Signage Program, Terminal 1 Pearson Airport, Toronto


Every day, thousands of tourists and new immigrants enter Canada for the first time across our borders and through our airports. Arriving in a new country is daunting enough, but it is even more challenging if you do not speak the languages. First impressions are important, and as a multi-cultural nation, Canada prides itself on welcoming people from around the world. Signs and visual information must be easily understood by everyone. A series of standard, universally designed symbols are recognized internationally, representing concepts such as washrooms, first aid and no smoking. This unit presents a case study of the award-winning signage developed for the new Terminal 1 building at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. It also includes an activity about developing a survival guide (or resource guide) for newcomers.


Design Discipline: Graphic Design

Design Defined


When used as a verb, design means thinking about, conceiving and executing an idea. It is a creative, problem-solving process. When used as a noun, design refers to the result or product of such cognitive processes.

Graphic Design:

Graphic design is the work or profession of creating printed or electronic forms of visual information to convey messages and concepts. Posters, advertisements in magazines and web sites are all examples of graphic design.


Wayfinding constitutes the design and combination of visual tools that assist people in navigating their way through an environment. Wayfinding gives the user visual clues that provide necessary information inside and outside of buildings. Examples are symbols and signs for washrooms, directions, and names of places.

Universal Design:

Universal Design is the design of products, communication systems and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. An example of universal design is the "curb cut."  By sloping the edge of the sidewalk down to street level at intersections, crossing the street is made accessible for people in wheelchairs. This design feature also makes life easier for everyone else - people with strollers, canes, buggies, carts, children on bicycles, and people with impaired vision. Put simply, universal design makes life easier for everyone.


Wayne McCutcheon and Veronica Chan from Entro Communications (Toronto, Ontario) in partnership with Pentagram (New York, New York)

Entro Communications was established in 1990. Today the firm employs architects, engineers, urban planners, industrial and environmental designers, with clients in Canada, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Entro Communications specializes in 'environmental graphic design.' In other words, the firm develops signs, wayfinding strategies and other types of visual communication for use in built environments, such as malls, airports, hospitals and schools.


The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) challenged the graphic designers to create an effective wayfinding system that would be clear, concise and functional for the millions of international passengers that go through the new terminal, including passengers from different cultural backgrounds and those with disabilities. The client also wanted the wayfinding system to give the airport a unique identity that would be easily identifiable by everyone.


Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA)


Travelers and airport staff including those with disabilities and those unable to comprehend English and French



The New York-based firm Pentagram was the design lead on this project. The firm was responsible for creating the graphic standards, which are a set of guidelines that explain how the graphic identity should be used. For example, Pentagram might specify certain colours, fonts, sizes, spacing and use of logos and images. These guidelines would be applied throughout the airport. Entro Communications of Toronto was responsible for all of the wayfinding, planning and detailing projects. Entro worked closely with the architectural firm in charge of designing the new terminal to ensure that the signage and the building design fit seamlessly with each other. The signs are unobtrusive as they appear to be an extension of the architecture. For example, all overhead signs are designed using a double-curved propeller shape that blends with the roof structure which simulates an airplane wing. Throughout the project, the graphic designers were in constant communication with engineers, planners, government offices, airlines and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Designed so that travelers could easily differentiate between languages, all English text was placed on curved panels, and French text was placed on flat panels. Colour-coding separates the information even further: departures are yellow, arrivals are green, and public services and amenities are white. For the gate numbers, check-in areas and baggage claim signs, Entro Communications used perforated metal in order to achieve a highly visible "matrix font". This font made up of dots is also used throughout the airport for changing information on liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors. Entro Communications conducted tests prior to the opening of the airport to ensure that their design was effective for the end users. The designers took into consideration elements such as the need for Braille applications for blind travelers. Braille is found in all elevators, washrooms and emergency exits. Large, brightly colour-coded icons that meet international standards aid travelers who are visually impaired or who do not speak English or French. Because visibility was so important, Entro conducted distance studies and kept information to a minimum. They limited each sign to four lines of text and symbols. A font was designed that was between light and regular weight to be easier on the eyes.

AIGA Design Archives: Signage, Terminal 1, Pearson International Airport, Toronto

AIGA: Symbol Signs

Entro Communications: Wayfinding and Signage

Government of Canada: Accessibility of Airport Terminals: Toronto Pearson International Airport

Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario

Graphic Designers of Canada

Signage Design

Statistics Canada: 2001 Census of Canada


Universal design

Design Exchange universal programs

Universal Education Online: The Principles of Universal Design

Universal Design Symbols

Additional Resources

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Quantifying Universal Design: A Program For Implementation. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2004.

Clarkson, John. Inclusive Design: Design for the Whole Population. Springer, 2003.

Evamy, Michael. In Sight: A Guide to Design With Low Vision in Mind: Examining the Notion of Inclusive Design, Exploring the Subject Within a Commercial and Social Context. RotoVision, 2004.

Imrie, Robert. Inclusive Design: Designing and Developing Accessible Environments. Spon Press, 2001.

Keates, Simeon. Countering Design Exclusion: An Introduction to Inclusive Design. Springer, 2003.

SIETAR Europa. Images, Cultures, Communication: Images, Signs, Symbols: The Cultural Coding of Communication. SIETAR Europa Congress,1997.

Westcott, Jacqueline. Improving Information on Accessible Tourism for Disabled People. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2004.

Carolina Eyzaguirre
Wayne McCutcheon, Carolina Eyzaguirre, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee, Michael Prokopow
CANADA Toronto Region, Ontario, Toronto Region, CANADA
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