From designers to ambassadors

Placing passenger experience at the heart of a new wayfinding system for the rapidly expanding Gold Coast Airport has required a novel approach.

For generations, the Gold Coast – or “Goldie”, as it is colloquially known – has been a favourite holiday destination for many Australians, who are attracted by its laid-back attitude to life and year-round sunshine.

Development of the Gold Coast as a destination, as well as the emergence of new tourism markets, has placed an increasing demand on the Gold Coast’s only airport. To give a pertinent example, China alone currently accounts for approximately 295,000 visitors to the Gold Coast annually, and this figure is expected to grow at a compound rate of 30% per year. When viewed in the context of airport visitation, approximately ten times the population of the Gold Coast will pass through the terminal each year. This figure is set to grow to 25 times the current population over the next 15 years, driven largely by an expanding international demand.

In order to address this dramatic growth, Queensland Airports Limited (QAL) has engaged Hassell Studio to undertake a dramatic redevelopment of the airport. This redevelopment will involve the creation of a new international terminal expansion to the south, as well as increasing the capacity of the current domestic terminal with the addition of a new processing zone. Supporting Hassell is Maynard, who were engaged to place the passenger experience at the centre of this new development’s wayfinding system. While Maynard’s site research involved extensive stakeholder engagement, one of the most valuable exercises undertaken was our design team’s immersion within the Gold Coast Airport’s ambassador team.

While somewhat unorthodox, conscripting key members of the design team into roles as ambassadors within the airport over the course of several days has provided us with necessary and, indeed, privileged insight into the passenger experience that stakeholder consultation alone could not; the exercise has, in fact, been pivotal in defining many of the project’s design outcomes. One of the key issues observed was the disconnect between passengers’ mental model of the airport and the naming terminology used for international and domestic journeys as passengers transition from land side to air side. These insights have driven a complete overhaul of the sign elements within the terminal, with the current limited palette of directional signage being replaced with a broader family of elements, including large-scale portals and beacons, as well as directional signs.

Due to the restricted footprint of the terminal, much of the new development has relied on swing modes between international and domestic operation for many areas within the airport. As a result, much of thewayfinding has required a digital response – in some areas, over 90% of signs will be digital – and for this reason, the design needed to tie both digital and static components into one seamless passenger experience. The use of LED modules has allowed for shallow digital signs that can fit within the low processing zone and enable a common chassis to be shared between both static and digital formats. The result is a seamless system of information delivery, where the passenger will be unaware of the transition from digital to static along their journey. The new terminal will communicate with a clear and consistent tone of voice, the outcome of placing passenger experience at the forefront of the design process.