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Advances in wayfinding present new opportunities for airports


Outdoor navigation technology has been in your pocket for years. In fact, you have to make a real effort to buy a phone that isn’t capable of providing a detailed map of the world.

But as fantastic as this technology is, the navigation – which is enabled via GPS – often drops out when you enter a building. Despite the cool tricks dreamt up by Hollywood, satellite technology is actually not very good at picking up phone frequencies from within buildings.

That shouldn’t be a problem, because that’s where wayfinding comes in, but traditional wayfinding, delivered through signage and on-wall maps (the classic ‘you are here’ arrow or dot), has limits to its effectiveness.

Wayfinding helps people navigate from one section of a physical space to another area in that space via effective communication of relevant information. In addition, wayfinding should also augment a person’s experience of the environment and boost their understanding of the space they are moving through.

If wayfinding is doing its job:
• You know what your destination is
• The route to your destination is clear and easy to follow
• Your destination is easy to recognise when you reach it
• And your way back is clear

How does digital wayfinding work?

When the person arrives at an office space or shopping or entertainment area (etc), they open the app and key in the location they want. The app then calculates a route from their current location to the point in the environment they need: it shows a map of the location, and their route is clearly marked.

Just like traditional car sat-nav systems they then press ‘start’ and the app visually shows them where to head and audibly advises them.

As they progress along the route the app constantly updates showing them where they are and giving them regular voice and visual updates to show them where and when to turn, go straight-on, or change floors.

It will also let the person know when they have arrived at their destination. However, unlike car sat-nav the system is accurate to one to two metres as the ‘sensors’ are within the building (not 12,000 miles away in space).

This means it can take a person direct to a specific shop or any other a location within an airport.

Airports tend to be complex places — often they have been extended several times — and 74% of travellers report having had a bad experience trying to find their gate.

It is hardly surprising that traditional wayfinding can struggle to cope with extremely busy airport environments with numerous retail and F&B outlets competing for the attention of travellers with their own eye-catching signage, plus frequent construction projects or temporary restrictions, and when abroad, signage in a foreign language added to the mix.

Frustrated customers, wandering around aimlessly looking for specific areas or services or outlets, or not knowing which services and brands are available is not good for the businesses operating in an airport.

Employing digital wayfinding can help reduce the number of lost shoppers, plus boost footfall: in shopping malls, a 41% increase in footfall has been attributed to wayfinding technologies.

Data gathering

Data has become a catch-word over the last few years. It’s BIG, it drives things, and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s been accused of swinging elections and found to help cure cancer. It’s the new oil.

Anonymous navigation data also holds a great power: the ability to transform the world.

Sound a bit grandiose? It really isn’t. For thousands of years we’ve been improving our transport systems, our public services, healthcare, and everything else, through a combination of guesswork and the scientific method. Results are slow to come and never seem to capture the whole picture.

With a global population of over 7.8 billion people and rising, the world can’t wait for the results of a five-year trial before making important changes. The world is too complex and fast-moving for that traditional approach. Gathering data in real-time allows us to put our theories to the test, develop new models, and make useful changes quickly and accurately.

How do people move around your airport? What route do they take to get there? Where does your departure lounge get the highest footfall? When and where are people most likely to buy food?

Data can help answer all of these questions and many more. Airports can optimise their environments to improve the user experience, save money, and improve security.

There are almost infinite ways in which the data gathered by navigation software could be used to improve our lives. The only limit is our imagination.

By gathering extremely valuable anonymous navigation data, digital wayfinding technology can provide insight into demand on facilities, perhaps identifying if improvements or expansion of car parking or public transport options are required. A digital wayfinding app can also help outlets sell more by making vouchers and discounts available.

In addition to aiding businesses based at airports, digital wayfinding can also bring benefits to staff, especially those starting new jobs. If a piece of equipment is needed, but it’s not where it should be, location data can help track it down.

Or by using wayfinding data, managers can identify equipment that is regularly being transported long distances around the airport, and determine if time and money would be saved by purchasing more units.

Whether a business needs to move people (customers, clients or staff) from A to B efficiently, or make the most of their business space (retail units or meeting rooms), using real-time data improves the chances of that business meeting (or exceeding) its goals.

These benefits help to increase and control the flow within business environments and allows data to be transformed into valuable insights, to drive business forward. Digital wayfinding is a gateway to the future and also the tool that will guide you there.


About the author
Joe Fernandes is founder and CEO of BuzzStreets, a navigation platform that enables hospitals, shopping malls, airports, offices, stadiums and other facilities offer customers an indoor way-finder that allows them to navigate inside the building.



  1. Thank you, Joe Fernandes, for an informative article, and especially your very clear description of wayfinding, its purpose and its relationship to the architecture of the space.

    However, in your discussion, you have left out one important segment of the population using not only airports, but all other large or complex public spaces: People with disabilities, and in this case, particularly people with sensory based disabilities, such as vision, hearing and some types of cognitive impairments. Add to that people with the disabilities of aging — the combination of all of those, plus some mobility impairment. The ADA requires independent access to public spaces, services and programs. And even if many people with disabilities may welcome assistance in complex spaces like airports, it is not always available to them. So, how do we make sure that these new wayfinding systems are available and usable by people with sensory and age related disabilities?

    Currently, as a voting delegate to the ANSI committee that writes accessibility standards for public sites and buildings in the United States, I am working with some others to propose a task force to improve accessible communication within and about those spaces: Our problem is, since we are now living in a digital world, how to express new wayfinding systems in terms of architectural elements. That is especially difficult as people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired depend more and more on their own smart phones and apps on those phones, rather than just on traditional static signage systems.

    Since our working groups often welcome interested individuals and organizational and industry representatives who are not delegates to our ANSI A117.1 Committee, I hope that if our Communications Task Force is established, you might wish to participate in or contribute your expertise to our work.

    1. Joao Fernandes 7th June 2023

      Hi Sharon! Apologies for such a delayed answer…Yes absolutely. I would love that. And we do have a solution for that segment of the population. Please send me an email to: joaofernandes@buzzstreets.com


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