Because the Web is able to deliver dynamic, graphic information, navigational information need no longer be an ad hoc affair, given in words by people whose spatial memory comes with no guarantees of quality. Most people still navigate by reading notes that they scrawled while on the phone, which seem to invariably leave out or get wrong at least one crucial piece of information. The directions won't note that the southeastern staircase must be used, or that a key is required after five o'clock, or that the building is not visible from any street.
My goal was to provide a usable navigation system, one that allowed people to not only easily find information that would help people navigate through the campus but to easily link to pages that would show others how to get to the location of interest. Thus people would be encouraged to make links to maps on their home pages showing the location of their office, seminar announcements, meeting locations, and classroom locations.
Towards that end, I built a navigational system consisting of many tightly interlocking pieces:
People used to ask me why I included latitude and longitude information. I used to say, "I don't know, but if I put it there, someone might find a novel use for it. If I don't put it there, nobody will find a novel use for it." There is now some talk, however, of using that information to estimate travel time between points. This travel time could be used to advise registering students of overly aggressive transfers between classes.
Furthermore, occupancy information can be determined on a room-by-room basis by clicking on the appropriate room. For example, clicking on the floorplan at room 117 (on Figure 11A) will take you to the General Engineering Department's home page (Figure 13). (To get to different floors, the user can click on the stairs or the elevator.)
Once on the General Engineering Department's home page (Figure 13), clicking on the text 117 Transportation Building will take the user to a page showing the first floor of the Transportation Building with room 117 circled (Figure 14). This "zooming out" can continue for several more layers. Clicking on Where am I on campus? on this page will take the user to a map of the Engineering campus with the Transportation Building circled (Figure 15). Clicking on All-Campus Map at the bottom of this page will take the user to the all-campus map with the Engineering campus circled (Figure 16). Two more levels of "zooming out" are possible to show the location of the campus in relation to Champaign and Urbana, and the location of Champaign-Urbana in Champaign County.
"Zooming in" is also possible. From the all-campus map (Figure 16), clicking on the top rectangle will take the user to the Engineering campus map (Figure 15 but without the circle). From the Engineering campus map, clicking on the Transportation Building will take the user to the Transportation Building lobby (Figures 11A and 11B).
All 134 buildings with information can be "zoomed in" on in this manner, and all the buildings' locations can be found by "zooming out" from their respective lobbies, with circles surrounding the building of interest the appropriate map - one of four area maps, or on the all-campus map for those outside the main campus core.
The URLs for these maps and floorplans was very deliberately kept simple. It would have been relatively simple to write code that took the name of a GIF file and x-y coordinates from a URL and based all manipulations on that information. However, human beings don't think naturally in terms of pixels on an image. Humans think in terms of rooms numbers and buildings. Thus, extra work was done so that the information embedded in the URL would be the building and the room number instead of the location of the GIF file and the bounding box of that room.
Care was also taken to allow for appropriate fallbacks. If the location of a room in a building was requested, but no floorplans were ready for that building, the program would return instead the location of the building. This was done at the time of the access, so that people could make links to rooms that didn't have floorplans. Once the floorplans were made available for that building, the person's old link would suddenly show the room circled instead of the building. No intervention on the author's part would be required.
In all, there are 800 pages in the virtual tour - four compass directions at 200 geographical points. The points are, for the most part, a half a block apart, and cover the University property between University Ave on the north, Sixth Street on the west, Taft on the south, and Goodwin on the east.
The tour can be accessed in several ways. Aside from typing in a URL or selecting a link from the navigation index page, clicking near the entrance of a building on a floorplan can take the user into a tour. For example, clicking near the west door of the Transportation Building floorplan in Figure 11A will take the user to a view from the west door (Figure 25). (This is happens to be the same page that the user would come to by clicking on Turn Around in Figure 24.) Users can also click on a street in an area map, and for most locations on the Quad, Engineering campus, and Agriculture/Business maps, will be taken to the appropriate point in the virtual walkthrough.
The wheelchair pages were definitely
an afterthought, something that turned out to be easy to do once all the other
pieces were developed. They ended up yielding the most emotional appreciation
and an award from the disabled students organization. The wheelchair access
information also has a much broader utility than I had originally thought: information
about ramps and elevators is very useful when moving equipment between buildings,
or even for freshmen trying to figure out the vagaries of old, confusing buildings.
The wheelchair access pages, available from many of the building lobbies,
list elevators, stairs, ramps, automatic door openers, bathrooms, and any other
obstacles that people with mobility restrictions could encounter. Furthermore,
because rooms could be circled via the above system, links to exact locations
could be made in the text of the access page.
(See Figure 26 for an example of access information for Altgeld Hall, a
particularly confusing building.)
The navigational system allows users to navigate easily through a wide
array of information. Information on how to get to a room, how to get to
a building, what will be seen on the trip, and what one will find once
there is seamlessly integrated.
Go on to Navigational System Implementation
Go back to Framework
The wheelchair pages were definitely an afterthought, something that turned out to be easy to do once all the other pieces were developed. They ended up yielding the most emotional appreciation and an award from the disabled students organization. The wheelchair access information also has a much broader utility than I had originally thought: information about ramps and elevators is very useful when moving equipment between buildings, or even for freshmen trying to figure out the vagaries of old, confusing buildings.
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