In the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen

What do you do as a city when you have a tourist museum and really want the tourists to stay a bit longer than the 90 minutes it takes before the museum fatigue sets in?

In Odense, we decided to make wayfinding a phenomenological experience. Instead of reading signs or maps, we created a physical trail consisting of 3.2 kilometres of footsteps – made in size 47 (13US) like the feet of the fairytale author. If you follow the footsteps you come across 13 different Andersen localities in and around the city centre.

While the backbone of the footstep journey naturally consists of the 13 Andersen localities, the route was also designed with the whole experience in mind. The journey brings you through some of the most beautiful park areas of the city as well as presents shopping opportunities and café and restaurant life.

The footsteps were deliberately placed a bit further apart from each other than that of a stroll – in parts to convey the both a physical and mental aspect of Andersen: He was a very tall person and he was “going places” – it shouldn’t necessarily be easy to walk in his footsteps although they should act as an easy guide to find your way around the city. Another reason for placing the footsteps just slightly farther apart than that of a typical stroll was also to make them a plaything for kids. They naturally offer themselves as an opportunity for kids to play “The floor is made of Lava”, and I have countless times seen kids jump from footstep to footstep.

As such the strength of the project resides in the many levels the footsteps communicate. The spacing of the footsteps become a communicative tool as well as they become a tool to navigate the city and explore the legacy of Hans Christian Andersen.

I led the development from concept to finished project, which consisted not only of the footsteps but also of signage at the 13 localities, an app, print material and webpage. The design company Stupid Studio worked together with the museum to develop a design manual, while the app was developed by Plaey.

The result: The plan was to give tourists a fuller experience than just visiting the main museum, The Hans Christian Andersen Museum. The number of visitors at the small sister museum, Hans Christian Andersen’s Childhood Home, shows that we succeeded in doing just that. Within two years the visitor number at the small sister museum grew from 13.000 a year to almost 50.000.