Heathrow Bus Station and Transport Interchange


Located between Terminals 2 and 3 of Heathrow Airport and accessed by underground walkways, Heathrow Central Bus Station is the busiest bus station in the UK. It operates over 1,600 services per day to over 1,000 UK wide destinations. Not only does the facility provide transport in and out of the airport for approximately 1/3 of all air travellers but acts as an interchange for local and National Express Services.  As a result, a large number of its users are simply passing through, with many linking to destinations all over the UK, without ever entering the airport.  

A major redevelopment of the site coincided with our client National Express taking over responsibility for the management of the whole operation. Our consultants were brought in to support them and work alongside BAA in delivering a cohesive wayfinding strategy that provided clear understanding and linked the new station logically to the rest of the airport complex.

During the extensive remodeling work, the station was required to continue operating at full capacity. This provided a number of challenges, not least of all to passenger wayfinding. Prior to starting work on the new strategy, we were asked to plan a number of effective temporary solutions to explain the site during different phases. Parts of this plan required provision for almost daily change, as many of the routings were altered to accommodate the works programme.    

To achieve this we developed a temporary flexible solution that could be changed on site using pre-printed templates. This allowed signage to appear professional, with consistent brand elements delivering better visibility and clearer understanding.    

The Commercial Benefits Delivered by Sound Wayfinding Analysis

Our analysis revealed far more than our client expected and highlighted a number of previously unrecognised issues that challenged passengers and caused confusion during their journey across the airport.

We obtained information showing a significant number of passengers arrived at Heathrow still undecided as to the mode of transport they would use for onward journeys.  Despite this we found there was little to help them.  What information there was available was mainly marketing related and designed to win business for competitors rather than deliver information needed to make an informed decision. As a result, we were able to show how the many service providers operating out of the bus station were placed at a disadvantage.

Although entirely above ground, the bus station was approached from the terminals via a subway network, before being accessed from a busy underground junction via dedicated lifts. While these lifts were poorly lit and identified, located at the same junction is the branded entrance to a major London Underground station, complete with internally illuminated signage.  When questioned at this junction, a number of passengers, many who had been undecided on their means of exit said they had chosen to use the Underground rather than take a bus because of its clear identification and because they were actively courted by strategically placed members of staff.  

Our analysis also revealed that given the option, many of those questioned didn’t necessarily want the quickest route to the central London. Some would have preferred to travel above ground to experience city, or have their journey take longer if it cost them less. We also found those travelling away from London were being advised to travel to central London before making National Rail connections, with no mention of the National Express coaches available direct from the bus station above.  We were able to demonstrate that as a result our client was being placed at a commercial disadvantage. In possession of these findings, our client was able to present a strong case for change and as a result, the finished strategy was included extensive branding around the lift, creating a clear and significant gateway to the bus station. It also incorporated a dedicated information desk which was manned during busy periods. When the station was fully re-opened these changes were shown to deliver a significant boost to revenue.

The Practical Benefits Delivered by Sound Wayfinding Analysis

By analysing the bus station early in its redevelopment, we hoped to identify current wayfinding issues and understand their causes, so they could be avoided in the new development. Many of these issues pointed towards one important factor, sign design. We discovered the same Yellow and Black BAA specification brand signage in use throughout the airport was also used within the bus station. Although not previously recognised as an issue, we were able to show it impacted significantly on the understanding of first-time users, with many struggling to understand the physical boundary between the airport and the bus station. We were able to show how this simple issue was impacting at a sub-conscious level to influence decision making, causing important messages to be either missed or misunderstood.

As a result of our findings, one of the most significant changes made in the new strategy was the introduction of a completely different brand identity for the Bus Station, which extended to sign colour, font and pictogram design.  Again, once the station was fully open these changes were seen to have a positive impact, with far less confusion, increased ticket sales and and fewer missed connections.  

Despite a significant increase in floor space, consolidation of information within the strategy resulted in far fewer sign locations, meaning far fewer signs were required in comparison to the previous strategy.  Helpful changes made to sign design also reduced costs and increased fitting options. As power was no longer a major constraint sign positioning was far less restrictive, allowing better placement.


The Advantages Provided by Strategy Led Wayfinding Solutions

The successful strategy worked in harmony with the client’s brand image and commercial objectives to deliver the following:


  • A cohesive and easily identified “family of signs”, consistent across all design characteristics provided maximum visibility and a strong clear message.
  • A more efficient transfer of passengers between the bus station and terminals, both inbound and outbound as demonstrated by a significant reduction in related complaints
  • Fewer missed connections and delayed journeys reduced passenger waiting times and congestion in waiting areas
  • A reduction in the number of signs required onsite, reduced installation costs
  • Reduction in manufacturing complexity, reduced sign purchase and maintenance costs
  • Increased revenue


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