San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Wayfinding Program

Practice Area


San Francisco International Airport


Project Vision

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Wayfinding Program combines ambitious changes to enhance the guest experience and optimize Airport operations with reimagined product, service and information designs that are intuitive to use, and more sustainable to manage and maintain. The program sets a new benchmark for the North American aviation sector.

A $7B Capital Program, including a $2.4B redevelopment of Terminal 1, provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strategically rethink the role of wayfinding at SFO. At a time of accelerating growth in passenger numbers, the team was challenged to bring a fresh perspective, develop a collaborative design process, and deliver systemic changes to achieve exemplary airport-wide wayfinding.

In response to this complex design challenge, the innovative concept of ‘Wayfinding as a Service’ was developed, linking design research insights and behavioral patterns, with the semiotics of placemaking. The concept raises the status of wayfinding as a cross-departmental, multi-disciplinary design service, ensuring a holistic approach to creating positive and memorable guest experiences.

The ambitious redesign of all wayfinding touchpoints across the airport leverages the layout of terminals and the design of environmental cues to integrate a new family of information products. The logical application of information builds guest understanding, giving people agency concerning their time and choices.

To date, over 50 physical products have been planned and delivered. The system is being rolled out in the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Terminal 2 and planning is underway for application to the remaining terminals; across curbside and public transit environments, parking garages, roadway signage, and the AirTrain. A complementary range of print maps has been developed for airport customer-service staff and guests. Comprehensive internal and external communication material was also developed to aid passenger wayfinding during the smooth and successful implementation of airport-wide gate re-numbering.

The project has already had a profound impact, including

  • Influencing the final architectural design of the new Terminal 1,
  • The overnight re-numbering of all airport gates to a new user-centered alphanumeric system (understood to be the most ambitious project of its kind in global aviation history),
  • Improved placement and application of new information products,
  • A new suite of printed maps and guides that work alongside the physical product family,
  • The complete redesign of all flight displays and back-end digital display systems,
  • Improved connectivity to the wider regional movement system including public transit, taxis and TNCs (Uber/Lyft).

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Project Details
Design Team

City ID: Mike Rawlinson (Design Director providing creative direction and leadership of the design team.), Jason Smith (Projects Director responsible for planning and managing the design team and implementation process.), Nick Durrant (design specialist in human factors, behavior analysis/insights and service design processes.), Harriet Hand (Design specialist in wayfinding design strategy, information planning, system architecture and identity design.), David Gillam (Principal Designer leading strategic design process and wayfinding system design development.), Tom Eves (Project Lead in wayfinding planning, design and implementation across various program projects.), Cal Jepps (Senior Designer working on wayfinding system planning, cartography and identity development.), Liam Randall (Project Lead in wayfinding planning, design and implementation across various program projects.), Josh Sherwood (Senior Designer working on wayfinding system planning, cartography and identity development.), Olivia Bull, Lottie Webb, Hannah Chatham (Designer working on wayfinding system planning, cartography and identity development.)Billings Jackson Design: Duncan Jackson (Partner and creative director of applied industrial design process for new family of wayfinding products.), Niels Denekamp (senior designer of applied industrial design for new family of wayfinding products.)San Fransisco International Airport: Jacob Ehrenberg (SFO Wayfinding Program Director, spearheading the development of the wayfinding program.)

Project Area

640,000 sq.ft.


Michael Thomson (Specialist Advisor, City ID/Design Connect), Bruno Maag (Typography, Dalton Maag), Jon Canapary (User Testing, Corey, Canapary & Galanis Research)


Studio 431 Landscape Forms (Fabricator of prototypes), Future Systems Inc (Fabrication of products for various projects.), Priority Architectural Graphics (Implementation of various projects.), LaHue & Associates (Implementation of various projects.), Vomar Products (Fabrication of prototypes)