Prototyping an Airport Design


If you have been following my previous posts, I was tasked with needfinding and sketching potential solutions to problems with current airport infrastructure. With this assignment, I sketched various features of a prototype app, ‘Traveler,” that could facilitate end-user navigation of airports, respecting their self-reliance, their time sensitivity, and their desire for entertainment.

An image of my sketching station, which includes my laptop, notebook, and pencil

Motivation and Sketches

The sketches were motivated and informed by my previous assignment in needfinding. From this previous assignment, I discovered that users had some trouble navigating new airports that they had not visited before, liked exploring the amenities and services that an airport offered, especially if the airport is more modern and cleaner, and preferred being self-reliant and independent, which included minimizing unwarranted interaction with other people. I also found that users often carry a phone or mobile device that offers them quick and convenient access to resources if needed. The following images show some of my initial sketches.

In this sketch, the user has quick access to their flight information and boarding pass. The user can click on the QR code to expand and isolate important entry information on a pop-up screen for situations e.g. verifying identity when boarding the plane.

This sketch illustrates a map with a guided path from the entrance to the security checkpoint. The path includes an approximate time to travel between the two points. The user can zoom in and zoom out as one would on a standard maps app. The app would calculate the shortest distance between each point, considering real time foot traffic and surrounding infrastructure, to maximize a traveler’s efficiency.

This sketch expands off of the previous guided path map with more features. On the left shows a “Guide” that provides users with written directions and directional indicators for how to navigate to different points. Each point would include more details, such as “walk straight 10 meters from the drop-off location and turn left to reach the baggage check-in.” This feature also provides translation flexibility in case users may not understand English or the airport does not have non-English signs. The right sketch displays an airport-specific map view with markers to show where the primary checkpoints are (drop-off, baggage check-in, security lines, security checkpoints, gates).

These two sketches were motivated by a traveler’s time sensitivity and awareness and convenient access to different amenities or services that are near them. The user can filter through amenities by type, e.g. restaurant or store, and distance from their location. Through this feature, users can explore the airport without having to leave their seat, but if the user physically explores the space, the app provides a time visualization that informs them of the current time, their expected time to the gate, and the flight’s arrival time.

A sketch of the app title “Traveler” where the “T” is shaped as an airplane.


The following image displays a cleaner paper prototype that incorporates feedback from my classmates, Daisy and Jasmin.

Screen 1–13
Screens 1–4
Screens 5–9
Screens 10–13

From the feedback, one revision I made was removing the second screen which displays all of the icons, such as “PASS,” “MAP,” “TIME,” “SEARCH,” and “?”. They noted that this screen was redundant since the bottom navigation bar was included across all of the screen. I initially included this screen to transition between the loading screen and a landing page, but I agree with this adjustment as users may find it annoying to click through an additional screen to perform their task. Instead, users will immediately land on the boarding pass screen because this is likely the most important part of the travel experience.

There was some confusion involving screens 3.5, 7, and 12. For 3.5, I could better clarify that this feature expands from screen 2, such that users can look around their gate, following a ‘Google Map’s Street View’ functionality, (e.g. while waiting in the security line) to better locate familiarize themselves with the space. This may be useful as some users may be pressed for time and unable to find a coffee place around their gate before boarding their flight. For screen 7, I should clarify that the map provides text descriptions and directions between each point, similar to how a standard maps app would. Through this functionality, users can rely on both visual and textual cues. Additionally, suggestions encouraged giving users the ability to add their own checkpoints since e.g. not everyone may need to check-in a bag. Then for screen 12, I attempt to experimentally “game-ify” a user’s time awareness in the airport experience; this screen trivially visualizes the remaining time a user has before their flight arrives and suggests some popular amenities to check out while they wait. I designed this feature because interviewees from the past assignment expressed wanting to explore the airport but did not feel comfortable wandering too far from their gate. By “game-ifying” time like a “health bar,” users may feel more comfortable visually seeing how much time they have and be encouraged to check out a few places before departing.

Otherwise, the two classmates really liked the designs and prototypes. They noted that many of the features were already useful and intuitive, such as navigating and zooming the map or expanding the important boarding pass information. They told me to create and develop this app into reality!

Evaluation Plan

Disregarding time and resource limitations, I would execute real-world user testing. I would create a study between two randomly-sampled groups where one group has the app and the other does not. Through, this I can qualitatively and quantitatively measure how effective the app performs in the real world. I can measure how the group navigates the airport without an assistive guide, such as the “Traveler” prototype app, and I can see observe how the group with the app deviates from intended design points. For example, I can ask the qualitative question “did users follow the guided path from point A to point B exactly, or did they derail to another location? Did they use any shortcuts not observed in the app system?” Then quantitatively, I can measure the amount of time each user spends at different locations, the distance users travel, or how many people/entities the user with which the user interacts. Through these observations, the design can be adjusted to more accurately match real world use. Additionally, I can record the user interactions and touch responses with the app. Through this quantitative data, I could determine which features are the most relevant and minimize or remove unnecessary clutter that delays access to the app’s most important function.

Further, rather than selecting a group of evaluators, this user testing would provide more meaningful and accurate results because it minimizes projecting individual biases onto larger populations. I would want to deconstruct the researcher bias that is apparent in the designs. The previous designs were sketched within English contexts and motivated by insights from those with prior airport navigation experience or familiarity; however, with respect to airport contexts, there are users from opposing edges with dramatically different backgrounds, such as elder users or foreigners, thus I would want to assure that we confidently capture and include as many of these insights/perspectives as possible.

However, regarding time and resource limitations, I would not effectively execute a user study as this would require downloading the application on people’s phones, finding how to observe their interactions with the app (I could not feasibly follow people around the airport and watch their every action with their phone), and teaching people how to use the app. Instead, I would recruit a number of evaluators to find as many [solvable] problems as possible in my design and determine the cost-benefits in solving these problems and their real-world implications.

Referencing general evaluation heuristics and my current design prototypes, I am most interested in assuring the following heuristics:

  • H2: Match between system & real world
  • H3: User control & freedom
  • H4: Consistency and standards
  • H7: Flexibility and efficiency of use
  • H8: Aesthetic and minimalist design


Overall, the design and prototyping experience went well and was very insightful. I sketched ideas for an app that could improve the navigability and general experience of airport travel in end-users and iterated new designs according to peer feedback. I learned that sketching and idea generation can be a more difficult and tedious task than previously anticipated, but when done can produce meaningful results. I reflected on limitations of evaluating my designs and their real-world use implications; a user study could provide the most meaningful and accurate results but would require a lot of time and resources.




A human at the intersection of visual arts, computer science, and data science.

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Randy Truong

Randy Truong

A human at the intersection of visual arts, computer science, and data science.

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