For my MFA in Design thesis at California College of the Arts, I explored navigation and the benefits of getting lost, both physically and psychologically. Smartphones, Google maps, and GPS are firmly embedded in our lives, making it increasingly difficult to get lost and exceedingly rare that we experience finding our way back. We use these tools to get to places efficiently, but we are losing our natural ability to find ourselves and enjoy moments of exploration and discovery along the way. Through experimentation with devices and mapping I looked at various ways to play with navigation and getting lost. I want to help people discover their surroundings by getting a little off-course, adrift, or outright lost in ways that are enjoyable and help connect the dots in our cognitive maps.
Research & Early Experiments
Topographical Map of My Research Area
Each peak is an area of interest relating to navigation and getting lost, each layer represents a leader in a field, study, creative project, or other influential item. Trails represent leaders who cross over multiple peaks.
Get Lost App Wireframe
The Get Lost app asks for a couple basic parameters (mode of transportation, distance, time), and leads you on a journey showing only the most necessary information. This helps the person let go, explore new places, and pay attention to their surroundings.
Group Cognitive Map of San Francisco
I asked colleagues to draw their commute to school, filling in any street names they knew as well as landmarks that stood out to them day to day. I layered these maps to see if they would uncover anything new to me. Unsurprisingly, they did not layer smoothly since all of the drawings were off in one way or another; roads were disproportionate or were drawn in wrong directions. More revealing than the road placements, were details such as stores, trees, cars, statues, and homeless people.
Lost at Home
I blindfolded myself for two hours in my apartment and left myself some paper and pens so I could draw. The experiment was worth trying, but I never fully felt lost; I just felt really tired and was unable to focus. Here is a time-lapse of me wandering around my apartment and drawing blindly. I’ve also included some of my drawings from the two hours.
Homing Compass & Wandering Compass
After an experience getting lost in Balboa Park, I was inspired to create a homing compass (code on GitHub). I explored multiple forms, including a mobile phone case, a web app, and an amulet of sorts. The initial idea was to create a small, simple, screenless object that would always show you where home is. Home would not have to be a static location; you could set a new home position anywhere (at a subway station, at your favorite café, at a remote beach . . . or in a future version, toward a loved one). You would then be free to explore the surrounding area, and open yourself to getting lost—all with the comfort of knowing where home is.
How does a compass that always points to a loved one change our relationships to places and with each other? How does navigating by landmarks change how we relate to space?
How can a compass help build our mental maps?
Logging & Mapping
I asked 10 people to enable a GPS tracking app on their mobile phones and send me the data for differing lengths of time. Patterns emerged, showing where people go and where they don’t go. Along with tracking others, I tracked myself for over two months so I could understand how it feels to know that every move I make is recorded. The more I saw my map grow and the more I saw my predictable routes, the more I wanted to draw new paths in the city and fill my map.
The Landscape Journal is a conceptual merging of the Homing and Wandering Compasses with the mapping visualizations that would show your travel patterns, highlighting new paths taken, and locations of memories and discoveries. The compass would gather information about where you have been and it could direct you towards new points of interest. You could mark moments of discovery and then view your paths and those moments in the filterable Landscape Journal app or a physical monthly/yearly journal. By seeing your habitual paths and your new paths, you would be encouraged to explore new places and draw new paths in your map. Few people would want to be that person who only has one line to and from work.