Spatial Problem Solving: Corgan Studies Intuitive Wayfinding

Intuitive Wayfinding is spatial problem solving through the effective creation of a strong mental map that capitalizes on innate decision-making heuristics.

Wayfinding must look beyond signage to reduce the complexity of the built environment. Intuitive Wayfinding first looks to understand how humans perceive and understand the spaces they are in. By understanding how humans make decisions about how they move within the space - Intuitive Wayfinding can then look for design solutions about how to influence the people move within a space.

Corgan is continually looking to refine their design strategies and obtain credible research evidence to help in the foundation of design decisions. One such example is the DFW Wayfinding experiment, that utilized eye-tracking analytics to further understand how passengers perceive the terminal environment.

Corgan conducted a series of experiments at DFW Airport with the intent to better understand the following:

  1. A passenger’s ability to navigate to a destination beyond their range of vision

  2. How supportive architectural elements are to wayfinding

  3. The passenger’s ability to accurately filter signage and comprehend information throughout a terminal

The experiment was conducted in the middle of extensive renovations as a part of the Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program (TRIP), a unique time at DFW. As part of the TRIP Renovations, focus was placed on enhancing the concourse experience. A neutral and bright palette of finishes were used along the concourse to highlight the concessions and wayfinding signage. Another area of emphasis was the entrance to each terminal’s Skylink Station. The Skylink is an elevated airside automated people mover that shuttles passengers between terminals to speed passenger transfer. Extra effort went into signaling where these entrances are located. Some intuitive wayfinding techniques used to call out the Skylink entrances include changes in the floor, wall and ceiling finishes from a neutral color to a bright yellow. In the floor, a terrazzo art medallion was installed as an additional signpost. The theory is that passengers will pick up on these gestures and understand that this is the entrance to the Skylink Station.


Throughout the experiment, we asked participants to wear eye tracking glasses as they performed the task of locating a specific gate. These eye tracking glasses perform two important functions. First, there is a camera in the center of the frames that records the visual field of the participants. Second, there are a pair of sensors that scan the subject’s pupils and track exactly what they are fixating on. This information is overlaid on the recording via circular fixation points. This recording demonstrates the visual range of what people are viewing, as well as the fixation points within that visual range. This allows us to determine exactly what is consciously and subconsciously drawing people’s attention by showing us exactly what they are fixating on and for how long.

Additionally, we can take reference images and map multiple participant’s fixation points along a portion of the pathway in that image. As we map these fixation points, the computer software tracks the length of the fixation and averages the total amount of fixations along the pathway amongst all participants. From these averages, we can generate heat maps and focus maps. These diagrams show us hot spots of fixation across entire demographics, whether it be the passenger population as a whole, or groups of passenger types.



The DFW Wayfinding Experiment gave us unique insight into how passengers perceive the terminal.

First, passengers are able to filter through the multiple stimuli and fixate on important architectural gestures. For example, in the newly renovated Terminal A, passengers strongly fixated on the terrazzo art patterns in the floor and the color and texture changes in ceiling and wall treatments that signified the entrance and exit to the Skylink stations. To ensure success of such gestures as it relates to intuitive wayfinding, it is important to make a physical connection between the gesture and the decision point that it is correlated with.

Secondly, light plays an important factor in the fixation of passengers. Passengers strongly fixated on signage that was backlit. This was regardless of what was on the signage. For example, the terminal wayfinding signage in Terminal A was backlit, and was highly fixated on. In Terminal C, however, the terminal wayfinding signage was not backlit, but the advertising signage was. Passengers would overlook the terminal wayfinding signage in favor of the advertising signage. It was interesting to see participants bypass the Skylink Station branding and instead focus on a backlit advertising showing a Texas Longhorn steer splashed with a banner urging us to “Visit Ft. Worth.”

Finally, through the use of demographic surveys, passengers were categorized by their traveling habits. When each demographic category was analyzed independently from the whole, it was noticed that each demographic category sees the terminal environment differently. Further analysis needs to be given to each independent demographic to find ways to better suit the individual passenger’s needs.

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