Spatial versus narrative navigators

Spatial versus narrative navigators

Do we have an innate sense of direction, or does the city grid teach it to us? City Room conducted an unscientific study, asking participants which direction is “north:”

Of 20 New Yorkers interviewed — some beneath Union Square, some in the sun in the park itself — 13 pointed to north accurately and instantly, 4 pointed in the wrong direction, 2 pointed to the sky …

The sky! They also gave participants a simple test that lines up neatly with what Jarrett Walker over at Human Transit explains as spatial and narrative navigation:

See also:
Cartographic confusion, or when traversing NYC is “enlarged by its complexity”

Spatial navigators can construct maps in their heads as they experience a place, and also tend to be good at using maps as navigational aids. Narrative navigators navigate by creating or following verbal directions. For spatial navigators, the answer to the question where? is a position in mapped space. For narrative navigators, the answer to where? is a story about how to get there. Obviously, this is a spectrum; many of us are in the middle with partial capabilities in both directions.

What does this have to do with transit?

I think transit agencies need to be conscious of these different styles of navigation when they design information and directions. Only a spatial navigator can tell you if a map works well. Only a narrative navigator can tell you if directions do.

And then decades of travel fell into place.