There's nothing quite like your name in lights!

SEGD sign greets attendees to the SEGD 2016 Wayfinding Event at Miami International Airport

Now that's the way to greet the SEGD wayfinding community!

It's not every day that SEGD gets to take over the main sign to the entrance of an airport. Especially Miami International Airport, the second largest airport in the country with just over 44 million passengers last year!

This was the sign created by Richard Garciaand his team that greeted us as we drove into Miami International Airport for the 2016 SEGD Wayfinding event last Thursday. If you did not attend, you missed a fantastic event with just over 100 attendees, including presentations by three SEGD Fellows as well as fantastic presentations by three of SEGD's up-and-coming "ones to watch." The event covered a range of topics curated by SEGD's Director of Education, Justin Molloy, covering Airports, Workplaces, Education and Healthcare. The morning sessions focused on airports, while the afternoon sessions covered the other topics. Friday morning saw the group take a tour of the amazing new facilities of MIA's Terminal D (1.2 miles long!) as well as the related multi-modal transportation center.

The conversations around the conference room, in the bar and on the tour were fascinating. The audience was varied as usual, though of special note were the number of new attendees and sponsors attracted to the event. Jim Harding(Gresham Smith and Partners), probably the most entertaining speaker, commented that one of the reasons he loves attending SEGD events is that he gets to meet designers from all over the world. He was not disappointed by this year's attendee list, which included designers from Dubai, Lebanon, Australia, England, Canada and the USA. Oh, and Florida of course!

The biggest takeaway of the day had to be the statement, often repeated by speakers, that the number-one issue of people entering these public spaces is the need to find their way around easily. There you have it, people: Wayfinding is the number-one user issue to solve. There could not be a bigger endorsement for the value of wayfinding! 

The overarching inclusion of digital technologies in most projects was unavoidable. We heard from Joe Labozanand MIA's Richard Garciahow the inclusion of digital signage in key areas of the airport saves them millions in replacement costs annually. The numbers for signage at that airport were quite something, despite the fact that they have an in-house signage fabrication facility. Sometimes you don't need a glamorous end use for digital technologies, as its "easy-to-change" nature can be reason enough to implement it! That's one of the reasons that the web as a medium has been so popular, so why not signage as well?

Given that this was an event about wayfinding, and this should come as no surprise really, it was fascinating to see how most wayfinding programs are much, much more than just wayfinding. Most projects included strong elements of branded environments and placemaking. MIA's new ribbon digital header, created to uplift travelers' mood as they exit the security hall (let's face it, there's an experience that needs redesigning!), was a great example of this trend, with its elegantly photographed images of the beach, the water, sunsets, boats and palm trees. Kudos to the MIA signage team for recognizing the mood shift created by the security and customs experience and well done for creating a visual experience that cannot fail to uplift the spirit and help you leave the airport feeling excited about the place you have just entered.

My favorite presentation, though, was Brittney Butler's(VMDO) work on an elementary school. She started the presentation by asking us if we all remembered our first day at school, and though I have to admit to not exactly remembering all the details, I can tell you that it was nothing like the first-day experience that Brittney created and as she rightly pointed out, the kids who experience that school have very different expectations of what wayfinding should do for you than you and I had. Talk about setting high expectations from an early age. Way to go!

We also heard about the growing role of user research in the projects. We live in a data-enabled world and data can really be your friend, especially given the fact that we know anecdotally that finding your way around a new space is the number-one concern of visitors! Not many design professions can easily show that the user problem they are trying to help solve is the number-one issue of a visitor! Back that sucker up with some numbers and user insights and the world should be your oyster!

Chris Caloriand David Vanden-Eynden(Calori & Vanden-Eynden / Design Consultants) took us on a time-travel journey looking back at the types of technologies (foam core and hand painting!) that drove changes in signage in the past as well as taking a shot at looking into the future to see where we might be headed. Oh, and they sold out all their new edition books they brought for the book signing as well.

You can never be too busy to connect and learn, or if you are, you might want to rethink your business model and how you are staying relevant and inspired as the profession hurtles rapidly deeper into the digital age. If you missed the 2016 SEGD Wayfinding event, you may well want to consider connecting at the 2016 SEGD Conference: Experience Seattle, where we will host the gathering of the Experiential Graphic Design clan June 9-11. We'll see you there!

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