By Lara Pérez-Porro
Two years ago I arrived in Amsterdam to join Mijksenaar’s team and in two weeks I found myself on a plane to Guadalajara, Mexico, together with my Dutch colleagues. The purpose of the trip was to work on the Signage Manual for GAP (Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico), a Mexican company operating 12 airports in the Pacific region. Looking back I can only say: ‘What a ride!’
We visited four airports – Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Tijuana and Los Cabos – and using that experience, we designed the wayfinding system that will be implemented in the rest of the airports of the group.
Airports as Places
Wayfinding might sound like a very straightforward term. An arrow and a message: ‘go there’, ‘take this direction’, but it’s more than that. It’s not only about function, it’s an exercise of communication and expression.
If we take into account the large number of signs that will be present at an airport, we can understand that signage will have an impact on the environment and will become part of the landscape.
‘It’s not only about function, it’s an exercise of communication and expression.’
Let’s take one step back and look at airports, which are nowadays no longer simple transport facilities. They’ve become complex precincts gathering a diversity of functions, services and users. With the permission of anthropologist Marc Augé, I will say they are now a Place.
Passengers come and go, while waiting for their flights they spend time enjoying (or suffering) other activities. Retail, for example, plays a big role in the airport industry.
It’s important then, that we design the space with users in mind, offering them the best experience. We aim to create an atmosphere that makes them feel comfortable, with a clear identity and an expression of sense of place.
Architecture, branding, graphics, wayfinding – everything contributes.
First function then spirit
But let’s go back to our Mexican story. Once in Mexico and familiarized with the place, our client and the airports, we were ready to set up a wayfinding strategy that ensured the functionality of the system. First function then spirit. We relied on the signs to evoke this spirit through the use of shapes and materials, but mainly by their graphic elements, color, pictograms and typeface.
Pictograms reinforce the visual appearance and are a powerful tool to express the local culture when used properly. We kept Lance Wyman and his project for the Metro wayfinding system in México City in mind. Here, however, we’re working at an airport, and it’s imperative to consider the international standards and accompany them with text so the message is clear to all passengers.
Then the typeface. That element that, like music in movies, no one, apart from designers, notices, but that can completely change the story. We went for Signika, a sans serif font of clear appearance, perfect to be used in signage since it improves readability while adding an extra drop of character.
Color supports identity
And last but not least, Color, which triggered a great discussion, as is usually the case in most of the projects. All colors are beautiful, but not all combinations fit in a wayfinding system, especially in the context of a transport facility. Some points need to be considered, like contrast or visibility, to ensure the legibility of signs.
After a thorough study of the colors in the architecture, the colors used by the client’s competitors and the geographical and cultural context, we chose an intense yellow as the primary color.
A yellow background makes is powerful, but moreover it fits the context of the company and the pacific region. Combined with a warm and neutral grey it provides some balance in signs and contributes to creating the visual image of the airports.
Color is at the same time one of the elements that will have a greater impact on the environment. It’s essential to the identity of the company, creating a recognizable image that distinguishes it from its competitors. Color affects our perception and is an excellent ingredient to communicate the spirit of the place.
With all of these choices we’ve established a tone of voice and created a visual landscape. Wayfinding becomes a tool that facilitates orientation, thus improving the experience of passengers but at the same time allowing the client to make a statement:
‘Welcome to GAP airports. We wish you a pleasant trip.’
Lara Pérez-Porro is an architect and multidisciplinary designer with a focus on environmental design and wayfinding. She works as a wayfinding designer and architect at Mijksenaar.
Mexican Airports – GAP
‘GAP’ operates 12 airports in Mexico’s Pacific region. The objective for this project was to create a new wayfinding strategy, that would make a visit to their airports as easy and effortless as possible.
More on the project …