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How can the owners of airports, convention spaces, hotels, offices, malls and other commercial spaces create environments that accommodate the changing nature of how public spaces will work as we “open up” post COVID-19?
By Jason Hutty, PAM Wayfinding
Public environments such airports, convention spaces, hotels, offices, malls and other commercial spaces are empty, lying dormant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, we are all looking forward to the time when these spaces magically open up, and everything immediately returns to normal—right!? Not really.
There will be an arduous period of months and even perhaps years where society will have to adapt, operating in a different way to what we’re all used to. The managers of these facilities will have to deal with a number of new operational challenges, not least of which is how to safely and calmly welcome visitors and customers back in a way that creates confidence.
One important aspect of this reintegration will be the ability to adapt to new social norms and rules that will differ from environment to environment. The way information is communicated will be a critical element to gradual recovery. How does an airport ensure social distancing while also getting people through security then on safely to their gates on time? How will schools direct students around campus such that large congregations are avoided? How do we transition from being isolated in our own homes to dealing with crowds again, but in a totally new way?
Environmental signage is critical to ensure that we provide this peace-of-mind. As we move forward, rules and guidance will need to adapt to this "new world." There will be a new, different directives to provide to our customers each day, week or month. Our accepted ways of moving people around the space will no longer be valid, and, they’ll no longer be fixed. It will be challenging for owners and unsettling for customers if not handled well.
Journeys must remain largely frictionless if we’re going to convince people that it’s safe to re-enter public environments. EGD will be at the forefront of this communication challenge. Every designer will be contacted by clients and asked to develop new, smart strategies. The success or failure of such strategies will be driven not only by the ideas provided by designers, but also the set of tools that can be provided to their clients.
Flexibility and clarity will be the front line of visitor communication and wayfinding. Delivering the required flexibility is where digital solutions come to the forefront. In constantly changing environments, it is going to be critical to have the ability to change information and wayfinding on the fly, while still providing a connected experience that makes sense. Implementing temporary vehicular digital signage, for example, will help spread drop-offs and ease rideshare congestion. Chances are, that existing resources will not handle the workload alone, creating an opportunity for experiential designers to explore new solutions. How can digital and physical signage be added, and still be part of one consistent and connected system? How can we integrate, but still manage it all from one place?
The dynamic digital signage provided through systems like PAM gives facility managers the ability to instantly change routes through the facility. 3D maps on devices and kiosks can provide information on crowd density, and smartly adapt routes to provide alternative, safer journeys for visitors. Existing digital signage that’s currently used for advertising or flight data can be redeployed to assist wayfinding, while physical signage can be updated to reflect a more flexible environment.
The outcome of implementing a truly unified and frictionless navigation platform is that facilities become adaptable. Facilities Managers can divert incoming visitors to another security gate, or help guests find their destination-of-choice without needing as much staff interaction. The ability to change directional information on signs at-will or on a schedule not only improves flexibility, it can reduce the management-time required to keep the facility at optimum pedestrian performance.
For the facility, implementing a tech-driven solution may be initially intimidating but the benefits are clear in our current global predicament. A future-proofed navigation platform can be managed from anywhere at any time. Digitizing signage will reduce the labor required to manually update signage each time a new level of social distancing or security is required. In the longer term, having a centralized database of all wayfinding information will reduce the cost when it’s time to replace physical and digital signage assets, and will underpin any future smart-facility initiatives.
Transitioning back to full-scale will take time. How long that takes will be the result of how successfully these stadiums, offices, schools, hotels and convention spaces provide an environment that’s safe, easy to understand and adaptive. Experiential Graphic Designers will be on the front line of this solution and make an important contribution to getting our world back up and running.