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Wayfinding is much more than just guiding people! How? As a manager in a location, you have the ability to use routes to improve the UX use experience. And through doing so, such as through developing a heritage narrative along the route, you improve opportunities to commercial your location. This is explained further below!

Developing a heritage narrative in airports

In order to really get the most out of wayfinding, i.e. to:

  • Provide your users with the very best possible experience (so that they want to re-use your venue or location as a return customer).
  • Commercalise your location by making the experience from A to B an enjoyable one.

Studies have shown that the more relaxed we are, the more likely we are to spend money. Create a narrative as a part of your wayfinding system and you have the opportunity to sub-consciously draw users in, in such as way that you create a real experience for them.

Make the journey a fun or an interesting one for them and they will be more relaxed and more likely to also return. Some airports focus this narrative such that it is aimed at children.

Welsh dragon heritage

Welsh Dragon in Cardiff Airport – Create photo opportunities for users – but place the props in the right locations.

Happy children mean happier parents and this can have a quite profound experience of how your location is perceived. Users who find a route between A and B to be stressful will most often find a place to use as a base (such as by the departure gate if using an airport) and are much less likely to explore the location if any part of the route has been stressful. Building a narrative is certainly one way to improve the positive experience and through this, commercial opportunities.

Floor map story telling

Storytelling and narrative experience in Gatwick Airport

One of the great things about building a narrative into your wayfinding system is that it does NOT need to be expensive! A lot of the props and tools that you can use to do this are often inexpensive to produce. If we take an airport as an example, most passengers are looking for an experience hence why they are travelling, most often for holiday and vacation purposes.

Hawaiian prop

A face in hole prop for taking fun photos

There are numerous ways to develop a wayfinding narrative and one quite popular and effective way is to tap into the local heritage and culture. A person who has visited Wales, UK, for example, most likely would likely enjoy taking a photograph next to a huge dragon (and why not brand it with the airport name to remind them of the airport when they look at the photos later on in the future). An airport in Hawaii might choose a Hawaiian face in the hole board to engage with passengers to develop the Hawaiian experience. You might also choose to punctuate the route with other heritage based props including dancers (see a great post on this on worlddanceheritage.org).

Heritage provides something unique to a location and is thus always a wonderful way of creating this wayfinding narrative. A transport hub, such as an airport in Hawaii, will have a quite different culture from an airport in Wales, UK or from Bangkok, Thailand. There is a wonderful opportunity thus to make the route between A and B (in this case through an airport) more than just a dull route.

There are many ways to get creative without affecting the standard wayfinding signage, which we of course still need for guiding users through the main areas of a location, i.e. from check-in through to security and then to their departure gate. Remember though that within these main routes there are heuristic routes. By this it means that there will be many mini wayfinding tasks in addition, such as when trying to find a toilet (restroom), trying to find a shop or a place to eat. So the trick in wayfinding is to create easy to use signage, use of space and use of human interaction to direct and guide people through your space. But also to build that into a narrative which creates the experience around it.

birmingham airport storyline

Birmingham Airport, UK story-line

Questions to Ask Yourself

lf you are looking to build a heritage narrative into your wayfinding system, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What local heritage can be incorporated into your location?
  • How can you make the experience a more memorable one for users, including from photographs and other ways in which people document their memories and engage with social media?
  • What commercial opportunities can you tie into the heritage opportunities?
  • In multi-user locations, how can you use narrative to improve the experience for children, for those with disabilities and so on?
  • How can you connect advertising opportunities with the local heritage?
Heritage narrative using a bin

Why not use simple artefacts such as bins to bring in commercial revenue and to build a narrative?

location branding

Cadbury’s Chocolate is known worldwide and the factory is in Birmingham, hence the natural use of Cadbury’s as a combination of advertising and narrative building.

Branding local attractions

Even subtle and simple low-cost solutions can be used, such as that used in Gatwick, London airport, which has The Gherkin imprinted onto the glass.

flying narrative

Historical heritage narrative in Cardiff International airport in Wales, UK

Sponsored narrative

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Dr Paul Symonds has a PhD in Wayfinding from Cardiff Metropolitan University in the UK. Paul works with the signage industry, airports and other locations providing wayfinding audits, consultancy and training.