The last time I blogged on GS&P Dialogue, our environmental graphics team had recently completed the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Report 52, titled Wayfinding and Signing Guidelines for Airport Terminals and Landside. Using the best practices we established in the guide, our team has since completed several wayfinding programs and studies for airports across the country. While each project has its own unique environment, objectives and challenges, wayfinding solutions all start with the same common element: research.
To begin with, wayfinding is more than just signs; it requires a holistic approach based on communicating information that helps people make the right decision at the right time. The components of a wayfinding program begin as motorists enter the airport area from nearby roadways, and they continue until the passenger has arrived at his or her gate. So a thorough understanding of the airport’s design, current wayfinding problems and complete passenger experience is essential when improving your airport’s wayfinding program.
Our comprehensive wayfinding studies for major international airports include data collection, passenger feedback, surveys and analysis that serve as the baseline for all recommendations we make to each airport. Wayfinding research is based on data obtained through one or more evaluation methods:
• Ergonomic Sign Assessment
• Frequently Asked Questions Survey
• Task Analysis
• Survey of Unfamiliar Passengers
These types of data paint a clear picture of existing conditions and target the major focus areas in a way that goes beyond the typical approach to a wayfinding study, which usually just evaluates the physical airport areas.
For instance, it is important to understand what the passenger knows before arriving at the airport and how that knowledge impacts his or her wayfinding experience. At one large hub airport we learned from passenger surveys that only half of passengers knew what terminal they were looking for prior to arriving at the airport. Furthermore, only one out three passengers knew their concourse and one out of four passengers knew their gate number prior to arrival. All too often, proposed recommendations that are primarily based on observations fall short of a true holistic wayfinding solution. However, by knowing what the passenger knows or doesn’t know, we were able to include this data to make wayfinding recommendations based on actual customer feedback.
Sufficient study and analysis is also crucial for establishing realistic expectations of what signage can and can’t do. While good signage can’t always overcome architectural barriers or non-intuitive wayfinding environments, it can still help achieve a high wayfinding success rate for the majority of passengers. It also helps us identify where problems lie for other passengers, so we can make refinements based on reliable data. However, it’s important to remember the law of diminishing returns. Absent an unlimited budget, airports will realistically never achieve a 100% success rate, so reasonable expectations are key.
Most importantly, we believe that research is the foundation of the four key components of a successful wayfinding strategy: consistency, continuity, connectivity and confirmation. We’ll explore those 4 Cs (and the 3 Vs of communication – verbal, visual and virtual) in more detail next month when we discuss the functional aspects of a good wayfinding system. We’ll also explain in future blog posts how research supports the decisions that airport operators and designers must make in relation to roadway signage systems and intra-airport navigation tools. So be sure to stay tuned to GS&P Dialogue as we take a more in-depth look at airport wayfinding in August and September as part of our “Making the Connection” series.
At the end of the day, it is interesting to see how our commitment to wayfinding research mirrors GS&P’s own internal “Listen, Think, Transform, and Prove” approach to projects. Our work begins with listening to and understanding our clients and their customers, then thinking through existing conditions, identifying obstacles and establishing objectives before arriving at the solution. Only then are we able to truly transform through the design process and achieve successful outcomes for our clients.
See also the other three posts in our aviation wayfinding series: Making the Connection Part II: Making the "Walk Versus Ride" Decision, Making the Connection Part III: "Zooming In" on the 3Vs of Airport Wayfinding, and Making the Connection Part IV: The (Airport) Road to Wayfinding Safety & Success.