Vicki Sundstrom has spent much of her career addressing the formidable task of better experiences for airport passengers.

It’s no easy undertaking: As novelist Anthony Price has observed, "the devil himself probably redesigned hell in the light of the information he had gained from observing airport layouts."

But Sundstrom, an engineer, program manager and project coordinator, has lived up to the challenge. During a career that includes 20 years at San Francisco International (SFO) Airport, she has earned a reputation as a digital signage and wayfinding expert.

She's known for her abilities to successfully guide passengers through complex physical environments and help them navigate from place to place.

Broad Experience in Multiple Industries

Sundstrom has broad experience in multiple industries including engineering, traffic engineering, construction management, program management and systems projects.

She is currently a project engineer with Ross & Baruzzini, a St. Louis, Mo.-based international design and consulting firm, where she leads lead the company's efforts for Intelligent Transportation and special systems projects.

Before joining the firm six months ago, she served as special projects manager at Chadds Ford, Pa.-based Arora Engineers.

Addressing the Needs of 45M Passengers

For more than  20 years, Sundstrom worked to enhance the passenger experience for SFO's 45 million annual passengers, airlines and tenants.

She most recently served as program manager for the airport's Wayfinding and Signage Program, improving the understanding and experience of the space for all those who passed through the waterfront skyway.

Two years ago, for instance, SFO installed interactive screens around its terminals to assist with passenger navigation. The signs help people get to the right place at the right time by directing them to their required location. The touch screens can also be used to locate airport facilities, retail shops and food/beverage outlets at the airport.

Using touchscreen technology is becoming second nature to today’s traveler, and capacitive touch technology on the latest generation of screens is identical to that used on smartphone devices and tablets, she noted. The screens let travelers find where they need to go anywhere in the airport and map the best route to get there,  she explained.

In addition to signage, she is experienced in airport landside operation, ground transportation and parking.

Sundstrom earned B.S. in civil engineering from San Francisco State University. She has been a presenter/speaker at several airport signage conferences and served as chair for the Airport Signage Manager’s Network where she planned annual airport signage conferences for San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix and Vancouver.

How Digital Signage Supports CX

This November, she'll join an impressive list of speakers at CMSWire's second annual DX Summit. The conference will run Nov. 14 to 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

We caught up with her to discuss customer experience in complex environments and the roles wayfinding systems such as maps, directions, and symbols contribute to a sense of well-being, safety and security.

Walter: How will your experiences in the airline industry shape your DX Summit presentation?

Sundstrom: When you work at an airport, you realize what it takes to make it run. There is a considerable army of people behind the scenes keeping everything working.  People are often surprised to hear how many people it takes to run an airport or that someone is actually assigned to work specifically on signage. I suppose I can say I know what it takes to walk in other people's shoes while they are at an airport — and that I have considerable appreciation for what it takes to guide people from all walks of life to and through complex environments.

Walter: Can you share some context about wayfinding?

Sundstrom: Wayfinding is a specialty field focused on leading/guiding/showing the way.  Generally, for pedestrians, it's a means of providing information on how to get from one location to another. 

Basically it could be about being at a mall and needing to provide information to a shopper about where the coffee shop is or where the restrooms are, and how to get there. 

Take that basic concept of providing information and now carry it forward to an airport environment, where there are multiple destinations, much going on and competing priorities. How can you manage and provide the information a passenger needs to get to the ultimate destination?

In the age of paper, it was very difficult to provide enough information, to communicate the airport layout, share the locations of airport facilities, from the gates to the concessions. 

Today, digital and interactive signage enhances and improves on static signs. They are easier to maintain, and offer a considerable amount of flexibility.  In complex environments  — think airports, hospitals and the like — digital signage is a valuable means of communicating information and customizing the customer experience.

Walter: What's your key takeaway about digital signage?

Sundstrom: There is a lot to learn and share about developing programs for the general public and those lessons come quickly in an airport environment. I hope that our session at the DX Summit will cover some of the lessons learned, how to implement these programs and how to future plan for them.

Walter: What do you do to recharge outside of work?

Sundstrom: Recharging comes from spending time with friends and exercising the right brain. I need to get out with my camera. It's a passion I don't spend enough time on.