Behavioural Wayfinding Design for Sustainable Resource Recovery
Improving consumer awareness, understanding and behaviours towards sustainable resource recovery has been identified as an important global challenge – especially in Australia. In 2017-18, 3.4 million tonnes of plastic in Australia was used, with only 9.4% (320,000 tonnes) of that amount being recycled. This staggeringly low rate of resource recovery is due to a range of variables; one crucial factor being ineffective communications to the Australian public about how to effectively recycle, recover and reuse their waste.
Each state and territory in Australia operates a different system to facilitate household and commercial waste disposal. In the Australian Capital Territory, ACT NoWaste (part of Transport Canberra and City Services) manages eight territory-owned waste centres. ACT NoWaste identified that their consumers were becoming frequently frustrated with disposal communication across disposal sites, resulting in visitors not using or capitalising on resource management facilities.This was believed to be due to inconsistent or confusing messaging across stakeholder communications, inconsistency of site signage, lack of signage regulation and the adaptability of site signage overtime.
In line with the 2011-25 ACT Waste Management Strategy, ACT NoWaste devised a plan to improve their site experience through the establishment of wayfinding guidelines for all eight centres. It was important to ACT NoWaste that the wayfinding guidelines were informed by a behavioural evidence-base and included extensive consultation with existing and future customers.
ACT NoWaste contracted ThinkPlace to undertake a mixed research method to formulate, execute and analyse waste centre behaviours to effectively design a wayfinding solution that considered the ideal future state for waste resource communication. Our submission demonstrates our research strategy and methodologies that when combined, created a comprehensive and human-centred wayfinding design.
We defined the design challenge as follows: How might we develop a deep understanding of the navigation experience at waste management facilities, to inform a new wayfinding system that empowers and encourages end users to adopt correct disposal behaviours?
ThinkPlace is a strategic design agency that specialises in applying human-centred and collaborative design methods, to build products and services that make a positive impact on the world. To ThinkPlace, the ACT NoWaste brief was about more than just designing a wayfinding system guide – it was an opportunity to shift the needle on sustainable cities and communities, and supercharge responsible consumption and production. ThinkPlace are signatories to the United Nations Global Compact. This means we hold ourselves accountable to high design standards to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We were excited to work with the ACT NoWaste team to build the evidence-base required to make informed decisions and achieve a future state where sustainable resource management is the path of least resistance, for service users and providers alike.
The approach we developed to meet ACT NoWaste's brief broke the challenge down into four phases; namely, 'Establish Intent', 'Explore and Engage', 'Explore and Understand' and 'Synthese and Recommend'.
Establishing a Core Design Team at the intent stage of the project meant that we could be sure that all decisions made during subsequent phases were inherently collaborative. The wayfinding guidelines were required to be used across eight different sites with varying internal, commercial, government and citizen stakeholders. By identifying the key voices that needed to be in the room, we were able to rapidly broker agreement across different perspectives around the project's intent and scope. The team included Site Managers, ACT roads representatives,a Traffic Management Consultant, Education and Behavioural Change Specialist alongside the ThinkPlace design team and project sponsors. As a team, our agreed statement of intent was to: Use human-centred design and behavioural theory to create a wayfinding experience that is simple, sustainable and underpinned by clear guidelines for implementation.
Explore and Engage: Stakeholder research
Stakeholder research was a critical component of the divergent phase to enable a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of the waste management centre disposal experience. The Core Design Team identified three main cohorts that needed to be consulted, which included: customers (residential, commercial and first-time users); businesses running waste management operations on sites; and various government representatives.
In order to explore the stakeholder experience of waste management centre communications across multiple sites, ThinkPlace devised a customised mixed-method approach. This included field research conducting ad hoc 10-minute vox-pop intercept interviews in situ, as well as using observational note-taking methods to understand site behaviours of residential and commercial customers. More formalised focus group sessions and one-on-one interviews were also conducted with key contractors and government representatives to understand the systemic challenges as well as site experiences from their perspective. As our research was conducted at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we modified our methods to meet the demands of an evolving situation, such as launching an online survey to ensure that limits on in-person interactions did not constrain the reach of our research enquiry.
Across a rapid research phase of two weeks, ThinkPlace engaged 72 stakeholders to discuss their experiences interacting with and navigating waste management sites. The knowledge gained provided a rich understanding of different stakeholders' experiences while using, operating or managing the sites, including the individual communication challenges people faced when trying to dispose of waste. These opportunities and challenge areas were transformed into a series of artefacts including customer personas and journey maps formulated around different site experience archetypes. The five quadrants of site experience we explored were site frequency, service awareness, motivations to correctly segregate waste, and communication assistance support required including staff and information available online.
In order to synthesise the important issues as a team, a collaborative digital whiteboard tool was used to conduct online co-design activities using the outputs from the research.This allowed for the seamless convergence of mixed methods to draw out strong emergent insights across methods, as well as prioritise, as a group, what themes were most important for further exploration.
One very clear behavioural insight that emerged was that non-compliant disposal behaviours (such as contaminating collection bins with mixed waste) were not intentional but a result of unclear signage and processes. In fact, users were highly receptive to guidance information at multiple points during their journey, and actively wanted to 'do the right thing' but the lack of system regulation, compliance and communication was causing the system to fail.
Explore and Understand: Signage Audit
Taking a further deep dive into the site experience, the research team conducted an audit of pre-existing wayfinding systems installed across all eight waste management sites.
ThinkPlace conducted a rigorous audit process that included the manual documentation of over 450 signage installations across the Territory sites. ThinkPlace researchers and a Traffic Management consultant undertook a guided tour, observational survey, note-taking, geographical mapping, photography and videography to construct a comprehensive account of the current signage system. The report delivered to the NoWaste team included detailed site maps of sign locations and types; a vehicle flow analysis; line marking review; service demand assessment; a condition report for every installation; plus an analysis of each sign's purpose and any associated recommendations. All signage installations were categorised to support a methodical review and implementation of recommendations, as well as stating a clear signage purpose – whether 'direction', 'information', 'identification', or 'regulation'.
The audit highlighted some of the systemic challenges contributing to the negative aspects of the end user experience shared during stakeholder engagements including problematic traffic vehicle management flow, incorrect onsite communications of services as well as outdated service information online that was causing visitors to insufficiently dispose of their waste. With further input from the Core Design Team, ThinkPlace was able to begin the design of recommendations and guidelines for an improved wayfinding experience that not only removed current-state barriers, but motivated site users to adopt correct waste disposal behaviours.
Synthesise and Recommend: User testing, recommendations and guideline design
ThinkPlace approached the NoWaste wayfinding guidelines through a lens of co-design. The Core Design Team met and collectively determined that the wayfinding documentation should be: "A robust guide that empowers site users to comply with minimal effort, promoting greater service uptake, sustained facility use and improved rates of resource recovery". As a Core Design Team we prioritised four wayfinding system focus areas: language; communication touchpoints; materials and wear; and supporting good intentions.
The NoWaste wayfinding guidelines were formulated over two design sprints with public facing customers. The first sprint focused on synthesising high-level, customer-centric principles for signage across all sites, guiding procurement, installation, maintenance and removal. The second sprint dove deep into detail, conducting language and elements testing with customers to ensure a simple and understandable communication experience. The testing strategy included card sorting exercises that assessed the ability of customers to understand and categorise different words used to segregate waste. It was found that words such as 'reusables' 'recycling' and 'green waste' were the most commonly understood categorical waste words. This finding directly influenced our wayfinding design approach, using commonly understood terms as directional language to allow for ease of customers to navigate around sites.
The research conducted by ThinkPlace and the Core Design Team resulted not only in a comprehensive wayfinding design guide but a systems-level view of how ACT NoWaste can shift from its current state to an ideal future state. The final deliverable collates a rich array of guidance, including:
- A new approach to language informed by sign classification
- Guides to behavioural nudges at key communication intervention touchpoints
- Positive reinforcement design guides to encourage correct disposal behaviours and compliance measures
- A recognisable, user-friendly and cohesive design materials
- Clear recommendations to efficiently manage the entire signage lifecycle, including monitoring and evaluation measures
Since the research project was undertaken, the ACT NoWaste guidelines have enabled each site to respond appropriately to dynamic signage needs and has been used as a exemplar model for wayfinding, site management and resource recovery in Government initiatives. Most importantly, this work has begun to transform site communications to enable visitors to comply with resource management practices with minimal effort – the first step to promoting greater service uptake, sustained facility use and improved rates of resource recovery in the ACT.