Human-Centric Architecture, Storytelling & Aviation Design: ACC / AAAE Design & Planning Symposium


I recently spoke at the Keynote Plenary Session to open the 2015 Airport Consultants Council (ACC) and Association of American Airport Executives (AAAE) Design and Planning Symposium in Denver Colorado.

Through sharing a spectrum of Populous’ work and our philosophy toward integrating human-centric design, storytelling, and economic performance, I had the opportunity to illustrate the significance of connecting with the evolving consumer, recognizing new forms of hospitality and experientially driven placemaking, future concepts that lead to real world solutions and the importance of organizational design thinking.

Aviation Design Challenges

Airport operators today are facing many unique and historic challenges. Among them:

  • A dramatically retrenched air transport industry
  • Unprecedented fiscal challenges facing the FAA
  • A transition to economic engine/service provider ownership and operations strategy
  • An emerging demographic segment of travelers with dramatically different consumer demands

Questions for the Future of Aviation Design

As a result, many important questions are being raised:

  • What does the future hold in the evolution of the new global air transport and aviation system?
  •  What technologies and approaches will be or should be adopted?
  • What are the logical roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders in this new environment?
  • And perhaps, the most fundamental question: how do we create the next generation airport that responds uniquely to its wide range of customers?  How do we begin to think about designing airports for people who are inherently different than travelers of the last generation?


At the core, it is our responsibility as a design practice to leverage innovative design strategy and a keen understanding of the user to deliver amazing experiences to users of all generations as we re-imagine today’s facilities for the future.

Public infrastructure like airports – are programmatically complex, evolving rapidly, technologically interconnected to meet traveler needs and increasingly becoming entertainment and hospitality-driven, making them not just a stop along the way or a necessary building to traverse but destinations in and of themselves.  The physical structure is simply one part of a broader approach to provide a connective global strategy to draw people together.

The key is to start by putting humans and the value of a memorable experience first.

Design Approach

Great public buildings always start with looking inward toward what is most meaningful to the people and communities in which they reside.  Our mission is to always:

  • Powerfully connect with the current and future generations of travelers.
  • Create a tailored, personalized, customer driven experience at every moment of engagement.
  • Ultimately make memorable places that are infused by the authentic story of people, brand, and city.

In terms of organizational strategy and long term viability, business leaders across all market segments are grappling with dramatically different behavioral patterns from the next generation of consumers. Today’s consumers are a group of people who:

  • Demand authenticity and are unafraid to share their opinion to their vast network of contacts.
  • Are intrigued by early adoption of new forms of technology and social tools.
  • Are responsive to experiential marketing in lieu of traditional advertising.
  • Are unwilling to be a bystander, and instead, desire the opportunity to participate in the creation of new products and experiences.
  • Seek fun and adventure.

As we look forward to the next century of commercial air travel, we will be entering a new era of customer-centric travel.  As airports and their multi-modal transport networks continue to expand, evolve, and get more complex, the more important it is to remember the fundamentals of human-centric travel – navigability, scale, comfort, engagement and delight.  

The fundamental truth is that people want to be together.  Sharing a social experience together is what makes us human.  Whether that may be in an NFL Stadium, a college arena, or a passenger airport terminal, it is our role to always design a more powerful experience.

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