I’ve been walking around an airport

Day 1

I’ve spent the day walking around an airport. The opportunity to follow a passenger advisor round the airport all day learning about its intricacies was too good to pass up.

I’ve been given unrestricted access to all areas (almost) which allows me to observe and converse with people going on holiday, traveling for business, visiting family, returning from holiday and all the other travel permutations in between. It’s been a fascinating day and the main thing I’ve learnt from day 1? Airports are all about context and language.

“Gate opens in 25 minutes

Spending time in departures the question the customer team gets asked the most is “Which gate do I need to go to?”. They’re almost angry when they ask. It’s a language problem. The boards say “Gate opens in xx minutes” which causes panic. That’s because the wording makes the viewer think the gate has already been announced. Changing this to “Gate number announced in xx minutes” would settle a lot of minds.

It sounds simple but as designers it’s obviously important why context is key. You need to visit and experience the same experience your users will.

Language

The signage/wayfinding is clear, but people still get lost with roundabouts.

Landside, airside, mid-term, short-term, long-term, priority lane, priority parking, meet and greet, outsize baggage, onward travel centre. There are a lot of things to learn at an airport and often you have no idea what the actual definition is. If you have to guess what any of the terms above mean there’s already a problem. It’s a task of mine to ensure we communicate correctly and don’t over estimate what people know. Anticipate the worst and if you don’t understand them, your users certainly won’t.

Day 2 (tomorrow)

I’m hoping to actually get more time to converse with some of the customers in the Airport at all stages of the journey from travel, to check in, to security, to departures and finally the gate and boarding and ask them about their experience.

Read part 2 about walking around an airport.

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