Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal – Part 4: Signage

This is the fourth in a series providing a comprehensive overview of the new Indianapolis airport terminal. You can read part one (exterior), part two (interior), and part three (finishes and furnishings), part five (the artwork), part six (miscellaneous, or rethinking the airport as public space), and part seven (conclusion).

Signage is an often overlooked but critically important design element. It has to appropriately incorporate functionality (i.e., it must be readily readable, understandable, and tell people exactly what they need to know without confusing them), aesthetics, and branding. There are a large number of choices that need to be made: text, size, fonts, colors, placement, etc. All of these combine to produce the intended effect.

Fortunately, this is an area that the airport got right in a big way.

First, here’s a picture of the parking garage ramp we’ve seen before. But if you enlarge this, it also provides a picture of an outdoor parking lot with signage.

Note the orange signs indicating grid position. These are color coded by lot. So this is the Orange Lot. The interior of the garage features Red and Green sections, and there are others too. Simple but effective.

Note, this also gives you a view of the nice lighting masts used in the parking areas.

Here’s a sign on the Departures level, informing the driver of where to drop a passenger off for a particular airline.

The blue and white color scheme with yellow highlights, and a sans-serif font are typical of airports. But note that this is not a simple flat or rectangular sign. It has three dimensional interest, not just straight depth. The angling of the sign panels echoes the slant motif used elsewhere in the airport complex, creating design harmony while aiming the text at ground level viewers. This is a very good sign, and the basic elements of it are used elsewhere to good effect.

For example, here is a sign in the garage guiding people to the passageway to Departures.

This is wall mounted, but there is still one side of the curving, upward sloped panel. The use of visible mounting brackets again provides 3D interest. The yellow panel that says “Terminal” projects below the main sign, creating another layer, creating interest, and preserving the yellow accent color. In the first example, there was actually no text on the yellow piece, but by including it anyway, it sets us up for what to expect elsewhere. This sign here also adds the light blue sections on the end.

Here’s a section of another similar one:

I just had to include this so you could see the “International Arrivals”. But a couple things on the sign as well. One you see the 3D interest maintained here via the lighting rod mounted in front of it. You also see the use standard use of icons, and the dual labeling in English and Spanish. Interestingly, the departures sign I showed earlier was English only, but bi-lingual signs are the rule throughout.

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, Spanish labeling is becoming ubiquitous, and Indy definitely has a large Latino population. There’s also a certain “we’re diverse” advertising message this produces. On the other hand, it privileges one minority language over all others and the message it is beaming is also that Indianapolis has a “narrowcast” diversity that’s Latino only when that is not the case. But I don’t think there’s a clear right or wrong choice here.

Here’s a sign indicating a gate, in this case B10.

Again, what a great sign. It’s modern and masculine, and utilizes all the same design themes I mentioned previously.

Here’s the sign on the gate counter itself.

In a previous installment I noted that I thought the gate counter designs were bad, and the signage is just part of that overall weakness. This sign is a simple, flat rectangle that doesn’t include any of the goodness I mentioned previously. It is as if the gate counters and gate seating areas, very key elements of the airport, were simply afterthoughts. Disappointing.

To cheer us back up again, here’s one of my absolute favorites in the whole airport. Yes, it’s the women’s restroom sign.

There’s no yellow on this one. I presume there was some rule about when and when not to use it, but I didn’t study it closely enough on my visit to discern that. This is back to all our old good design motifs, however. Particularly, note how the “holes” that were used on the gate indicator sign horizontally are now carried through here vertically. It’s not casually noticeable, so makes for a nice surprise for someone to discover.

The highlight is the skirt design. Rather than a simple triangle, they have a upward curving hemline, and a noticeable, curvature at the hip. Mies van der Rohe reputedly said, “God is in the details”, and it is little details like this that make or break the design. Not only does this subtly echo the upward slope motif, it also adds a note of playfulness that livens up what could have been a completely institutional space. You see little things like this throughout the airport that really distinguish it from the competition. And hearkening back to the gate counter design, if you are going to use a wave motif in an overall design like this airport, this is the way to do it.

Contrast this sign with what we could have gotten.

That’s why this is a great airport design.

I’ll leave you with a few signs you might never get to see. These are the ones in the immigration and customs area for international arrivals.

By the way, the ceiling lights here are great, and are one of the finishes I forgot to mention.

Here’s the traditional multi-language welcome sign.

There’s one other welcome sign in the public areas of the airport.

While these welcome signs are competently executed, it occurs to me that they don’t make a bold statement. Something is needed puts forth a powerful proclamation that “This is Indianapolis” along with welcoming the users. What I suggest is that the airport should create a major gateway element on the exit roads. Just as the forthcoming IND sculpture will make a grand welcome to the airport, a complementary “Welcome to Indianapolis” exit signature would be a great addition. This is something many airports have done, but it is seldom done to the level I suggest. I think there’s a big opportunity here to do something special. If the Airport Authority folks are reading this review, I might humbly suggest that they retain Yours Truly to design it.

On the whole, the signage is one of the strongest elements of the airport. The designers took what could have been a purely utilitarian object, and provided not just aesthetic interest, but also used the signage design as part of creating the overall design harmony that permeates the airport as a whole.

Topics: Architecture and Design, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

4 Responses to “Review: New Indianapolis Airport Terminal – Part 4: Signage”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What is the scale/visibility of the bathroom signage as compared to the other signs in the terminal? One of the biggest complaints I have about airports is how relatively difficult it can be to figure out where the restrooms are located due to poor signage.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The women’s restroom sign is missing the very most important element. I’m surprised you missed it. It’s the five letters W-O-M-E-N. Sure you need a picture for those who can’t read. But how many women in need of a restroom will pass by this room before they recognize what the picture means?

    The smuggling sign is only written in English? Whose idea is that? Do they just want to increase their chances of detaining people?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m surprised you chose to comment about the inclusion of the Spanish language. While I’m not an expert, I expect that Spanish is probably a requirement for customs at airports by the FAA or TSA. For example, most large US airports have Spanish doubled on most signs.

    Most international airports choose English as the doubled language, so we would just have to pick another in this case. I would say that Spanish is the prudent choice for two reasons:

    1. It is the #3 language (above English) in number of speakers. Obviously we wouldn’t put Mandarin or Hindustani. After all, “latino” encompasses essentially North and South America, which leads me to #2…

    2. Aside from current service to Toronto, which is English-speaking, the past international service was on ATA to Mexico. Naturally, where else would you expect international flights to come from? I just can’t see Indy drawing direct international flights from anywhere except Latin America. So, in that respect, you would put your 99% language on the signage. It doesn’t say, “We have lots of Hispanic immigrants here” as you suggest. I think of it saying, “We’re glad you’ve arrived to visit Indy from ______, and to make your customs/arrival experience easier, we’ve included a language that we hope you can understand in order to avoid any problems.”

  4. Anonymous says:

    You had the benefit of spending some time in the airport, but you and the designers forgot that departing passengers need signage directing them where to exit the concourses and to the baggage claim area. Coming out of the terminal, there is no sign (as you’re walking forward) indicating where to exit. Only if you look 90 degrees to your side will you see the sign (you have pictured) indicating to go through to baggage. Because the wall is curved the exit is difficult to find. There needs to be a sign in the corridor, so passengers can see it ahead indicating where to exit. Once you have entered Civic Plaza, there is no signage directing you to baggage claim. OOPS! The airport must have figured this out now, as there are temporary signs (literally photo copies stapled to wood sticks) in the middle of the Plaza directing passengers forward.

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