Bad Wayfinding: What Airports and Websites Have In Common

An airport terminal with a massive information board. There are people walking through the terminal.
Air travel is stressful. The lines, the TSA, delays, and the price of airport food. The most stressful thing though: getting to a terminal only to realize you’re in the wrong place. Most people have had an experience that left them running from one terminal to another to catch a flight. More often than not, poor signage is to blame for that unexpected jog and the added stress.
This is a similar issue that many people run into on websites.
A user goes to a known site only to end up on a different site completely. They have no idea how they got there or how to get back to where they started. This is usually because of a multi-site structure. This type of structure is very common and leaves users confused and frustrated. Multi-site structures usually begin when an organization starts a new initiative. They don’t know where to house this something new. Which then leads them to make and link out to a new site. This pattern of behavior continues indefinitely and, before they know it, there are too many websites. No one knows how the sites connect. Staff members keep finding outdated content and duplicate content. On top of that, users can’t find their way around — which usually means they aren’t having a good user experience. And when users don’t have a good experience, they leave. 
These multi-site structures can cause nothing but stress. Not only for the users but for the organization as well. Organizations realize they have to do something. They want to ensure enjoyable experiences for their users. Without knowing any better, they tend to bring in someone to “re-design” their website. This usually leads to a beautiful exterior but does not account for the content and wayfinding. Not considering the content first causes the site to become overwhelming. The site has a massive amount of content, contradicting navigation, and no clear way to get from point A to point B. 
For an airport OR website to be successful, there has to be communication. Everyone should be on the same page.
  • Has there been an update to the airport/website layout? 
    • If you move something you have to consider the signage/language that directs the users.
  • Is there wayfinding/labeling that is going to contradict that update?
    • You need to review your navigation and ensure that it’s efficiently sending users to the same place each time. 
  • Is there duplicate information/content and, if so, is that duplication necessary?
    • You should understand the content you have. This will allow you to organize it in a way that creates the best flow of information.
  • What are you doing to make sure old signage/content isn’t displayed?
    • You need to make decisions about outdated content. You have to decide if it needs to be or can be updated. You should consider how long updates will take. You also have to consider if updates will negatively impact the user’s experience
It’s been said a million times, but it can never be said enough: if these things are being done well, they will be invisible. Users or travelers don’t recognize when things are seamless. But at the slightest inconvenience, they will be on high alert for more.