Inspiration in the air

Qantas needed a solution for sign elements to roll out its digital check-in halls around Australia. The design belonged to a systemwide scheme by the environmental graphic designers, so a two dimensional free-standing concept was predetermined.

Structurally the check-in halls permitted only very shallow floor fixings into the concrete. The intended design was very tall and very thin so with shallow fixings stability was a high risk. Posing challenges to 3D realisation with conventional sign production techniques.

As a standardised physical element these signs would be pivotal to the service roll out and were many in number. Significant cost was involved and that required an innovative forward-thinking solution for manufacture.

Through design analysis it was realised, ironically, that aircraft wings face a similar engineering challenge. Where one end bears inordinate forces upon the opposite free end. Wings are horizontal, the signs were vertical. So we looked for inspiration there.

Human factors around interaction, risk of collision, injury and damage determined that only a rigid structure to around one-third the height was required, This was the heavy part that would have made the design unstable if continued full height. 

By changing design priorities; making the problem one of a low rigid structure with a tall light-weight cosmetic shell we were able to quickly develop an engineered solution.

Above one-third height, the entire sign was constructed from digitally manufactured ribs and spars using very thin 1mm sheet aluminium, gaining its strength just like an aircraft wing.

Stefan Kahn