Airport security – a design challenge too far?

Airport security has always been near the top of the list of UK design crimes, and recent events have only served to make it worse.


Immigration staff look set to strike at Heathrow, following significant delays over the last few months.

And adding to the delays caused by checks on liquid (with only 100ml allowed through) news that the CIA has foiled a new bomb plot has led experts to suggest that even more stringent security checks could now be imposed.

So is airport security now too horrible an experience to design a solution to?

Maybe not. There are still measures airports could be taking to make things easier for passengers.

Improved signage, free wifi and better information on delays and cancellations could all help minimise the stress of check in and security.


It’s instructive, for example to look at Pearson Lloyd’s redesign for A&E departments (another environment potentially to awful for design to have an effect) to see how even small changes could have potentially deep impacts.

For example two of the concepts in the Pearson Lloyd scheme – signage to show the patient where they are in the A&E ‘process’ and information on how long they will be at each particular stage, could very usefully be brought through into airports.

As horrible as airport security might be now, and might be in the future, there is always potential for design to improve matters.

Hide Comments (1)Show Comments (1)
  • Steve Price November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Paco Underhill ( / is an interesting author, speaker and anthropologist who has worked all over the world on many spaces including Changhi Airport (Singapore) Terminal 3. A seminal experience of architectural delight, but also process. Amongst many of those delights – lots of natural light, space, wide open spaces is the security which is not undertaken until you reach your gate. Simple, but highly effective.
    Paco has also commentated on the prospect of security, and other such inconveniences taking place before you even reach the airport, maybe before you even leave your home. Difficult to imagine, but interesting nonetheless.

  • Post a comment

Latest articles

From the archives: Picture Post

As we head back into our archives, here’s a gem from March 1990. Jane Lewis looks at the creative ways design firms promoted their services through mail-outs.