Love/hate indoor maps

You may have discovered indoor maps on Google Maps already, probably by chance, like I did. If you haven’t, navigate to The Barbican Theatre or Harrods on the map and tap the building. Voila!

I love them. Ish. I love the principle of them and I love the concept. The current status – not so much. Before I get into it, this is by no means Google’s fault. Indoor maps are a new thing and it’s extremely neat that they have them at all.

Let’s think of some scenarios in which you would use indoor maps.

Scenario #1

Say you are a student and you’ve just been handed this semester’s programme. You’ve been around the main campus buildings a bit, you feel confident you can find most rooms. You look at your schedule, nothing jumps at you as problematic. Mid-way through the week you head off to your first lecture of the day. It’s in room C1.23. So that’s building C, floor 1, room 23. Easy enough. You reach room 22 and you’re at the end of the corridor. There are no more rooms. And there’s no one there. You had not factored uni exploration into your schedule, so you’re now on track for being late.

Without indoor maps, you backtrack to the nearest kind-looking human and you ask. Hopefully they know that room C1.23 is actually in the building next door, which is technically building E, except for floor 1 (I am looking at you, Aberystwyth Uni).

With a good indoor map, you’d be able to search for the room and, if I allow myself to dream big, you’d be given the fastest route there. And from then on you’d probably check where each new room is, just in case in happens to be on top of a tower (again, Aber Uni!).

While some unis (London Met) have indoor maps now, they would not be of much use in the above scenario. They do not actually have the rooms marked on them. And even if they had, the way Harrods has its shops marked, they would still not be actual pin points on the map. It would not be possible to navigate to them.

Indoor map of London Metropolitan University Holloway Road campus
Indoor map of London Metropolitan University Holloway Road campus

Scenario #2

Let’s now take a different scenario. You are a wheelchair user. You are happily shopping in a mall. It is a large and convoluted one and you easily lose track of where you are exactly. When it comes time to leave you are not sure where the nearest exit is, let alone if it’s an accessible one.

Without indoor maps, you search for one of those interactive mall maps that are scattered here and there. They might not have the exits labelled as accessible, but at least you’ll figure out where you are. Or you find a kind-looking human and ask. Perhaps they know.

With a good indoor map, you’d be able to locate yourself in the mall and then locate the nearest accessible exit. Again, dreaming big, you’d be navigated there through an accessible route.

My gripe

Exits seem optional. Harrods and Barbican Theatre have them labelled with text, like a shop name. Not available as pin locations, but at least findable. Other buildings don’t have them labelled at all – Edinburgh Waverley and London Metropolitan, for example. Granted, in both of these buildings the main exists are fairly obvious once you’re inside. But you may not always be closest to the main entrance. These buildings have a lot of smaller exists that would be invaluable in case of an emergency, for example. Not having them labelled makes it impossible to discover them.

Indoor map of Edinburgh Waverlay train station
Indoor map of Edinburgh Waverlay train station
Indoor map of Harrods superstore with the exits highlighted
Indoor map of Harrods superstore with the exits highlighted

I think the potential of indoor maps is really exciting – helping us navigate the mazes that are our buildings is surely as invaluable as helping us navigate our cities. I use Google Maps almost every day in the city I’ve lived in for 4 years. Hey, I use it in the city I lived in for 18 years. It’s a life-saver. Indoor maps can be too.


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