If you have ever traveled through Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, you would have seen the handiwork of the Dutch wayfinding design firm Mijksenaar, whose signs, maps and other visual information systems have been part of the facility’s landscape since 1990. While Schiphol, one of the world’s busiest airports, with more than 71 million passengers last year, is the longest running project of Mijksenaar (pronounced MIKE-se-nar), the firm’s mark can also be found in other airports, transit hubs and museums around the world.
“We all want to find our way; no one wants to get lost,” said Herbert Seevinck, Mijksenaar’s chief executive and owner during a phone interview from his Amsterdam office. (The firm also maintains a bureau in New York City.)
“One thing I love about our work is the big chunk of psychology that’s involved,” said Mr. Seevinck, who took over the business in 2010 from the founder, Paul Mijksenaar. “While traveling, people are a bit more anxious and that affects how they act.”
How do your designers account for travelers’ anxiety and stress?
We use a lot of color, especially yellow, but if we’re doing our job, you won’t notice it unless you’re a frequent traveler. For instance, at Schiphol, if you’re going all the time, you might find the yellow too much. But if you’re new there, the yellow signs become a source of comfort. But when people become really stressed, nothing helps them find their way except asking other people.
Are there other benefits to easily finding one’s way?
The airport has a big stake in this — the moment you feel comfortable, you’ll take some time to relax and you’ll buy some coffee or perfume.
One of your projects is the new Great Hall at Denver International Airport, part of a yearslong renovation project. What are the changes you are making?
The first time I went, I didn’t find it easy to find the baggage reclaim. They used the word “terminal” in signs, which is confusing. In our new system, we’ll say “exit” and “baggage reclaim.” Meanwhile, while construction is going on, we’ve set up temporary wayfinding. We always tell clients that “temporary” is not temporary for passengers, so we need to make sure they get the right information, even while airports are putting up construction walls and changing routes.
Has wayfinding become harder with more people looking down at their phones as they walk?
No, it’s an opportunity. You have to cater to every age group. Eye-tracking research shows that older people scan around for maps while younger people will be looking down at the screen, while at the same time checking the area around them. So you need a combination of tools. If you do use digital tools, like apps, they must use the same visual system as the static signs, through graphic design, typeface and color coding.
What other ways are you using technology?
One of my favorite projects was the General Staff Building of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which we finished last year. We introduced a lot of projected signs because the building is a monument and you can’t screw things into the wall. We can also be a bit more playful in a museum. For instance, we made a dynamic bookshop logo with a projected bookshelf, and every minute one of the books falls off the shelf.
How have cultural differences come into play in your work?
Pictograms come to mind. Like in an Italian airport, they said the one we designed for the women’s restroom was too conservative and they wanted a shorter skirt. Closer to home, we show oversize luggage in the Netherlands with a bike, and in the United States with a surfboard. For Denver, we’ll need to do something with skis.
You’ve owned Mijksenaar for almost a decade. Do you plan to change the name?
I don’t. First, it’s a tribute to Paul. But also it’s interesting to have a name that nobody knows how to say. It’s a great icebreaker.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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