Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) ranks among the top 20 busiest airports worldwide. As with many large, complex airports that have undergone one-off improvements and renovations over the years, the signage system at PHL had become disjointed and difficult for passengers to use. In 2007, PHL hired Gresham Smith to conduct a study review of its existing airport signage and wayfinding and identify areas for improvement. The resulting report addressed the entire passenger journey, from curbside to concourse. With a list of recommendations to address wayfinding gaps and issues, it outlined a step-by-step implementation process for PHL.


Philadelphia International Airport


Philadelphia, PA

Project Type





PHL is among the top 20 busiest airports in the U.S.


comprehensive manual


terminals and thousands of signs

Addressing the Entire Passenger Journey

Addressing the Entire Passenger Journey

Gresham Smith used our large-scale aviation and wayfinding expertise for a holistic approach, evaluating airport terminals, concourses, ticketing, bridges, baggage claims, curbsides and garages based on key wayfinding characteristics including aesthetics, circulation, sign placement, messaging, symbols, terminology and safety. We used the results of the 2007 study to design and implement a new sign standards program at PHL—one that features a clean, consistent look, and uses a clear wayfinding logic to help departing, arriving and connecting passengers navigate the often-maze-like circulation that is a hallmark of the airport’s physical layout. The program focused on key signage elements including terminology, message hierarchy, color coding, the use of symbols and arrows, font style and sizing, sign placement and mounting, sign design and layout, materials and fabrication, and illumination.
Creative Applications of GIS

Creative Applications of GIS

We needed to make sense of the often non-intuitive circulation patterns at PHL. Creating a cohesive, complete signage package was made easier with the help of technology. We catalogued each sign using GIS. Ultimately, comprehensive signage inventory can be easily updated and incorporated into the airport’s GIS system so the airport can make updates in the future, without creating any gaps in wayfinding.
Protecting the Airport’s Investment

Protecting the Airport’s Investment

The new sign program was documented in a Sign Standards and Guidelines manual. Aimed at helping airport staff plan and execute signage-related projects of all types, the manual contains sections on the basic wayfinding process and circulation analysis, visual and message hierarchies, sign placement, graphic standards, sign types, and guidance for sign management and maintenance policies and procedures. Designed for ease of use, it includes descriptive drawings and specifications for all sign types in the program, along with guidelines on when and how each sign type is intended to be used. The combination of the sign standards with the GIS sign inventory and database equips PHL with the necessary tools to perpetuate the integrity of the program.
Setting Standards for the Passenger Experience

Setting Standards for the Passenger Experience

Bringing the airport into a new era with a cohesive, efficient and low-maintenance wayfinding system, PHL’s new sign standards program reduces visual clutter and delivers a vastly improved passenger experience in every area of the airport—from the curbside to the terminal to baggage claim. Implemented on time and under budget, the new standardized sign family is not only visually consistent but has the built-in flexibility to meet the diverse airport architecture and ongoing need for changeability at PHL.


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