Intuitive wayfinding and on-brand environmental graphics get the job done at JetBlue’s new JFK terminal.
Literally in the shadow of the iconic Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal at New York’s JFK International Airport, the new JetBlue Airways terminal was designed to do its job quietly, without drawing attention away from the Saarinen landmark.
At the same time, the 635,000-sq.-ft., 26-gate T5 terminal also needed to provide unparalleled service levels for JetBlue passengers, whose numbers are expected to double at the airport (to 20 million passengers per year on up to 250 daily flights). And for the young airline—opening the first new terminal of its own planning and design—T5 also provided a chance to showcase its “JetBlue-ness” for the world to see.
“Customer service is always the bottom line for us,” says TJ McCormick, JetBlue’s manager of brand design. “So T5 is as passenger friendly as we could make it.” That includes not only the largest security array in the world to minimize passenger wait times, but amenities like barefoot-friendly rubberized flooring in the security area, high-design furniture in the departure lounges, and a unique Marketplace venue with 26 restaurants and 25 retail stores.
Airport customers are happiest when it’s easy to find their gate or the services they need. So JetBlue knew effective wayfinding was important. A judicious amount of branding along the way wouldn’t hurt either. “We saw good wayfinding as a very functional, integrated service,” says McCormick. “But with the environmental graphics, we were able to insert some fresh, inviting, and somewhat unexpected treatments that visually convey who we are and what our brand means.”
As project architect, interior designers, and environmental graphic designers for T5, Gensler took the opportunity to make wayfinding as intuitive and architecturally integrated as possible. “When we talk about wayfinding, we don’t always separate it from architecture,” says Beth Ready, a senior associate in environmental graphics who worked closely with her architectural and interiors colleagues on T5.
Circulation through the terminal was kept as simple as possible, says Bill Hooper, Gensler’s principal in charge of the project. Passengers have only three choices for getting to their gates, which increases their confidence (and, not coincidentally, their chances of patronizing airport concessions). Glowing blue walls at key points (such as the security zone) pulls passengers to and through the spaces. Beyond security, a directional ramp orients them to their next movement. Material choices—such as patterned stainless steel at restrooms—also serve as wayfinding cues.
Wayfinding signage was dictated by stringent Port Authority of New York and New Jersey signage guidelines for colors, type, letter heights, and materials. PANYNJ has adopted and slightly modified the “Schiphol standard,” a color-coded information system that helps passengers visually classify types of information. (PANYNJ’s sign standards were completed in 2002 by Mijksenaar Arup Wayfinding.) The system uses yellow for signs that apply to flight information (ticketing, gates, arrivals, etc.), black for airport services (restrooms, escalators, and phones), green for signs that lead travelers out of the airport (exits, ground transportation, and parking), and gray as a catchall color for other information, says Ready.
To keep costs down, Gensler minimized the number of sign types and, because available light levels were measurably high, chose not to illuminate interior signs. “Keeping the number of sign types down helped from a fabrication and maintenance cost standpoint,” says Ready. “We tried to take advantage of as many economies of scale as possible.”
At the core of the system are large ceiling-mounted directionals with aluminum cabinets, Dibond faces, vinyl lettering, and painted-steel posts. Gates, restrooms, elevators and escalators, and other services located off the concourses are identified with Sintra blade signs in aluminum mounting brackets.
Materials were chosen to minimize cost and weight loads, says Kevin Cherashore, vice president of business development for MSD Visual, the project fabricator. Installation of the 150-pound ceiling-hung signs required close coordination with a slew of building contractors. “The sign posts had to be lined up carefully with the ceiling grid and with duct work, steel beams, electrical, and other infrastructure,” says Cherashore. “The field coordination was pretty intense.”
Cheap and cheerful
In the terminal’s environmental graphics, Gensler knew it had the chance to add color and attitude to a building that could otherwise have felt like a big box.
“JetBlue is a low-cost carrier and this is basically the aviation equivalent of a Costco or a Best Buy,” says Ready. “They obviously didn’t want this place to be gold-plated, but it could be fun and friendly, and add to the positive experience they wanted customers to have.”
The final design is minimalist but sophisticated, with some “cheap and cheerful” graphic interventions that add warmth, reinforce wayfinding cues, and visually convey the JetBlue brand.
“Working with the interior and architectural teams, we agreed that some of the interior spaces should be more subdued while graphics provided the pop,” explains Ready. Stacked escalators, for example, provide a bit of a wayfinding challenge because they require passengers to make a hard turn to go up to the next level. A digitally output wall mural encourages this somewhat un-intuitive maneuver, encouraging them to keep going.
The skywalk connecting the train station with the terminal is a long walk, but designers provided a beacon in the form of a huge JetBlue identity wall that urges them on. And graphic murals are used to identify bathrooms, lead the way to the baggage claim area, and break up long corridors.
It’s up to you, New York
JetBlue also worked with the Rockwell Group to plan the Marketplace, a triangular retail and dining area where T5’s three concourses converge.
Equating “JetBlue-ness” with the airline’s hometown, Rockwell conceived a signature destination that references New York landmarks. A 4-ft.-tall grandstand inspired by the steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art allows passengers to sit, eat, work, and relax in the space. Hung from the ceiling on a cabling system that recalls the Brooklyn Bridge, a 44-ft.-wide aluminum “information yoke” is both landmark and content delivery system. Studded with 43 40-in. LCD monitors, the shape of the huge chandelier-like structure is reminiscent of the Saarinen terminal’s roofscape.
The monitors were initially used for video art by two New York artists but, now that the installation is gone, JetBlue is considering how best to use the real estate. “We’re looking into using the ring as a way to show more environmental graphics, in addition to more advertising-oriented content—in an appropriate and tasteful manner,” says McCormick. The airline is also considering interactive media, perhaps generating content based on passenger movement through the space.
As steward of the JetBlue brand, McCormick says his group uses five brand values—nice, smart, fresh, stylish, and witty—as benchmarks for measuring any creative work supporting the brand. “These attributes are what our customers expect of us, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t experience those same values in our new terminal.”
--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 24, 2009
JETBLUE TERMINAL T5 at JFK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
WAYFINDING AND ENVIRONMENTAL GRAPHICS
Client: JetBlue Airways
Architecture, Interiors, and Environmental Graphic Design: Gensler
Design Team: Chris Banks, Sophie Berry, Kashyap Bhimjiani, Cliff Bollman, David Epstein, Arthur Gensler, Kristian Gregerson, Thomas Gregory, William Hopper Jr. (principal in charge), Darris James, Ruth Jansson, Matt Johnson, Kathleen Lepley, Giulio Leucci, Kap Malik, Beth Miller, Francesca Miller, Ty Osbaugh, Beth Ready, Maurice Reid, Joseph Romano, Umang Shah, Stephanie Shapiro, Carolyn Sponza, Yukiko Takahashi, Tim Taylor, Marion White, Joyce Young
Consultants: Anthony C. Baker Architects & Planners (associate architect), Daroff Design (associate designer), Rockwell Group (Marketplace design), Ammann & Whitney (structural engineer)
Fabrication: MSD Visual (primary fabricator)
Photos: ©Prakash Patel, Nic Lehoux, David Joseph (as noted)