Calming down Saussure at the Airport

| July 13, 2010

I travelled this weekend, not a long trip or anything, just to Virginia from New York.  While I was in the airport, it struck me yet again, how important it is to make signs and labels large, readable and placed in logical places.

This is not my first time travelling, not that I jet around the world or anything, but I travel by plane frequently enough to get through security without much fuss.  I think this would qualify me as a proficient user, not necessarily an expert, but comfortable with the medium and environment.

So this weekend, I was travelling out of a smaller regional airport, with long hallways of unused space, and two things surprised me.  First, that security was not closer to the check in point.  In many of the airports I have experience with, security is pretty close to the front door.  I even asked someone if I was headed towards security,  that’s how far away it was.

After Security, I was spit out into a large round atrium like room, with mall type stores and food places around the outer edge and two large hallways to the right and left.  I needed to go to Gate A6, the sign on the left said “Baggage Claim” and the Sign on the right said “Gates 10 – 20”.

Again, I asked the woman sitting at the pagoda in the middle of the atrium and asked a woman where my gate was.  She pointed behind her, to a tiny hallway, the sign for which had been obscured by the top of the very structure in which she was sitting.

The reason I’m talking about this on an “information type” blog, is that I think we forget about how often we are receiving and acting on information in our day to day lives.  I was surprised to have to look so hard for the gate number, much less to have to ASK someone, because I was expecting to be able to glean that information more casually.

If the sign had been larger, or another sign had been hung in the security room with general arrows, I would have picked up enough information to proceed along to the next step without need for help.   The shape of the room, and the position of the two large hallways and the fact that the third hallway was blocked from my vision implied that there were two options, Baggage Claim, or Gates 10 – 20, but then . . . who starts numbering things at 10?

My point is, we process information quickly and often, without knowing we’re doing it.  There is a certain amount of flow to an airport (mall, train station, museum, or any other environment planned for masses of people), and signs and labels are a key part to that flow.  I know that seems obvious, but once you start looking, you will be shocked by how often a handle indicating “pull” is placed on the side of the door where someone needs to push, or where a sign indicating where half of the gates in an airport are located, is placed behind the large roof of a pagoda.  There are implications to