Looking for opportunities to enhance the passenger experience at Norfolk International Airport (ORF), the Norfolk Airport Authority selected Gresham Smith to perform a comprehensive assessment of ORF’s existing signage and wayfinding elements. The evaluation looked at design characteristics such as typography and lighting as well as application characteristics like consistency, nomenclature and sign placement.

We presented our findings in a Signage Evaluation Report that compared the results against a baseline of best practices and industry standards followed at comparable airports. The report included recommendations for potential areas of improvement and conceptual designs that could solve wayfinding and signage issues at ORF in an intelligent and aesthetically pleasing way.

To improve vehicular lane sorting on the airport roadways, the project team recommended the addition of overhead directional signs to complement the existing ground-mounted signs. The proposed new signs’ color scheme coordinates with ORF’s “airport in a garden” setting, and larger typography would help motorists identify destinations and make navigational decisions faster. Adding lighting to signs at critical decision points would enable the system to work just as well by night as by day. Existing ground signs could also be refinished to match the new overhead signs.

Along with new roadway signage, the study suggested revising street names throughout the airport and distinguishing between the north and south curbsides. Both efforts would help motorists navigate the site, especially when using GPS navigation on digital devices.

For interior signage, the assessment recommended a new color scheme and finish to complement the exterior signage, reduce glare from reflected sunlight and make the signs easier to read. Realizing the elevators in the departures terminal could be difficult to locate, Gresham Smith proposed locations for new illuminated signs outfitted with a distinctive color and shape combination. Standardizing airport-wide nomenclature, symbols and arrow placement would also better connect interior and exterior spaces and instill greater confidence in those using airport’s wayfinding system.

The study and the accompanying concepts pave the way for Gresham Smith to follow up with a wayfinding master plan and standards project that will lead to a successful and visually appealing wayfinding system.


Norfolk Airport Authority


Norfolk, Virginia

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Jim Harding, SEGD
Jim Harding, SEGD
Director of Experiential Design & Wayfinding