grand central market

Navigating Culture

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Wayfinding, put simply, is an information system to guide people to their destinations. In this project, while a guide of sorts was provided, its primary purpose was not directional but to ensure that the journey itself was a path of non-linear exploration and discovery.

Grand Central Market is more than a public eatery. A historic landmark of Los Angeles, its mission is to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles and to gather the city’s many communities around a shared table. 

our (broad) brief

To design a digital wayfinding interface for Grand Central Market that aids visitors in navigating this crowded—and sometimes confusing—space.

*Why not solve this brief with a common solution, a clear map of vendors and amenities?  

Well, through research, the 

solution proved not to be so obvious.  

The research process began with a contextual inquiry to understand how visitors navigate their way around Grand Central Market. Visitors were observed at different times of the day on both weekends and weekdays. 

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user pathways

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congestion mapping

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interviews were conducted with current and recent 

visitors to the market, workers at the market, and an 

architect who helped give insights into its spatial design. 

“There’s mystery and excitement provided by that open, multi direction layout...Every time you’re going somewhere else within the space, you’re about to encounter something new and different that you wouldn’t have seen before.”

“The open [typology] is more of an adult playground.”

“The toughness of eating there is you kind of have to either stand around or hover over people possibly leaving to sit.”

additional research methods included: task 

analysis, social media reviews, and competitive + comparative analysis.

Having gathered this information, we began to categorize and distill it through the processes of affinity mapping, empathy mapping, and mind mapping. 

 So, where is Grand Central Market

 falling short?

Research invalidated the hypothesis that Grand Central Market needs a wayfinding system to vendor stalls and demonstrated that this exploratory process was one of the major draws to the space. 

Conversely, hard-to-find seating, minimal navigation aids, and long vendor lines often detract from the positive experience. 

How can we improve this experience?

Reflecting on our insights, we focused on alleviating the frustration associated with waiting in line, finding a seat and navigating an accessible route. 

*We purposely chose to leave room for the physical 

exploration of vendors by not emphasizing routes to particular stalls. This was to prevent one of the positive experiences in the space being taken away. 

The design process

As we wanted people to maximize their time spent being present in the physical environment, we aimed to have the flow through the mobile website be as smooth and efficient as possible. Our flow was informed by our research and observations of navigational flows through menus, something visitors to the market would already be engaging in. 

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Navigating through a menu

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After multiple rounds of user testing, these were our results

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Users can view the wait time for different vendors to help inform their purchasing decision. Playful graphics are used to indicate the types of food vendors sell as much of the experience at Grand Central Market is visual. 

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Users can view the vendors and their respective wait times in some detail but information is limited to ensure that they explore the space and spend minimal time on their devices. 

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The seating filter users LRS heat sensing technology to determine where free seats are and where people are likely to be leaving soon.  

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The accessibility filter enables people to easily view the accessible route through the space for people with mobility issues. 

final thoughts

This project was an interesting experience in feature prioritization, primarily because of our key pivot; to not design a system for finding specific vendors as is common in wayfinding for shared spaces. 

There is value in a spatial discovery process and a space that enables people to be curious. Grand Central Market is a rare space that achieves this, and this could be a contributing factor as to why there is currently only one map in the physical space.

Our final design thus strove to include only the key features that would allow people to spend more time in this discovery process, not provide them with an excess of information that would lose them to their devices.