I am in a place filled with germs. Where people are often angry, tired, confused, and running late but forced to endure long lines and interminable walks. Where one is made to suffer indignities of invaded personal space and invasive bodily searches. And radiation. And overpriced food.
Yes, I am in an airport. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest. And I plan to spend the day here.
Why would anyone subject themselves to this environment if they’re not going anywhere?
I'm here to meet Jim Harding. Harding is in his early fifties, married with two daughters. He has thinning hair and a goatee. With an engaging warmth and a Nashville accent, he looks me in the eye and smiles broadly, then says, “No one grows up saying, ‘I want to be in wayfinding!’”
When is the last time you’ve been to an airport, checked in, made your way through security, walked to your gate, used the restroom, bought a sandwich, then boarded your flight without getting confused, disoriented, or lost? For frequent travelers, hopefully this is the norm.
Yet we don’t think, “What great signs they have here! I found everything so easily.”
If Harding performs his job perfectly you will never think of him or his work. Its very success enables us to have our minds engaged elsewhere. In fact, the only time we tend to be aware of his craft is when it’s done poorly—when we are frustrated because we can’t find what we are looking for. Wayfinding, Harding’s specialty, is the process of designing cues—from signage to lighting and color, even the architecture, anything at all—to help people navigate a built environment. I’m here to see the art and craft behind creating what is right in front of us but which we rarely notice.