Design can provide a solution to complex commercial challenges; where people and process meet. It becomes a ‘smart’ solution when experiences are revolutionised, and thought leadership is prevalent through courage and conviction.
When looking at a topic for this, the first of a new series of opinion pieces here at Best Group, I struggled to find an industry example that exemplified this concept; and indeed, demonstrated my firm belief in the implementation of courageous design solutions that transform what can be gleaned as the common status quo.
That changed when I was scrolling through social media and stumbled upon the work of PARTY (www.party.jp) in the new low-cost Terminal 3 at Narita Airport. I was instantly engaged and inspired by what I truly believe is an astounding design solution that transforms. To effect this in real terms would have taken momentous amounts of courage and conviction; by both the design consultant (PARTY) and maybe more importantly, the client, for allowing this to be realised.
Airports are a global infrastructure network that facilitate the mass-movement of people. As air travel becomes more affordable and accessible, more people are connecting globally than ever before. These spaces/hubs are big global business and provide space(s) were millions of people transition through each year. Ironically; there is much evidence that suggests the spaces themselves all follow similar movement designs for global consistency (I get it) and more so, the tools in which these spaces use to spur self-navigation (wayfinding) all use similar cues too in terms of signage and information design delivery.
Terminal 3 at Narita is fundamentally different.
This design solution is courageous, it has conviction and importantly, it transforms the customer-experience in a targeted manner. In real terms, it’s a design solution to a complex challenge that ‘bucks the trend’. And this very fact… excited me.
From delving further into the case study, my research has shown three key-areas as to why this particular solution leads by thought;
1. Economic Rationality
3. Customer Centricity
Let me unpack these a little further; one by one.
With low-cost airport terminals come real-time commercial challenges. Lower airfares mean lower overheads for the airlines offering them to the customer, and as such, lower fees and dividends applicable for the services rendered by airport management. In turn, the airport terminal spaces for dedicated low-cost carriers can’t present the full bells and whistles that more traditional terminals do for full-service airlines.
This project adopted a ‘2 into 1’ design philosophy. That is, at every point in the design journey, it was intended that 2 processes be achieved in 1. This meant that the terminal could be built and delivered in a more cost-effective way. Its an exemplary use of design thinking to achieve smarter commercial outcomes. Its something I embed within Best Group everyday, and commendations to PARTY, Narita Airport and the other inter-disciplinary design consultants for working smarter to ensure this could be achieved. If I link it back, this holistic design solution, indeed delivers what we call at Best Group, Smarter Commercial Outcomes. And its refreshing to see. None of this economic rationality would be been achieved if each and every team member didn’t come at every challenge with courage and conviction.
Every element from signage, to further, to architectural finishes and built-form techniques have collectively been re-though to ensure this mandate could be fulfilled. Its not bells and whistles, all guns blazing… but the finished product works. From a cost-to-deliver perspective, and from a customer centricity perspective.
Indeed, from my experience with clients, actualising a strategy of ‘2 into 1’ is harder than it appears in words in a strategy document. Kudos from me to the entire project team for getting your hands dirty, and realising it.
One of the more exciting elements to this project (in my opinion) is collaboration and alignment with other large-scale Japanese brands to deliver the ‘2-into-1’ design philosophy. Instead of having interior designers facilitate custom joinery, or create schedule after schedule of off-the-shelf furniture products and fittings; the design team lead a collaboration with famous brand Muji to deliver the scope. The alignment of this partnership is pure genius. Muji is famous for delivering designed furniture and products that are low-cost/cost-effective (similar to the way IKEA has transformed the world of flat pack furniture).
So; in delivering furniture that is on-brief, customer centric and still exemplifying refined design principles, the project team have delivered custom pieces to Terminal 3 in alignment with another major Japanese brand that shares the same philosophy of ‘more-for-less’. I find this partnership and the dividends realised in the project beautiful, and brilliant.
And finally to customer-centricity… maybe the part I am most interested in. Any airport in the world will tell you that creating spaces for low-cost carriers is a challenge. Pure and simply because of the fact that they have to build spaces at low-cost and the by product can often be cheapened negative experiences. This too is a challenge for the airline themselves. And so, this project team (led by PARTY) instead decided to be courageous and set out with a task of turning the ‘negative’ stigma of low-cost carriers and terminal spaces into a ‘positive’.
Without the budgets (clearly) to implement the standard tools for wayfinding (predominantly static, physical signage) – the team at PARTY have truly led by thought and delivered a design solution that is based upon a running-track. I so would have loved to have been in that concept presentation and a fly on the wall to see the immediate, first reactions of the client!
Its a concept of movement that every single human being is familiar with in some capacity, and it takes the experience of movement to a whole new level that people can associate with. By utilising mainly graphics (on all surfaces), people flying low-cost now speed around the terminal from entrance to their gate and indeed aircraft, all by the mode of a running track. Commercially, it evokes speed in movement which is great for the timely movement of mass-people around a space, but more importantly for the customer; it’s really something different from an experiential/navigational perspective. Its fun, exciting and invigorating and deviates in stark contrast to the usual tools implemented within airport spaces. It even works smarter by the way of floor graphics in providing people ‘lanes’ to move in and ‘goat-track’ around the space in a fun and energetic manner.
And – the ‘fun’ nature of the design solution not only works from a navigational perspective for the customer, but beautifully aligns with the predominant leisure nature of the airline offerings.
For the customer – this is pure gold. For the airport – its pure gold too. It’s a built space, that is constructed and delivered in alignment with the low-cast carriers it is designed for, but at the same time, elevates designed experiences for the customer in a whole new light.
Whilst there may have been a conceptual design link to the fact that Tokyo is hosting the Olympics in 2020 and this by nature will be the terminal hosting many of the leisure tourists attending; I really do hope that Narita Airport has been on a journey with PARTY and the wider design team for the long-term.
As these consultants have had the courage and conviction to implement transformative design solutions to complex commercial challenges, I hope that the airport management team trust in this revolutionary terminal and share the same commercial courage and conviction in retaining all aspects (including the colour coded running track wayfinding graphics) long into the future.
It certainly is a project case study that has cut-through the mass for me in terms of aligning with my own vision and beliefs about thought leadership through design; and I have no doubt that it will remain a reference point (evidence-based) within the Best Group studio for many years to come.
Kudos to courage and conviction PARTY!. Lets see more of it!
Jacob Burke is Director of Projects at Best Group; renown Australian consultancy firm who are experts in built brand.