San Francisco International Airport Signage and Wayfinding

Innovating the Passenger Experience at SFO

Vicki Sundstrom, PE, started her career as a traffic engineer in Landside Operations at San Francisco International Airport. Today, she manages the signage program that helps SFO’s 41 million annual domestic and international travelers navigate four terminals and seven boarding areas. She will be a keynote speaker at the SEGD/ASMN Airport & Transportation Workshop September 25-26, sharing how SFO continues to innovate the passenger experience.

SFO seems to focus on innovation, from its new green terminal to the new beacon wayfinding system for the visually impaired and continuing integration of digital technology. Is there a culture of innovation at SFO and, if so, what does that look/feel like? 

SFO strives for excellence; being innovative is part of our core values. Having a director who sets the stage for excellence has us all thinking about what it means to be innovative. We work to provide an excellent experience and never settle for anything less.

SFO also seems very focused on optimizing the passenger experience. How does this impact signage and wayfinding?

In 2013, SFO conducted an analysis of its facilities, reviewing signage, wayfinding, and the environment. The findings are being used to define our efforts toward optimizing the passenger experience with signage and wayfinding. At a very high level, it has been about creating an awareness that wayfinding is not just signage. At an organizational level, it emphasizes that signage is one component of a bigger picture in providing information to travelers. There are many initiatives afloat in terms of signage, wayfinding, and training that the airport is reviewing on the front lines/ground level.

What are some of the ways that you and your team are integrating digital technology into the signage and wayfinding system?

SFO has numerous digital signage/wayfinding applications outside of the standard aviation-related applications (flight information displays, gate information, etc.).  From curbside digital signage to interactive wayfinding and applications in between, SFO continues to explore possibilities and applications to best serve the passengers. One of them is a future Bluetooth beacon system that will help visually impaired passengers find their way through the airport using their smartphones.

Can you tell us about the new wayfinding touchscreens in Boarding Area E and how they tie into other aspects of the existing wayfinding system?

Words fall short in describing the collective “wow” factor of the overall design and functionality of the interactive touchscreen wayfinding system. As a part of our overall wayfinding system, these kiosks help travelers along their journey through SFO, providing information on the “bigger picture” (maps), some added functionality (flight information, travel times, etc.), and information about dining, shopping, and other amenities. They tie into other SFO systems, allowing the maps to be updated in real time. By standardizing the digital signage platform, we have the ability to push the envelope with regards to digital communications in airports.

What does your technology integration team look like? What types of expertise do you have in-house and who have you pulled in from the outside to fill the gaps?

SFO has two very experienced and talented teams guiding signage technology efforts, the Terminal Systems team and the IT department. The recent interactive system was a sizable project, which required development from the ground up. In addition to the in-house technology support, we brought in Ilium Associates and Omnivex to push the limits of the technology on the design front. Gensler designed the housing for the unit.

What are the wayfinding challenges unique to SFO?

A circular terminal complex, ground transportation on two levels, and a pre-security people mover system (AirTrain) make for some challenging wayfinding situations at SFO.  Challenging but not insurmountable!  A passenger survey conducted last year showed 93% satisfaction in signage/wayfinding at SFO.

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