BA Hons Graphic Design Main Project Work

How can the navigational systems within airports be improved to give the flier a smoother stress free travel experience?


The purpose of this study is to consider airport signage and develop a navigational system, which could be used at BAA Heathrow with a view to form the basis of an international standard. This includes creating a carefully considered library of icons designed specifically for use at airports, choosing a typeface that compliments the icons and considering how the use of colour and structure can be combined to create an overall brand identity.

Throughout the study there will be an exploration of ways icons can be designed to be as effective as possible in conveying information to the user. These icons will be designed to be as effective without supporting text as they are with it. If the icons can be identified by people easily without the need for text next to them, they would work well across language barriers and therefore internationally.


Airports are not as easy to navigate as they perhaps could be, specifically in directing passengers to places, or letting them know the next stage in the process. From personal experience, airports can be quite crowded, confusing spaces and the navigation sometimes misleading or unclear. After speaking to two staff members at Heathrow airport, it was discovered that the public often have to ask for guidance and that sometimes this causes issues across language barriers.

Intended Audience:

The intended audience is aimed towards the more casual flier. This is a large group of people, although avoids inclusion of business fliers. The reason for this is because people who fly regularly as part of their work would have a greater understanding of airports, wherever they were in the world. This is why it might be wiser to target the casual holiday or first time flier.

 Intended Purpose:

The purpose of this is to try and evolve navigation into systems, which could progress beyond the norm, whilst remaining functional. This is a chance to explore the ways in which public spaces can be improved and made easier to navigate through.

Book Design

From the very beginning of this project I knew I wanted to produce a book outlining the specifications of my navigational system. I decided to use the online printers Blurb as they could produce a 7″x7″ book which was the perfect size for what my project needed. I went with the hardcover image wrap so I could have the covers of the book as full colour print. I have since received the book and have sent it in for marking. I was very happy with how it turned out and cannot recommend Blurb enough for the quick and affordable service they provide. Below are some of the pages of my book, how they appeared in the final product.

I have also developed a few specification sheets for my portfolio, these included some 3D design using Cinema 4D. They act more as a brief overview of the airport system and are a visual aid to the book.


Through developing a set of icons and exploring ways in which they can be displayed, I have realised some of the challenges involved when designing an information system used for guiding people around specific areas. This challenge was further heightened by attempting to make it work as an international standard throughout the world’s airports. There are many things to consider when designing icons which need to be identified correctly by different cultures. More often than not the first solutions are not always the correct ones.

Throughout the study I have met with a number of restrictions which have made it difficult to gather certain aspects of research necessary to developing a successful wayfinding system. However, I did my best to overcome these and believe that the study has come out stronger than if these challenges had not been met.

 The first of these restrictions was the inability to take photographs within Heathrow airport due to security rules. To get around this problem I took my sketch pad and drew signs firsthand and took size estimates. I then gathered secondary photographs to fully remind myself what some of the signs looked like. This turned out to be a valuable way of collecting empirical research. Unlike photography, the process of drawing and considering the signs in front of me gave the opportunity to focus in first hand on the way they were built, their structure and how they suited the environment. It also meant I spent more time at Heathrow airport, time in which I was able to study how people moved around the space and to develop ideas of how I would go about improving the current system.

 Something else that wasn’t fully practical or cost effective was to visit other countries’ airports to gain a better understanding of how they are laid out and if the navigation is more or less effective than Heathrow’s. So that I didn’t fully miss out on seeing other countries’ airports I again viewed secondary photographs, some were of high traffic airports and others were low traffic. As outlined in my research methodology I was able to view a previous specification book on the design for Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, this gave a few ideas which I was able to expand upon and develop for my project. A notable one being the layout of the signs with dimensions, this was a necessary part of the project and works really within the portfolio sheets. I have combined the use of 2D and 3D diagrams to visualise a progression of development. Had I left myself more time I would like to have develop a short animation of a person exploring an airport which would be fully modelled in 3D, where they could look up and follow my signs. This would have added an extra dimension to the project and showed my understanding of how a signage system should be set out.

 The third and fourth restrictions are very similar, the third being I was unable to ask people from countries other than England how they perceived my icons. The fourth restriction was the time allocated to developing this study even further. If I had more time I would have been able to ask a larger range of people to complete my questionnaire, I could have then taken these results and re-designed aspects of the icons to get them as recognisable as possible.

 During this study I developed a maximum of thirty main airport icons and then a further four safety based signs. In a future expansion of the study it would be possible to explore the many types of icons which are used across the world and then develop them further so they fit within the ISANS symbol set.

 From looking at the questionnaire results of each icon, I can see that some need to be developed further before they could be used nationally or internationally and even those which scored 100% on the recognition test could do with slight aesthetic improvements. However, with a little more time and a much deeper questioning process I believe this could be developed into a successful, standardised airport navigational system.

Work in Exhibition Context

The group exhibition has been set up, here are some shots of my work in the exhibition context, also visible is Leanne Jordan’s work on the 2nd image and Scott Coleman’s on the 3rd:

Tom out!

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