin is a creative artworker at If Agency