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Wayfinding redesign for the world's busiest airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, invested $55 million in the SkyWalk pedestrian bridge to reduce traffic congestion in passenger drop-off lanes. However, upon opening, the bridge remains underutilized, why?

👩🏻 Role

•   UX Researcher
•   team of 3

💪 Skills

•   Ethnographic study
•   Surveys
•   Interviews

⏰ Timeline

•   5 Weeks

🔧 Tools
•   Figma
🌟 The Objective

Contracted by the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport CX team as UX researchers. Our objective was to redesign Hartsfield Jackson’s wayfinding system to encourage passengers to utilize the SkyWalk and alleviate congestion in the passenger drop-off lanes.

RESEARCH

01. Stakeholder Interview

Before diving into research, we performed informal stakeholder interviews with the Atlanta Harts-field Jackson Airport Customer Experience Team to give us an understanding of our project’s landscape. This allowed us to gather context and history on the recently built Skywalk pedestrian bridge, identify goals, and align on a shared vision. The CX team asked us to study users who were “Locationally Challenged”.

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The “Locationally Challenged” User

The primary objective focused on understanding how “Locationally Challenged” (those who are often lost and confused) users think through navigating the airport on their way to their next destination.

02. Desk Research

We started to investigate the implicit and explicit needs of a Directionally Challenged Traveler VS. another Traveler. We started to ask questions like...

How did directionally challenged individuals navigate the world?

How did their thinking differ from other travelers?

Many people claim they’re bad at navigating, but this desk research helped us understand the explicit differentiation of LC travelers from those who may think they are bad at direction.

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Think of travelers who can visualize  signs and landmarks.

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Shape with text
Imprecise Navigators

This traveler struggles at both between-route learning and within-route learning.

Non-Integrators

This type of traveler is good at landmarks but struggles with mental maps.

💡
💡

When we said “locationally challenged” we mean: Non-integrators , and Imprecise navigators. This insight guided our interviewee criteria.

EXPLORE

The Atlanta Harts-field Jackson Airport is huge, so we decided to do some field research. During the exploratory phase of our design process we observed navigators, the space itself, how they interacted with the space, and performed interviews from which we derived insights on qualitative and quantitative data. The explanation of design methods chosen are below. We documented this process through photos and videos.

03. Field Observation

Visual mapping proved to be a helpful tool in understanding the complex airport system. This technique allowed us to gain a better understanding of the flow of traffic, identify the most relevant areas to observe, and allowed us develop a more comprehensive understanding of the system as a whole.

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To align the team and plan our data collection strategy, we opted to use the AEIOU framework as a heuristic observation method.

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💡

From our observations, we realized there were conflicting visual cues that caused confusion for users trying to navigate to a specific entrance.

04. Quantitative Data

We came together to make sense of our observational data. Collectively we sat and observed 20 hours of foot traffic. What we found:

4th deck (SkyWalk entrance) had minimal foot traffic overall.

Most users choose to not travel between floors.

North Parking Foot Traffic
Third Deck
Fourth Deck
100
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75
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50
Line 44
25
Line 44
125
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150
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Union
Group 320
Crosswalk
Elevator or Stair
Union

We decided a journey map would be helpful to understand the customer's navigational decision-making. One insight we uncovered: the customer journey is influenced by spontaneous decision-making. The users also had options: various paths were available to them to reach the entrance.

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💡

Users had too many options. Signage was contradictory, and when given the opportunity for an easier path, users will take that path.

05. Qualitative Data

Based on our insights and obersvations, we formulated our questions and criteria for our interviewee.

3 in-depth formal interviews
🎙️

20 stop and ask surveys and informal interviews

Differentiate poor navigators in general from locationally challenged navigators via navigator mind map.

Interview Criteria
Detail & Overview Q’s

What do you use to navigate the airport?

Investigative Q’s

What are the first things you do when you feel like you’re lost? (What is your first instinct?)

Empathetic Q’s

Which problem affects you the most? / how does this problem impact you?

Reflective Q’s

“Is there anything you would like to add?”

Key questions
💡
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User #2
Formal Interview

“I'll probably first look for signs."

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User #4
Stop and Ask
"I just follow signs."
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User #3
Shadow Observation

Confused users walked towards an opening.

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User #1
Formal Interview

“I would honestly just pick a random path and see if it clears up to like another building or an exit… just to find like an opening”.

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User #2
Formal Interview

“The thing is I'm not really looking for the most efficient path. I'm just looking for a path to get to where I need to go.”

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User #1
Formal Interview

“But that's when it's hard is cause I'll go so many ways in order to find that and then finally go to that sidewalk that goes to the entrance of the airport. “

💡

In contrast to integrators, non-integrators rely more on their sense of spatial orientation (their understanding of their position in relation to the surrounding space) in addition to their sense of sight.

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Imprecise navigators struggle with both mind-map and route-landmark navigation, therefore they rely more on verbal signage over other indicators.

💡

Locationally-challenged people need a lower level of need satisfied (in comparison to other personas). Their need for safety must be met before they worry about efficiency and esteem needs.

From our interviews and surveys, we created an empathy map to better identify the feelings and needs of a locationally challenged individual.

Empathy Map
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Say and Do
Think and Feel
See
How

Look for someone to talk to.

“I am lost”
Looks for visual reference
“I need help”
Look for signs.

“I need to get to my destination”

Look for openings.
Scared
Doesn’t understand verbal directions
Unsafe
Verbal directions
Speakers on the intercom
Signs
Large openings
Pathways on the ground
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DEVELOP
06. Comparative Needs Hierarchy

Our research and insights led us to recognize that while many other travelers prioritize efficiency and independence, individuals who struggle with location awareness prioritize reaching their destination above all else.

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Physiological needs
Safety needs
(not be lost)

Belongingness & love needs
(finding a path and destination)

Esteem needs
(efficiency)
Self-actualization
(independence)
“Locationally Challenged” Users
Other personas.
Needs Hierarchy
07. Design Strategy

To simplify the decision-making process by minimizing the number of navigational decisions a traveler needs to make.

DELIVER
08. Design Reccomendations

The primary objective of this project was to collect insights and conduct research. Additionally, the CX team at the Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport requested design recommendations that could used as inspiration for future changes. These recommendations vary in terms of timeline and cost for implementation.

Update Infrastructure to channel users to the right path.

Create a more inviting entrance.
Repaint infrastructure that distracts.

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Remove contradictory signage and replace them with single-path, descriptive signage.

A single path navigation sign system that directs users to one the Skywalk.

Create cohesive and descriptive signage.

Add freestanding digital E-ink powered displays.

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Provide a complimentary digital experience to assist with navigation.

Create AR navigation using Apple App Clips or PWA (Progressive Web Application).

LEARNINGS

Stakeholder involvement is important.
Making a compelling case for UX involves understanding your audience and communicating in a language that resonates with them. This was one of the first real projects we had with real constraints that lived outside of a   school studio setting. It taught me a lot about being realistic and how to effectively story-tell and communicate findings.

Good research is the foundation of good design.
Decision making should be based on research and the user.

If given the chance to revisit this project,
I would seek to iterate test design solutions. This was outside of the scope of the request of the CX team, but I would’ve loved to test out the work and dive further into specific design recommendations.