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The challenges of Wayfinding in Dubai


The challenges of Wayfinding in Dubai

Wayfinding, in simple terms, should make navigation from point A to B easier, highlighting milestones along the way and making it perfectly clear to the traveller that they are heading in the right direction.

But how often do you find yourself missing your destination, not due to the lack of signs, but because they were placed in the wrong location or the landscape has changed since they were put up? If you live in Dubai, chances are the answer would be very often.

Dubai is unique, and I say that while being fully aware that every city is unique in its own way. But Dubai is especially so. It’s a city with a large mix of traditions and modernity, of modesty and blatant opulence and of abundance and scarcity. But what really strikes you the most about Dubai is its multi-cultural population and its super fast development over the last 14 years. While it’s Dubai’s way of putting supply in place for the future demand, the rapidly changing infrastructure and real estate developments have certainly made the world sit up and take notice.

However, the less talked about side of this story is that the development witnessed in Dubai has been so fast that the citizens and the working population had, and still have, a lot to catch up with. And what’s more, the city’s development plans are sporadic and often masterplans are redone and then redone again.

So how has this made wayfinding in Dubai a challenge?

The 2012 updated GPS system in my car is often pointing in the wrong direction simply because where there was a road before is a high rise building now. One year is a long time in Dubai!

If you do not manage to read the signs carefully (amongst the dozens of them bunched together) while driving at a speed of 100 kph (at least) you are bound to get lost and miss that one vital turn. And once you lose it, the flyovers are literally going to fly you to a far away land (and you thought you needed a flying carpet for that?). And it doesn’t really sound that funny when it’s happening to you.

Stopping and asking for directions is not quite a Dubai thing (less to blame on the citizens, its more about the speed at which the cars pass by) unless you can catch hold of a taxi driver at the signal and really hope that he understands your question over your accent! And often streets have a number for a name and at times no name at all.

Endpoint leading the way

At Endpoint, we have developed Wayfinding solutions and designs for a number of major urban developments in the Middle East, and one thing that experience has taught us is that more often than not a wayfinding consultant will be brought in either too early or too late! And in both these situations, there is risk involved.

Case no. 1 – We were appointed for a residential development project that was some years away from completion. While we raised this concern several times and worked on the strategy and reached our conclusions nonetheless, the masterplan underwent changes and it was only then the client realised that they brought us in too early.

Case no. 2 – Appointments within a week and the project to be wrapped up within a month – impossible deadlines that lead to frustrations and confusion on both sides. Hence, it is often up to us to decide whether we’d be able to do justice to the project.

Through our experience we have learnt to always read between the lines and try not to go with the flow – max out the opportunity to ask questions and raise the alarm at the smallest of deviation from the plan. One key take away for us is to help educate the client, making them understand why starting early, which makes good business sense otherwise, might not be such a good idea for wayfinding and on the other extreme, why a month might not be enough to deliver quality.

Then again, with all its flaws one can easily get used to Dubai, its air and its mystique. After all, what makes a city unique is its character and culture blended with a set of imperfections that you understand as you go along. Is there room for improvement? Yes, definitely! And how is it to be brought about? That’s the question we at Endpoint are trying to answer, one client at a time. Now isn’t that something we consultants are supposed to be good at?

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