How to change visitor behavior
When working with wayfinding, especially in a tourism context, designing for other behaviours than navigation is often a part of the task. Most of the behaviours that are addressed are unwanted and are often related to trash, dogs and trespassing. They vary from place to place and are often very local.
When designing to eliminate an unwanted behaviour in an outdoor environment, the first thing you absolutely need to do is collect data. A phrase such as “people throw trash everywhere” simply will not do. Ask yourself ‘What people?’ and ‘Where specifically?’, this will avoid any bias you might have of the perpetrators and enable an analysis of a specific location. On top of this, it will give you a sense of scale of how big the problem is now and what effect the solutions will have.
Personally, my biases have been challenged many times. For examples in one instance where it turned out that it was hobby fishers who left trash in the surrounding nature – a group my bias told me was extra careful about tending to the environment. Another example was that it turned out that walking dogs without a leash was not a problem among the guests but was caused by the locals. This is valuable information as people familiar to a place have habits and a sense of right that will not change simply by putting up one more pictogram.
When it comes to solutions I have devided them into three categories: Information, landscaping and behavioral design. They are of course all behavioral designs, but bare with me, I have not come up with a better term for the third category yet.
This category is the most apparent one and contains all the no-no pictograms that we encounter almost everywhere. Here you can work with three scenarios: before the visit, upon arrival and where the unwanted behavior takes place. The latter being the most important.
‘Before the visit’ is when communicating a ‘Code of Conduct’ at websites, pamphlets, posters etc. at places that visitors come across. A ‘Code of Conduct’ can be strictly what you should not do, but could also be vowen in with general recommendations. Make sure that it is manageable and pleasing for the eye – if it becomes information overload corresponding to a medicinal insert you will lose most people's attention. People are social beings and most want to be good guests. If they know that there are rules, they will follow them.
‘Upon arrival’ is a more simple form of the code of conduct, but at the scene. Here legibility and placement is extra important. Bear in mind that people are eager to go somewhere and that they should be able to read the code of conduct in passing. If possible, place the code of conduct where people are standing still and open for “entertainment”, like at a public restroom or on the table of a bench.
The code of conduct is preparing you for a certain behavior and it is important that you follow this up exactly where a certain behavior is called for. Do not repeat the whole code of conduct, simply repeat the part that is relevant.
Lastly it is important that all visual content looks professional, is up to date and coherent. This will give it more authority, actuality and take advantage of the power of repetitiveness.
The pitfall of putting up signs is that it can ruin the view and experience of a natural habitat, why more and more destination officials calls for alternative solutions.
This category is what planners and landscape architects have been doing for centuries – sculpting the environment with a certain behavior in mind. With regard for very local unwanted behaviors, you can divide the solution into two categories: ‘Enable the behavior’ and ‘Disable the behavior’.
When you enable a behaviour you make an unsafe/unstable environment accessible in a safe and sustainable way. E.g. make a boardwalk where people tend to be walking already and where the walking has been either harmful for the environment or dangerous. Creating a fenced area where dogs can run lose is also a good example of enabling unwanted behaviour.
Disabling is essentially the opposite. It could be making pavement unpleasant and almost impossible to cycle on, forcing people to get off their bikes.
If you can solve your problems within this category, I am certain you will find this the most effective.
This category is oh so vast and contains everything from gamification to nudging. This is also the category where you really have to get to know the perpetrators and their motives in order to design an effective plan of action. One example is the local dog walkers that are unwilling to leash their dogs. This is a problem in many natural habitats because it feels superfluous to have your dog on a leash in a vast and seemingly empty landscape – because you are not disturbing anyone right? Wrong. Many wild species nest on the ground and dogs can easily disturb and eradicate these breeding grounds. I have seen two approaches to this; one being an educational campaign from the Danish Nature Agency who informs the visitors in the vulnerable seasons, that your dog is a hazard for wildlife. These campaigns have shown to have little effect, but the reason for this I do not know, so I would not discard the method just yet.
Another approach is to change a culture from within. I know municipalities that have turned the offenders into enforcers simply by making them aware of the problem, encouraging to unionise and as an effect policing themselves. This is said to have been very effective. And again, personally I can see how this would have an effect just by looking at my dad who always puts on leashes whenever we pass certain houses with inhabitants who are not afraid of telling people off. It is social control at its most effective.
The conclusion is that there are no set solutions for any case and you also have to bear in mind that only one solution will not likely work on all individuals and therefore a combination of solutions are preferable. And remember – there will always be people out there who thinks themselves above rules. Maybe because they have really really strong motives, like taking the perfect picture for instagram.
I am currently collecting cases that emphasises these different approaches. If you know of any and would like to share them with me, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org