Signage for Airports: Wayfinding Systems, Kiosks, Murals & Electronic Displays

(Part 1 of our series Planes, Trains, & Parking Garages: A Guide to Signage and Transit)

Airports are some of the busiest places in the world with thousands of passengers, and in the case of airports like Atlanta hundreds of thousands of passengers, arriving and departing through their gates each day. This isn’t even including all the employees who make these airports run, including everyone from the flight crew, to the TSSA safety attendants, to the staff who keep the airport property and all its services running. It’s no surprise then that signage plays an essential role in how an airport functions, from the essential wayfinding signage that gets travelers where they need to go, to the electronic signs and kiosks that many interact with to check-in and to find their flights, to the graphics and murals that provide a sense of place and often a welcoming message to the city where passengers are arriving and departing. In this part 1 of three of “Planes, Trains, & Parking Garages: A Guide to Signage and Transit” we breakdown signs’ importance in the airport industry.

  1. Art, Graphics, & Murals
MIKI Yoshihito from Sapporo City,Hokkaido., JAPAN, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Travel can be disorienting for many, whether you’re a first time flyer or a seasoned business pro, and one of the ways airports can make you feel at home when you’re miles away is to show you a sense of place.

Airports often achieve this through signage promoting the locale you’re in, and also through signs with messages specifically welcoming you to the airport, the city, and perhaps the country for international airports, that you’ve arrived in.

  1. Electronic Signs

Perhaps one of the most essential signs at airports for passengers are the digital displays that are setup at each gate, at check-in, and at luggage pick-up, highlighting the progress of flights. “On Time”, “Delayed”, and “Canceled” are some of the most important words and phrases one needs to check for when flying, and to be able to see this quickly and easily is crucial.

Thankfully the development of electronic technology, through TVs and display screens, has made this a significantly easier process than in the past to implement. This is why these displays are pretty much ubiquitous at nearly every airport throughout the world.

  1. Kiosks

Before touchless technology really started taking off, such as QR codes and mobile apps, kiosks and self-service stations became the go to mode for people to more quickly, and ideally with less lines, accomplish what they needed.

At airports, kiosks are often sources of quick information, whether it’s a kiosk with a visual map or guide, or the kiosks setup at check-in which allow for boarding passes to be printed. Even as boarding passes go mobile, kiosks can still be set up to scan QR codes on apps, should passengers prefer a printed boarding pass for their flight.

4. Directional and Informational Signage

Aside from the digital displays, the only signage perhaps matching in importance in airports is the directional and informational signs that guide you to where you need to go along with the signs identifying where you’ve arrived at. In particular, wayfinding systems that help passengers find their gates are especially crucial. Whether you have time to leisurely stroll, or you’re rushing to catch your flight, these signs are what get you to where you need to go.

5 Best Practices for an Effective Wayfinding Signage System

We’ve already discussed and highlighted the 6 benefits of wayfinding signs as well as the various types of wayfinding signs. Now let’s talk about what you need to do to ensure your wayfinding system is successful. Here are 5 best practices to ensure you achieve success with your wayfinding systems.

  1. Identify a Naming Convention

If you have a particularly large complex, then you may need signs numbering in the dozens and even hundreds. When developing signage to that scale you need to keep in mind that a sign in one building representing an office or break room for instance should look the same, and read the same, as a sign representing an office or break room in another part of the building.

Wayfinding signage is at its best when it’s recognizable even for just a quick glance, and maintaining a naming convention for your spaces will help with this.

  1. Setup Wayfinding Signage For Easy Maintenance and Change

Wayfinding signage’s lifespan can vary depending on the needs of the business and the static or dynamic nature of the physical space itself. Construction of an additional building on a campus for instance, college or corporate, would mean there would be a need for additional signage. This signage should match the existing signs, and that can mean the need for additional investment. Additional digital signage therefore can be quite an investment. However, if an entire department changes 

Not everyone can purchase a wayfinding system with digital signage throughout, and even when you do you need to ensure you have employees at your office, or a partner, who can input messages and serve as a contact or source for any repair needs.

  1. Future-proof and Value Add

Though digital signage requires a greater initial investment, you may also find additional value in your sign system as you find or develop new uses for your signage. Digital signage can add potential marketing abilities, internally or externally, and if the latter you might be able to charge for commercial use or advertisement. Overtime these ads can help the return on investment of your digital wayfinding signage.

If you’re considering using physical wayfinding signage though, then future-proofing signage may look a little different. In this case, you’ll need to consider developing a partnership with a sign company that can routinely provide updated signage to your wayfinding systems.

  1. Clear and Concise Messaging.

Wayfinding signage needs to be read at varying speeds. You’ll want to consider this when developing your wayfinding system, and while most may be able to read at a slower pacec you have to keep in mind especially those folks hurriedly trying to find their destination. Simple and clean sign design can help convey the message you want the receiver to understand. Convoluted messaging, smaller text sizes, and ornate fonts would muddle the message.

  1. Standard Positioning and Placement

Probably one of the most crucial aspects of an effective wayfinding system is the physical locations of the wayfinding signage itself. ADA signs are required by law to be positioned in specific locations; however, for those that aren’t required to be ADA compliant, there’s more leeway. Even so, you should still design the system so that if you entered any room in the complex a visitor would know where to expect the signage to be.

If you consider an airport with an effective wayfinding system, you know after spending just a little time inside that all the Gate #’s are positioned in the same space. This is so passengers do not have to spend an exorbitant amount of time looking for their gate. You may also be thinking of an airport with a poor wayfinding system that you have visited, and if so you may be thinking now of how this poorly affects passengers’ moods, the time it takes to go through the airport extends, and this could ultimately lead to missing one’s flight.


As you’ve seen, Wayfinding is used across various industries, from health care, aviation, schools, businesses, and so many more industries we have not yet touched on. Though there are unique challenges and needs for each, developing a comprehensive wayfinding system with these best practices in mind will help your wayfinding system achieve the success you want.

To help further the success of your wayfinding system, consider partnering with a sign company like Ortwein Sign. We have the knowledge and know-how to fabricate, install, and service your wayfinding system and signs. Call us today at (423) 867-9208 or contact us online to see how we can help solve your wayfinding problems!


ACRP Report 52: Wayfinding and Signing Guidelines for Airport Terminals and Landside

Where Am I Going? Wayfinding best practices and guidelines (EPAM Continuum)

    Wayfinding Systems: Solutions Through Signage

    If you’re entering a new business for the first time, often you’ll look for a wayfinding sign to guide you to where you need to go. In a theme park or mall, this can be a matter of convenience. In a hospital or in an emergency, it can be a matter of life or death. Wayfinding systems do not just guide customers to where they need to go though. They also offer business owners a chance to brand their signage and thus give their customers a sense of place when visiting your business. For these reasons and more, wayfinding signage has become an essential component of interior signage for buildings of all size.

    In this blog, we will discuss the different types of wayfinding signs, the benefits of wayfinding signage, and the opportunities that they provide businesses as well to brand their shop.

    What is Wayfinding Signage?

    In “Issue of wayfinding concept in museum interiors”, by T. Sarihati, R. Firmansyah, S. Salayanti & N. Hasanah A. Rosyad (PDF), the authors state “Wayfinding is a means to provide information related to directions, special signs for certain locations. Wayfinding is a system that provides predictable locations by various types of information and hierarchical instructions that enhance understanding and navigation in an environment.” Wayfinding systems and signs therefore serve to acclimate a person to a space and help guide them through it to one or more destinations.

    What are the 6 types of Wayfinding Signage?

    According to T. Sarihati, R. Firmansyah, S. Salayanti & N. Hasanah A. Rosyad, there are 6 defined types of wayfinding signage. Their descriptions of each type of signage are as follows:

    1. Orientational Sign

    “Orientational sign is a panel of signs that contains clear information about the position of a person in an environment, such as maps, architectural references from a building, and the plan of the circulation of lanes in and out. Road search is characterized by knowledge of the route obtained through procedural rules.”

    Orientational Sign for the medical complex The Atrium Building 2
    1. Information or Informational Sign

    An Informational Sign “refers to the specifics and details of information, with the sign form being adjusted to the information that is to be conveyed. “

    1. Directional Sign

    Directional sign shows the direction or location of the destination to be directed by visitors. This sign is an explicit navigation tool. It is expected to make visitors more efficient and comfortable in an environment.

    Directional Signs for the medical complex The Atrium Building 2
    1. Identification Sign

    Identification signage gives the identity of an object or place according to its type and function.

    Apartment leasing office sign on front of apartment complex
    1. Statutory Sign

    Statutory (regulatory) sign is in the form of regulations, general restrictions, or permits for a particular activity. Its main function is to maintain one’s safety from danger and informs what to do and not to do.

    1. Ornamental Sign

    Ornamental sign serves as a decorative element that aims to beautify, enhance, or beautify an overall appearance of an environment or as a complement to the elements of a sign (Kusuma 2018)

    What are the benefits of Wayfinding Signage?

    1. Improves Traffic Flow in Your Workplace or Business Environment

    At its core, a wayfinding system is setup to improve the flow of traffic for visitors and employees alike. By allowing people to be a more astute guide through the use of wayfinding signage, you’re improving people’s ability to traverse your spaces. This singular benefit impacts all the benefits to follow.

    2. Improves Workplace Environment for Visitors and Employees Alike

    In Best Practices for Wayfinding in a Hospital Setting by Jerod S Potter, a Clinical Informaticist at Salem Health, he analyzed wayfinding studies in hospital settings and found one study, Benefits of Effective Wayfinding
    Chaudhury, H., Mahmood, A., & Valente, M. (2009), saw that “[p]atient and visitor satisfaction scores also rise when better wayfinding improves movement through the hospital, positively impacting the staff and reducing turnover. [Likewise], better design…facilitates a healthier, happier environment for staff helps to increase staff

    3. Direct Visitors to Unseen or Underutilized Spaces and Facilities

    Directional sign in the middle of a cruise ship foyer

    Instead of letting visitors stumble into a space or place you want them to find, an orientational sign can let them know it exists, a directional sign can point them where to go, and an identifying sign can let them know they’ve arrived. Without such signage visitors may never find this place, nor even know it exists to begin with. Therefore a proper wayfinding system can help inform and orient your visitors to the myriad of locations in your facility or business that they can and cannot visit.

    4. Enhance Brand Identity and Sense of Place

    If two companies such as Target and Wal-Mart were to be placed within the same building adjacent to one another, thanks to their use of wayfinding signage and recognizable brand symbols you would know doubt still know when you’re in which store’s space. Though this example us unlikely to occur, you may have commercial space such as malls, corporate complexes, or even hospitals or schools where this is an increased reality. Even if you’re the only occupant of your business space, you still want your visitors and employees to feel as if they’re in your businesses’ space, and wayfinding signage allows for that ability especially when paired with quality brand design and brand implantation. Signs marking offices and doors can include a small logo for instance of your company, or perhaps they could simple have an artistic rendering of shapes using your logo’s colors. Both are methods for which you can with varying levels of subtlety tell people in your building where they are at and what business they are in at that moment in time.

    At Ortwein Sign, we pride ourselves on our ability to design and produce wayfinding signage to scale! Whether you need a couple signs, or hundreds, we’re the team to meet your needs. Contact us for a free quote today to see how our team can help your business!