Ahead of its attendance at the first-ever Digital Village at this year’s TFWA World Exhibition, London-based designers The Design Solution has welcomed a rise in industry awareness of the potential influence of design on the airport experience and the commercial performance for airports, retailers and brands.

“We are encountering an increasing number of ‘Eureka moments’ where airport managers are fully grasping the potential impact that design can have on their passenger experience.”— Robbie Gill, The Design Solution

The Design Solution Managing Director and co-founder Robbie Gill says: “Since the BAA retail revolution of the 1990s design has been increasingly important to the airport journey and the travel retail experience but I think we’re now on the cusp of a new wave of innovative retail design at the world’s airports.  This is at least partly inspired by the industry’s increasing interest in the concept of ‘Sense of Place’ (consolidated too by the trade media’s welcome emphasis, particularly the Moodie-Davitt Report), making the issue an integral aspect of airport development.

“The role of design is now truly in the spotlight as a powerful tool that not only drives the quality of the traveller and shopper experiences but also demonstrably enhances the commercial performance of the retail space.

“In particular, this increasing interest from the airports is not simply in the aesthetics of attractive design –creating visually impressive buildings and spaces – but also the potential for a unique and authentic local ‘storytelling’ expression for each location.

“Most encouragingly of all, I think there is now a pioneering wave of airports –that really want to take this to new levels.  We are encountering an increasing number of ‘Eureka moments’ where airport managers are fully grasping the potential impact that design can have on their passenger experience. It’s opening up increasingly adventurous approaches that can simultaneously articulate a unique, authentic personality for the airport while also driving performance to new levels.”

This new wave of design-focused airports includes major hubs and smaller regional airports, highlighting the potential for all airports to maximise their expression of a unique local identity.

Sense of Place in design at play at Lisbon Airport’s Taste of Portugal zone

Gill adds: “The best aspect of this approach is that we are seeing it across the globe at a wide range of airports. In Asia and the Middle East, airports such as Bangkok, Abu Dhabi and Muscat are creating iconic architectural terminals that not only look breathtakingly beautiful but also express the local character, heritage and stories of the location, making them destinations in every sense of the word.

“Vitally for travel retail, this growing emphasis on design is also carried deep inside the terminal buildings.  I think that some of the new travel retail experiences created over the past year have set exciting new benchmarks for the industry, such as at RIOgaleão, Athens, Porto, Lisbon, Toronto and St. Petersburg.

“My key message to anyone visiting our stand at TFWA World Exhibition 2017 is that travel retail must do more to differentiate itself – particularly if it is to capture the Millennial audience – and design is a powerful, cost-effective way to do that. These exciting airports and retail encounters I’ve mentioned all express unique local elements that the domestic and online competition simply cannot match.”

The Design Solution believes this momentum is also supported by the major advances made in the past three years in digital technology, particularly in the quality and accessibility of Virtual Reality (VR) systems.

“We’ve found that the use of digital technology, especially in the recent rapid advances in VR experiences, is extremely effective in communicating our design concepts to airports.”— Nick Taylor, The Design Solution

The Design Solution Director Nick Taylor explains: “We’ve found that the use of digital technology, especially in the recent rapid advances in VR experiences, is extremely effective in communicating our design concepts to airports.  The VR experience places them right in the heart of their potential new space.

“The quality of the VR encounter significantly improves the whole airport planning process, giving us a new virtual storytelling experience to help share our design concepts with clients as an integral part of a better informed and more cost effective decision-making process.

“Perhaps the greatest aspect of VR is its ability to cut out the subjective interpretation required of 2-D drawings and to fast-track everyone involved to share a multi-sensory spatial experience of the whole design in situ and we can also instantly share VR design concepts through our new website.  This sharable immersiveness, including sound, is the key factor and expresses elements that are almost impossible to convey on screen or paper.”

The Design Solution has also developed a new website (launching during Cannes week) that integrates a strong presence for digital content, including a series of VR experiences that share highlights from some of the company’s recent projects, a number of which will also be featured on the company’s exhibition stand, including Abu Dhabi, Auckland, Bangkok, Casablanca, Hong Kong, Marrakech, RioGalaeo Arrivals, Riyadh, Tallinn, Wroclaw and Zurich Arrivals.

Launching in Cannes next week, The Design Solution’s new website integrates a strong presence for digital content, including a series of VR experiences that share highlights from some of the company’s recent projects, such as at Rio de Janeiro

Taylor adds: “Inspired by the industry’s increased interest in design, we’re exhibiting at TFWA for the first time and our presence in the Digital Village will be focused on sharing a multi-dimensional VR experience with delegates – one that places them right at the heart of one of our most dynamic recent retail designs.

“We want to strengthen the whole industry’s awareness of how design is deeply integral to the quality and performance of the whole passenger experience, influencing them at every point of the airport journey.

“We’re especially looking forward to meeting airports interested in the amazing innovative potential of retail design but we invite any TFWA delegates interested in design to visit us and share in our VR experience.  Like all good retail encounters, it will be an engaging, entertaining and exciting experience that drives footfall and converts the user – but also carries a surprising twist! ”