Title: Signs of the times at Glasgow airport
Pages: 48 - 51
Author: Gillian Naylor
Text: Signs of the times at Glasgow airport
by Gillian Naylor
The introduction of a comprehensive sign system for the new airport at Glasgow has led to the design of a special house style - the first of its kind in Britain.
Glaspow Airport, designed by Sir Basil Spence, Glover & Ferguson as a replacement for Renfrew, was opened last May. Since then more than 700,000 passengers have used it, most of them commuters, some of them holiday makers, for at the moment about 85 per cent of its traffic is domestic. However, the Ministry of Aviation, who provided the initial brief (Glasgow Corporation took over responsibility during the course of the building programme), specified that the airport should be capable of expansion, so that it could, if the volume of air traffic continues to increase, double its size and handling capacity without sacrificing its present character.
Kinneir Associates, who were commissioned to work on the signposting for the airport, were therefore asked to produce a flexible system, one that could be easily expanded and adapted to meet changing conditions and needs. They were brought in two years ago when the plans were at drawing board stage, and were briefed by the architects, who drew up a schedule of signs, and indicated their probable location. The original brief was of course modified during the course of meetings involving the designers, architects, and the two clients -the ministry, and Glasgow Corporation.
Costs and quantities
In all, some 300 signs were produced; as well as the directional and 'location' signs within the building, the approaches to the airport are well signposted (so well, in fact, that several passengers to Prestwick have found their way there!). So far the total cost of producing the signs is in the region of £11,000, £6,000 of which has been spent on a special sign which stands on a roundabout at the approach to the airport, 6, and on the roof sign. These costs, however, represent only a small fraction of the total bill (£2 million for the airport building, and £4.5 million for the whole project).
The majority of the signs within the airport are ceiling suspended; they are not internally illuminated, and will be easy to resite if and when the need arises. They are made of sheets of Perspex laminated together; the colour is sprayed on, with Scotchcal lettering acting like a transfer (it is pasted on before the spraying process, and then stripped off). The lettering is white, and the letterforms, designed by Kinneir Associates, are the same as those used for British Rail (DESIGN 171/76-77). The directional signs are colour coded blue, red and green, the colours relating to the departure piers (at the moment there are two, but a third will be added as air traffic increases). All the other signs have white lettering against a dark blue background. Very few symbols are used, and translations are given only at the check-in desks, for few overseas visitors use the airport.
Directing passengers and planes
The designers' immediate task, therefore, was relatively simple, for at the present stage in its development this is an uncomplicated building. Passengers entering the airport are referred, by visual means, to a flight indicator board, z, above the check-in desks. This gives detailed information about departures times, flight numbers and departure gates, etc - as well as basic information about arrivals. Having checked in, the passengers then go up a short flight of stairs to the main concourse, where a larger indicator board repeats details of flights, giving fuller information about arrivals. These electronic indicator boards, made by Solari, an Italian firm, are an integral part of the signposting system, and Glasgow is the first airport in this country to use them. Here, clearly laid out, (Kinneir Associates advised on the layout and choice of typeface), are all the details the passenger needs to know about his flight, repeating the verbal information given at the check-in desks.
Ceiling suspended signs in the vicinity of the Solari board then direct the passenger to the relevant departure pier, where each flight has its own waiting room with a further check-in desk, so that passengers who have got themselves so far by visual directions can verify that they are in the right place. Similarly, passengers from incoming flights are directed to the arrivals hall at ground floor level to collect their baggage, and then out again to the coaches or the car park. (The planes, too, are equally independent, for the airport operates a self-marshalling system - the pilots taxi-ing to a pre-arranged bay, clearly numbered on the piers,'.) The aim was to keep the airport quiet and relaxed, and to cut down the public address system which, the management believes, can be confusing and irritating, especially at peak hours.
Making sure that signs are seen
But although the signs are large and bold, and their legibility impeccable, a few have been incorrectly sited. For example, the
1 A good letterform must enable a message to be clearly conveyed, and the well sited bay number, above, does this with a minimum of fuss. I serves as a marshalling point for incoming aircraft..
arshalling point for incoming aircraft..
2 Clarity is lost, however, through the poor siting of the 'Enquiries' board, and its upward pointing arrow. Does it, or does it not, refer to the
Solari indicator board below ?
management found that some of the passengers failed to notice the large signs hanging over the main staircase; the 'passengers only' signs above the gates to the piers, 5 also ignored and, in the main entrance, most people went to the check-in desks for enquiries rather than looking up at the Solari board. All this suggests that people tend to look ahead rather than up when they are in unfamiliar surroundings, but there is no research available to confirm such a generalisation, and most designers and architects working on the siting of signs have to proceed more or less on a trial and error basis. In this case, the obvious care that went into the siting of the signs, and the simple layout of the building, reaffirms the need for research. Designers will no doubt always have to work in a pragmatic way, but there would be less chance of error if some basic patterns of 'visual behaviour' could be established.
Kinneir Associates are now re-siting some of the signs. Those above the staircase will be lowered, and the 'passengers only' message above the piers will be repeated on the doors. Signs are also being designed for the staff quarters, and for various 'spot' locations such as fire hydrants, dustbins, etc. which were not included in the original brief.
Unexpected clutter At the moment, the airport remains more or less as the architects and designers planned it, with the minimum of visual clutter. This means that the few foreign elements that have crept in tend to stick out like sore thumbs. For example, handwritten notices forbidding entry, warning children and banishing dogs (problems unforeseen when the airport was planned), were sellotaped to some of the doors pending the arrival of new signs. And although the handwritten signs have now disappeared, others which do not conform to the house style have taken their place. Again, some of the airlines are cluttering the check-in area with sales material and ugly seating plans, and surely the 'Rent-a-car' billboards in the arrivals hall slipped in without the architects' approval ?
But, in spite of this, Glasgow remains a remarkably tidy airport. It is, in fact, the first in this country to have its own house style, also designed by Kinneir Associates. R. A. Read, the airport manager, decided to take this step when he inherited some ground equipment from the Ministry of Aviation. Kinneir Assoiates designed a symbol, and a livery for the airport's vehicles, forklift trucks and flight ladders, etc. The symbol, reminiscent of the St Andrew's Cross, with arrows pointing in and out, appears on all the equipment, on the roundabout sign, 6 and on the airport flag. The house colours are blue and yellow (the vans have yellow striped tops so that they are clearly visible from the air,3). The designers, who are well satisfied with the way the house style has been applied, supplied working drawings of every vehicle.
Eventually, the house style will be extended to include the stationery, menu cards and tableware, etc. Staff badges have already been designed. (Uniforms were included in the house style; these were, according to Kinneir Associates, the most difficult part of the brief, for they had to call in outside advice, and the result was something of a fiasco. The final compromise solution, while not outstanding, is neat and unobtrusive.)
As a result of the work at Glasgow, Kinneir Associates is now producing signs for Belfast Airport. They have also been appointed design consultants to the British Airports Authority, and in this capacity are working on a new house style for the authority and on new signing systems for Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Prestwick.
3 and 4 The house style in use. In a, the yellow stripes (yellow and blue are the house colours) make the vans clearly visible, even from the air, and, 4, a gangway is enlivened by the symbol.
5 Though the signs themselves are impeccable some are poorly sited, such as the 'passengers only' sign, just visible on the left of this illustration, which tends to be ignored.
6 The special sign which stands on a roundabout at the approach to the airport. Its boldness and clarity are impressive, and faithfully reflect the character of the building which follows.