Graphic navigation systems in airports with a focus on their special importance for the elderly and visually impaired. – An exploration of the current standards in inclusive design and their implementation in airport way-finding.

This was the full title and question I set out to research when starting to write the bachelor dissertation for my degree course in Graphic Communication.

Over the course of a few post I would like to share my findings and research here.

“Effective inclusive solutions try to maximise the benefit for as many groups as possible.”  [1.]

An estimated 15% [2.] of the world’s population have some sort of disability. Considering that a representative fraction of these over 1 billion [3.] less able people will be part of most user groups, for any product or service, it seems logical to implement design practices, that do not unknowingly exclude those members of society. And yet catering for the individual needs of the user, or even successfully understanding them seems to be neglected or low on most designers and commissioners list of priorities.

This is where inclusive design and other similar movements, theories and initiatives begin to formulate their guidelines and list of practices, trying to change these dismissive behavioural patterns within product and service development cycles. But what exactly is inclusive design and what is it’s main target or purpose?

“Inclusive design is an approach to the design of mainstream products and services that are accessible to and usable by as many people as reasonably possible, without the need for adaption or specialist design.” [4.]

That means it tries to include and make products and services usable to as many people as possible regardless of their social status, age and mental or physical condition.

Extending the group of people able to use any service or product will not only bring benefits in terms of social and moral recognition but also maximise the possibility of commercial success. So why is it that inclusive practices are not widely applied and the user needs in our modern society seem to be a mystery to most designers and commissioners?

The reason for this is that inclusive design is still seen as a separate service from the overall design and marketing process – a niche market activity left to the few specialists in the field. What this dissertation tries to uncover is that inclusive design and the consideration for the less able is not only a moral and social obligation – but a very powerful and necessary tool for development and promotion.
This can be proven looking at numerous case studies, one of which being the ‘OXO Good Grip’ kitchen utensils product range. By focussing on consumer needs, as well as functionality and quality of the actual product, the redesign increased sales by 50% yearly. [5.]

To establish a broad understanding and acknowledgement of inclusive design there must first be an understanding of all the relevant factors.

‘Chapter One – Background Information’ will therefore offer definitions and explanations of theories and terminologies for disability. Further the principles and ideologies behind inclusive design will be discussed and offer an introduction to the topic. This chapter will also clarify laws and regulations in place to protect a less able person from discrimination.

Looking at Germany – a highly industrialised country with a developed, mature and capitalist economy – one reoccurring topic of discourse in today’s society is the ongoing demographic transition.
Statistically one out of three persons living in Germany will be older than 65 by the year 2060, one out of ten will have exceeded 80 years of age. [6.] This highly dramatic development introduces ‘Chapter Two – A Need for Inclusivity‘ and focuses on the particular demographic group of the elderly. Its continuous growth is forming an ever-emerging market that cannot be ignored by service providers or communicators alike. This chapter will also introduce the problems older generations face when using products and accessing services – strongly focussing on visual factors.

Globalisation and growing international relationships have established aerial travel as a major tool in today’s professional and personal aspects of life. Younger generations are being raised with the expectation to broaden their background base seeking educational, professional and personal experiences all over the world. Often also career paths and employment options make multiple location changes necessary.
This state of mind and new arsenal of assets is changing the way todays society looks at and uses travel means.

As a result of these developments – and also continuously higher life expectancy, as well as improved quality of life at higher ages – airport environments are required to adapt and improve their deliverables for a new group of travellers. ‘Chapter Three – The Current Situation’ is therefore analysing current accessibility and inclusivity standards in airports. Especially focussing on navigational systems, wayfinding strategy and signage with regards to visual impairments. Looking at airports as a product and service in its own right is essential for the analysis and to create a report on the elderly customer experience.

Again using the validated and ongoing example of demographic change in Germany, elements from its biggest airport in ‘Frankfurt am Main (FRA)’ are used to present initial findings in analysing the navigational systems of an airport environment. The more recently redesigned airport ‘Köln/Bonn (CGN)’ is the setting for an inspection and case study using ethnographic researching methods.

Summarising and reflecting on all key findings and analyses the final part of this dissertation consists of the conclusion. Pointing out the lack of understanding for user needs and the fundamental disregard for the conscious implementation of inclusive design strategies it draws elements from the main focus – airport navigation systems and their importance to elderly travellers with low vision – but also applies possible future developments and the need for general adaption of inclusive design standards in society.

Keates, S. and Clarkson J., 2004. Countering design exclusion: And introduction to inclusive design. London: Springer-Verlag Macmillan, 2003. Encyclopedia of Population – Second Edition. Gale: Macmillan Library Reference; p.8 [1.]

World Health Organisation and The World Bank, 2011. World report on disability {pdf} {Accessed 05 November 2011}; p.29 [2.]

World Population 6,840.507 million – The World Bank, 2011, World Development Indicators {ebook} {Accessed: 13 November 2011} [3.]

Coleman, R., Clarkson, J., Dong, H. and Cassim, J. eds., 2007. Design for Inclusivity: A practical guide to Accessibility, Innovative and User-Centred Design. Hampshire: Gower Publishing; p.18 [4.]

Keates, S. and Clarkson J., 2004. Countering design exclusion: And introduction to inclusive design. London: Springer-Verlag Macmillan, 2003. Encyclopedia of Population – Second Edition. Gale: Macmillan Library Reference; pp.12-14 [5.]

Bundesministerium des Innern, n.d.. Demografische Entwicklung. {online} {Accessed 29 October 2011} [6.]