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Wayfinding refers to information structures that guide people to navigate their physical surroundings and guide their perception of the space around them (Raubal & Egenhofer, 1998). Wayfinding has also been defined as a natural skill that people acquire/develop as young children through the interaction with their surroundings (Piaget & Inhelder, 1967). Davis R. (2016) further iterates that wayfinding could take place in diverse and varied situations such as walking, driving, riding, navigating one’s way through a city, a water body, a building, an institution or any other place.

In this study, focus shall be set on airports. Wayfinding in airports is often complex due to the modern architecture, vastness of modern airports, heavy vehicle & human traffic, first time experience, language barrier, inappropriate comprehension of airport symbols, diversity of socio-cultural groups present in the airport, among many other factors (Milne & Kelly, 2014). This study shall attempt to examine the effectiveness of wayfinding systems in airports and later recommend areas that may need improvements. The study will explore the time taken to read and comprehend wayfinding signs, the accuracy of comprehension and then compare it with various sets of airport users such as first timers, age, native language, occupation, education level, among other factors.






There exists a large literature regarding spatial knowledge, spatial reasoning, spatial image schemata, wayfinding, wayfinding designs in architecture, wayfinding signs, traffic control among other related topics. A good number of these studies have findings that are relevant to this specific study. To narrow them down, this study acknowledges that architecture is rapidly changing hence the need for more recent studies in this literature review (Symons, Brown & Iacono, 2017). This study shall focus on literature review published between the year 2005 and 2018. In this literature review, the study shall assume that knowledge published in earlier studies (before 2005) has already been used and advanced in more recent studies.

Symonds, Brown & Iacono (2017) established that wayfinding is not only a cognitive process but also a social & cultural experience that has many stakeholders, occurs in varied social locations and that it is an embodied practice. Symonds (2017) examined the factors to consider when implementing wayfinding signage in international airports. He found that the most influential wayfinding tools are static signage. In the end, Symonds found that most airports in the United Kingdom (UK) didn’t have systems to monitor wayfinding signage leading to irregularities such as wrongly placed freestanding signage and obscured signage. He recommended that international airport signage wayfinding systems should be standardized globally to allow for easy cognitive synchronization.

A study conducted by Steven (2010) on the effect of culture on comprehension of wayfinding signage established that there is a significant influence of cultural background on the way a person perceives airport wayfinding signage. Steven established that the main goal of an airport wayfinding system is to rapidly, efficiently & effectively guide passengers to their destinations. To achieve this, the airport needs to have an easy to understand standardized wayfinding system that can be interpreted the same way by all passengers. However, Steven found that people from different cultures may perceive a particular symbol differently as a result of their individual cultural backgrounds. To improve on this challenge, Symons, Brown & Iacono (2017) recommended that airport signage should bear both sign and text. In addition, they recommended that the choice of signs and symbols to be used in signage should consider the varied cultural backgrounds of the users and select the one that is most agreeable across different socio-cultural backgrounds.

One of the major challenges in wayfinding systems especially in airports is the rapid architectural changes that frequent a majority of airports. These changes happen as a result of expansion, mergers, acquisitions, integration and strategy changes (Potter, 2010). This creates a need to constantly improve, manage and update the wayfinding systems at all times. One particular improvement studied by Rooke (2012) is the use of color-coded signage in wayfinding systems. This helps establish a constant theme in a setting thereby isolating the wayfinding signage from other infographics. In an airport setting, there is a huge number of infographics such as branding, advertisements, digital displays as well as wayfinding signage. Steven (2010) iterated that the wayfinding signage should be unique, easily noticeable, and in rhythm with a constant wayfinding theme. Rooke (2012) recommended that wayfinding systems need to be frequently tested for efficiency and effectiveness.

Besides the normal signage used in an airport, Brandon (2010) argued that there are other architectural wayfinding assets that are often overlooked by the wayfinding design team. This includes floor color/texture/tiles, wall color/texture/tiles, lighting systems, structure of pathways/staircases, as well as location of doors, windows and grills. Brandon found that when architects and designers are ‘wayfinding’ aware during the design process, much of the wayfinding challenges can be solved at this stage. Woolett & Maguire (2010) studied the effect of wayfinding expertise in new locations. They found that persons who have visited a similar location and comprehended the navigation at expert level often make mistakes when they visit a site similar to the previous one. For instance, a person who is a frequent traveler using a London Airport may assume that certain clues in an American airport lead to similar destinations as the London one. Woolett & Maguire found that the psychological process that helps a person to master their spatial location can be compromised when faced with a similar physical navigational design. The object-space associations may become difficult compared to a first time navigator in the new environment.

Emerging Wayfinding Solutions

Emerging solutions in wayfinding have been explored severally. For instance, a study by Schwering, Krukar, Li, Anacta & Fuest (2018) studied the impact of orientation on wayfinding systems. They found that orientation improves the ease at which people gain spatial cognition of a new place. In an airport setting, the orientation of arriving passengers would help increase their spatial cognition as well as the understanding of the wayfinding signage. However, this would present the challenge of language and time. In contrast, orientation creates self confidence among users and reduces the over-reliance on wayfinding signage. It helps the users to easily identify landmarks, signage positions, pathways among other navigational information necessary to a successful spatial cognition. Schwering et al., (2018) identified the need for computer aided spatial cognition orientations in airports as well as other places. They argued that computer-aided orientation and mobile device navigation assistant applications can be the almost perfect solution to wayfinding in heavy traffic places.


Study Purpose and Research Questions

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the manner in which signs help passengers travel efficiently through airports from Check-in to Boarding or Deplaning to Passenger Pick Up. This equally included clarity of signs, information in signs, and preferences for signs. The main research question is as follows:

  • How do signs help passengers travel efficiently through airports from Check-in to Boarding or Deplaning to Passenger Pick Up?

The specific research questions included:

  • What is the effectiveness level of the signs at the United States’ international terminals as experienced by passengers over the last one year?
  • Which measures can be engaged to improve terminal signs in airports in order to simplify the passengers’ navigation process?
  • Are there any additional facilities capable of being introduced into airport terminals to help passengers in locating their ways to the destination gate?


  • If the respondent has aviation and/or transportation related occupation, then the elapsed time during selection will be shorter.
  • If the respondent is an English speaker, then the elapsed time during selection will be shorter.
  • If the respondent is a frequent traveler (the sum of travel = domestic + international), then the elapsed time during selection will be shorter.
  • If the respondent has a higher education, then the elapsed time during selection will be shorter.

If the respondent is older, then the elapsed time during selection will be shorter


  • If the sign has icons only, then the elapsed time during selection will be longer. 
  • If the sign has language only, then the elapsed time during selection will be longer. 
  • If the sign has a combination of icons and text/language, then the elapsed time during selection will be shorter. 
  • If the sign has text/language, not easily recognized, such as Esperanto, then the elapsed time during selection will be longer.

Study’s Independent variables

For this study, the following IVs have been considered:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Language
  • Frequency of Travel
  • Occupation
  • Preference
  • Correct Selection (for Knowledge Questions/Scenarios)
  • Time Elapsed



The process of Research design simply involves the procedure used the estimation of the type of research design or method to be used in a research study (Creswell and Creswell, 2018). Generally, research design process is regarded as a phase in the research process framework. Essentially, research design entails the art and science of planning a study to guarantee the reliability, reproducibility and accuracy of the findings (Creswell, 2014). Throughout the research design process, the initial key phase is the selection of the research approach to offer solutions to the research questions. Additional major phases in research design process comprise of the research paradigm and research method/methodology.


Study Population: 

For this study, the study sample included persons above the age of 18 who have traveled within and out of the United States within the last year.


This study considered the use of a Convenience sample initially sought using the methods below:

  • Direct email to contacts of the student “Thales” group
  • Facebook advertising
  • Asking people in person
  • Follow up reminders

Time frame:

This procedure was carried out from November 21 to December 4, 2018


Raffle motivation was considered as the main incentive


As part of ethics in any research, the participation was anonymous and the respondents had an option and right to opt out without any possible consequence resulting from the action. The participants were fully informed of the nature and type of the research to avoid any conflict of interests. The passengers’ survey questionnaire excluded the name section with an attempt of upholding the passengers’ confidentiality. There was informed consent for the passengers and interviewees.

Data collection

The process of data collection was done as follows:

  • Inspected sample size and representativeness
  • Types of respondents who answered – and are they representative of the population?
  • Convenience sample demographic features similar population eg. Age, education, language preference, etc. Created a codebook, Coded the characteristics of signs, demographics
  • Number and proportion of questionnaires discarded – did not bias results
  • Inspected independent and dependent variables (descriptive) to ensure normal distribution by checking range, reducing skewness
  • Dependent variable fixed (avg elapsed time) by recoded outliers (200 seconds ‘rule’ – to maintain meaningful data, reduce bias)
  • Independent variable fixed – combined travel domestic travel and international travel because of significant correlation
  • Independent variable fixed – language coded as “English” or “Other”















Data Analysis and Discussion

This section offers the analysis of data collected from the participants and subsequently discussing the major points. The analysis of participants’ ability to comprehend the airport signs was done utilizing the Chi square 2-tail test.  This test is considered in estimating the correlations between two or more categorical variables. Likert-scale questions were considered in this test and founded on P value to acquire the acceptance or rejection of the hypotheses. The following figures represent the measures of central tendency for various sets of passengers;Measures of central tendency based on language spoken by passenger; Scatter plot of age versus number of international trips taken; Correlation between passenger metadata affecting wayfinding capability; Analysis of Variance (single factor) summary statistics; and, Average elapsed timer per occupation

Domestic Travel (US) International Travel Education Age
Mean Mean Mean Mean
Standard Error Standard Error Standard Error Standard Error
Median Median Median Median
Mode Mode Mode Mode
Standard Deviation Standard Deviation Standard Deviation Standard Deviation
Sample Variance Sample Variance Sample Variance Sample Variance
Kurtosis Kurtosis Kurtosis Kurtosis
Skewness Skewness Skewness Skewness
Range Range Range Range
Minimum Minimum Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum Maximum Maximum
Sum Sum Sum Sum
Count Count Count Count

Table 1: Measures of central tendency for various sets of passengers


English   Spanish   Chinese  
Mean Mean Mean
Standard Error Standard Error Standard Error
Median Median Median
Mode Mode Mode
Standard Deviation Standard Deviation Standard Deviation
Sample Variance Sample Variance Sample Variance
Kurtosis Kurtosis Kurtosis
Skewness Skewness Skewness
Range Range Range
Minimum Minimum Minimum
Maximum Maximum Maximum
Sum Sum Sum
Count 212 Count 199 Count 187


Table 2: Measures of central tendency based on language spoken by passenger



Figure 1: Scatter plot of age versus number of international trips taken


  Avg. Elapsed Time Education Domestic Travel (US) Intl Travel Age Occupation English Spanish Chinese Respondent Selection for Scenario 1
Avg. Elapsed Time 1
Education 1
Domestic Travel (US) 1
Intl Travel 1
Age 1
Occupation 1
English 1
Spanish 1
Chinese 1
Respondent Selection for Scenario 1 1


Table 3: Correlation between passenger metadata affecting wayfinding capability


Analysis of Variance (Single Factor)
Groups Count Sum Average Variance  
Avg. Elapsed Time
Domestic Travel (US)
Intl Travel
Respondent Selection for Scenario 1
Source of Variation SS df MS F P-value F crit
Between Groups 454511 9 50501.22 566.868 0 1.884243
Within Groups 190826.8 2142 89.08814
Total 645337.8 2151

Table 4: Analysis of Variance (single factor) summary statistics




Figure 2: Average elapsed timer per occupation



The analysis of the study revealed a considerable relationship between the passengers’ citizenship and their capability to decode the airport signs’ meaning. This correlation is indicative of the fact that passengers from non-English speaking countries outside the United States are facing difficulties while trying to read these signs, in comparison to English speaking nations. The results further revealed a positive perceived efficacy as a significant number of the respondents confessed the significance of airport signs in enabling the passengers to locate their way in and out of the airport. Considering the overall research question, How do signs help passengers travel efficiently through airports from Check-in to Boarding or Deplaning to Passenger Pick Up?” the answer as evident form the study findings is that signs are very significant in helping passengers locate their way inside and outside airport premises. A significant number of the respondents (Non-English speakers) confessed finding problems in decoding the meanings of various signs at the airports. This is indicative of the fact that the respondents had erroneous perceptions regarding their awareness of the present sign standards fitted at majority of airports.


Based on the above findings, it is the recommendation of the present study that major airports in the United States and world at large need to incorporate standard non-language signs capable of being read and interpret easily.




Reference List

Brandon, A., J. (2010). “Wayfinding in Architecture”. Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved from:

Creswell, J. and Creswell., D. (2018). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage,

Creswell, W. (2014).  Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Davis R. (2016). Wayfinding strategies and wayfinding anxiety in older adults with and without alzheimer’s disease. The Gerontologist, Volume 56, Issue Suppl_3, 1 November 2016, Pages 4–5.

Milne, R. J., & Kelly, A. R. (2014). A new method for boarding passengers onto an airplane. Journal of Air Transport Management, 34, 93-100

Piaget & Inhelder B. (1967) The Child’s Conception of Space. Norton, New York.

Potter, S., J. (2010). Best Practices for Wayfinding in a Hospital Setting. University of Oregon-Applied Information Management.

Raubal M. & Egenhofer M. (1998). Comparing the Complexity of Wayfinding Tasks in Built Environments, Environment & Planning B, 25 (6): 895-913, 1998

Rooke, C., N. (2012). Improving wayfinding in old and complex hospital environments. College of Science and Technology School of the Built Environment – The University of Salford.

Schwering, A., Krukar, J., Li, R., Anacta, V., J. & Fuest S. (2017). Wayfinding Through Orientation. Spatial Cognition & Computation. An Interdisciplinary Journal. Volume 17, 2017 – Issue 4

Steven, L. (2010). “A Comparison of the Effect of Variations to U.S. Airport Terminal Signs On the Successful Wayfinding of Chinese and American Cultural Groups” (2010). College of Technology Masters Teses. Paper 17.

Symonds, P. (2017). Wayfinding Signage Considerations in International Airports. Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding, 1(2), 60-80

Symonds, P. (2018). Wayfinding Design Principles and signage design. Art and being creative. Retrieved from

Symonds, P., Brown, D. H. K., & Lo Iacono, V. (2017). Exploring an Absent Presence: Wayfinding as an Embodied Sociocultural Experience. Sociological Research Online, 22(1), 5.

Woollett, K., & Maguire, E., A. (2010). The effect of navigational expertise on wayfinding in  new environments. J Environ Psychol. 2010 Dec; 30(4-2): 565–573.