When Calgary Airport in Alberta, Canada, began planning a major expansion to include the addition of two new concourses with 24 new gates, they knew a smooth transition would require an expert team of wayfinding professionals.
The plan to expand Calgary Airport (YYC) included the addition of two new concourses to accommodate the increasing number of U.S. and international flights using an airline hub-centric approach, with the goal of improving efficiencies and retail experiences at the airport.
Entro has been working with YYC for 10 years on every aspect of wayfinding from the roads surrounding the airport to the parking garages, digital flight info screens (FIDs) and gate signage. When the expansion was initially discussed the plan was modest in scope, but over time, the project shifted with the airport’s growing goals. “YYC was originally going to build a perpendicular wing at the end of one of the piers. A few years in, they adjusted their vision to building two new concourses,” explains Entro’s Gordon McTaggart, Senior Associate and Project Director.
As the project progressed, the Entro team identified areas of much-needed modification such as the gates and compact transit system signage. They also advised the YYC team on ways to relieve user congestion and make navigation more intuitive for users, which resulted in a quick promotion to a position of critical involvement with the overall strategy for the airport retrofit.
The shifting of gates and additional square-footage necessitated the implementation of a new gate numbering scheme, a new call-to-gate system and the compact transit system called YYC Link. All of these improvements, of course, needed their own arms of the overall wayfinding and signage plan in addition to the implementation of transitional wayfinding during the changeover period before the new plan could be fully installed.
The Entro and YYC teams did not shy away from user research on this pivotal project. They began by speaking with passengers and airport staff to find out what issues existed and observed passengers to determine whether they could easily and quickly understand information on signage.
“We immediately noticed that people were having a hard time identifying their flight on the FIDs. Next, we reviewed at all of the existing signs for consistency, then talked to the airport staff and distributed surveys as well. All of which gave us an initial understanding of what the existing terminal was struggling with and what their ‘pain points’ were,” recalls McTaggart.
The Entro team continued on to conduct legibility and accessibility studies—then flow studies to find out how passengers naturally moved through the terminal—to help pinpoint optimal locations for signage. They identified a series of flows for different types of passengers such as those arriving or departing on international flights or transferring to in-country flights.
Looking at these user groups helped the team immensely in understanding how the new portion of the building would operate and aid in identifying where processes or flows might become more complex than before, requiring more signage. In a few cases, it allowed the team to use fewer wayfinding signs because of excellent sight lines.
Even after the installation was complete but before the final unveiling, the testing phase was not over: YYC ran a number of trials, including one in which participants were given scripts and sample tickets to walk through travel scenarios testing the efficacy of the wayfinding.
These tests allowed the YYC and Entro teams to verify the process and fix any last minute problems before the big reveal. McTaggart has a profound appreciation for the process: “It’s one thing to design on paper, another to go into a space when it’s being built and a totally different thing to be the passenger actually using it. Will they see what you anticipate they will see?”
Reaching Cruising Altitude
The Entro team advised the full strategic implementation of the updated signage program for the entire airport including the existing terminals. This changeover was to be completed in two phases, which made user confusion a distinct possibility during the transition, so the team implemented an interim wayfinding plan to combat confusion and create a seamless experience for passengers.
The first phase included replacement of the existing signage (all on a specific date), which then were covered with temporary graphics pending the final opening of the new concourses. The second phase consisted of a similar process, but with the signage affecting the migration of the immigration, customs and passport control area to the new part of the building.
With such a complicated project, there were bound to be challenges. One of the biggest hurdles for the Entro team was the number of stakeholders with overlapping stakes and scopes, from the YYC operations and executive teams to architects and electricians. As a result, Entro provided a lot of coordination specifically related to scope.
Another large, related challenge was maintaining absolute consistency of the signage system from the physical signage to interactive displays. The challenging part for the team was making sure all of the various stakeholders understood the system—and the ripple effect of making seemingly insignificant changes to placement or content of even one sign.
Prepare for Landing
The expansion of the airport required a coordinated wayfinding signage system, which ensures passengers can reach their gates quickly and without stress. Therefore, clear, bold, detectable signage was in order to cut through the bustle of an international travel hub.
The replacement for the existing signage still utilized a blue and yellow color scheme, because YYC wanted to maintain the look, but Entro found a way to make the wayfinding work harder, adjusting the graphics to be more picto-dominant for the newly expanded international audience. The new signs were constructed to be flexible, cost-effective and easy to update by employing acrylic panels with applied vinyl lettering and magnetic sheet backing.
For the gate numbers and key locations, however, Entro used neutral whites and silvers coupled with illumination to allow for easier legibility from a distance. The neutral colors work both in contrast and harmony with the blue and yellow signage. These key location signs are more permanent than the other signs, with an aluminum and LED edge-lit PVC construction. The Entro team purposely chose these finishes to communicate a sense of permanence and integration with the building. “Creating ‘big moments’ with signage shows people they have arrived, which is all part of a strategy to lead them all the way to their final destination,” says McTaggart.
The YYC Link compact transit system is composed of shuttle vehicles, which seat approximately 15 passengers and travel through the concourses, allowing for quicker transfers. For this portion of the project, Entro’s team began by referencing the ways in which subway systems provide wayfinding information to develop station names, shapes and colors. Following their research, they developed A Station, B Station and C Station for the naming of stations and used white, gray and red signage using the different shape sizes and colors to indicate the passenger’s position within the overall system.
When the Entro team came to reimagine the FIDs, they started with changing the organization of data away from sorting by time, which they found to be ineffective for passengers. Color is also now used in a more meaningful way here, with on-time flights in green, delayed flights in yellow and canceled flights in red. The graphics, layouts and concepts were altered to fit with the overall system they developed for YYC. Interactive information kiosk screens and navigation were optimized in much the same manner with great attention to detail.
The design of the new call-to-gate system required clear communication to inform travelers not only when their flight is called, but also the distance to their destination gate. The placement of both digital and static signage was highly strategic to leverage maximum visibility and perception. Much study and research went into the size of text and placement of signage so that it was visible from any point in the check-in area. This solution was inspired by European railway boards.
The expansion of YYC positions Calgary as an international hub and an example of air travel leadership in Canada. The new graphics and wayfinding developed by Entro for YYC provide passengers with clear flight information, reducing anxiety and creating a positive travel experience.
The Entro team is currently working on a white paper focused on the future of airports and the importance of overall look, feel and function in an environment with increasing use of digital signage. Their integration of digital and static signage for YYC has been vital in the development of the white paper.
Project Name: Calgary Airport Wayfinding
Client: Calgary Airport
Location: Calgary, Alberta
Open Date: October 31, 2016
Project Area: 2,000,000 ft2
Fabrication: Knight Signs, Swift Signs
Wayfinding / EGD Design: Entro
Architect: Dialog Architects, GEC Architects
Photos: Jason Dziver