Neighborhood Pathfinder

For my thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University, I designed a cellphone based navigation system for pedestrians. The design uses a series of geo-tagged cameraphone images to create a dynamic landmark map of the immediate neighborhood.

My goal is to encourage residents to explore the world just outside their normal range of experience.

Pathfinder Demo

Neighborhood Wayfinder

The Problem

Most wayfinding systems focus on discovery, finding the way from points A to B. Relatively little has been done to encourage a broader exploration of the environment. What does exist seems designed for those driving vehicles. In large cities where parking is at a premium, pedestrians are generally left to their own devices. I decided to fill this niche by designing a wayfinding system that could be used on foot.

My Approach

I immersed myself in the field of wayfinding design by studying various mapping and signage systems and focusing on the work of Kevin Lynch in The Image of the City. I also visited several unfamiliar cities to experience wayfinding on a visceral level and study the problems associated with learning a new place.

On a human scale, landmarks are a vital part of most people's cognitive maps. I decided to leverage the knowledge of neighborhood residents by allowing them to share landmarks in a constantly evolving photo map of the city.


I recruited students from CMU to photograph the campus with cameraphones, focusing on places they felt would be important for such a navigation system. I organized their photos into a set of situational types, such as "Places to Eat," and created a navigation prototype in Macromedia Flash Lite on a Nokia 6600.

Finally, I tested and refined the design with the help of students from the University of Pittsburgh, who used the mobile system to find their way around campus.