Airport Cooperative Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board


Washington, DC




Experiential Design and Wayfinding

As part of its mission to develop near-term, practical solutions to problems faced by airport operators, Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) officials sought a guidebook to assist airports in creating departure and arrival processes, passenger services, and wayfinding techniques for international travelers in U.S. airports. Gresham Smith, working with Landrum & Brown, led the research into the wayfinding needs and expectations of international travelers, interviewing more than 1,000 passengers to develop best-practices for designing the passenger experience.

a close up of a page inside ACRP research report 161 with a diagram of ground transportation symbols
a close up of a page inside ACRP research report 161 with photos explaining airport walk time signage

Our interviews with passengers at eight U.S. gateway airports, combined with visits to five additional top-rated airports, helped our team understand the wayfinding expectations international passengers have when they arrive in the U.S. Our chapter in ACRP Report 161, “The Gateway of the Future,” helps understand first and foremost, that wayfinding is more than signage. Additionally the chapter communicates how clear and consistent communication is vital to the international customer, and how information must be shared consistently across all forms – verbal information, visual information and virtual information.

The report also covers additional topics, including evaluating processes, essential entities’ roles and responsibilities, and an explanation of how airport-based employees’ attitudes, awareness and knowledge that influence the passenger experience. Guidelines for arrival and departure procedures and services are also included, along with potential opportunities to develop new processes, technologies and strategies.

To view the report, visit the Transportation Research Board’s website.