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Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the 5th busiest airport in Europe, and besides functioning as a perfect “mechanism” and having everything for supporting as many as over 58 million yearly passengers, it has one subtle superpower in its bag of tricks.


Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is the 5th busiest in Europe, with a secret trick up their sleeve. Photo: DUS


When I first arrived to Schiphol airport a few days ago, I fell in love with this airport that is very busy on the one side, but amazingly well-coordinated and very smoothly-ran on the other.

When I was returning home today, waiting in the long, zig-zag line for hand baggage & security check, I’ve noticed 5-6 smartly placed signs along the line. That’s when I fell in love with this airport for second time!



Telling Stories or Giving Instructions?

How About Both!



Wether or not we need all those security checks, and if yes – why, are not the subjects I’ll be discussing now.

Reality is:

  • There’s a set of standard security procedures that needs to be followed
  • There’s a set of regulations and rules that passengers need to abide by
  • Sometimes, there’s a confusion around what is(n’t) allowed and why (not)
  • Sometimes, passengers will feel less satisfied due to all the checking and waiting
  • The airport wants passengers to have a pleasant experience, but it needs to take all the necessary security measures as well


I’m keeping this post simple, but you can already see that there’s a number of goals and complex needs to be fulfilled here, and besides friendly, efficient and well-trained staff; good process optimisation and infrastructure, Schiphol Airport had one more trick up their sleeve: content.


Let’s Talk About Security!

What With Fluids? What’s Up With Electronics…



As you’re waiting in this long zig-zag line, you’ll notice different signs about hang baggage regulations. Each consists of two parts: the upper one which is more traditional, and the storytelling part which is below.


The traditional part (the upper one), is written in a bit larger font and it’s a piece of usual content like “Please take out all your electronics for security scan” or “You’re allowed to bring XXX bag with XY bottles with liquids, each up to XY ml”.

The (still) untraditional part was storytelling at it’s best. In a slightly different font in cursive, explanations and messages followed. It’s a shame that I didn’t take photos, but each message sounded friendly, clear and communicated why it is important to, e.g. have your liquids packed in a certain way, as well as what liquids are (from toothpaste to hand cremes).

Have you ever thought of making

There are many ways we could tell stories instead of barely sharing informations on signs


From a Necessary but Frustrating Experience

To Happier Travellers and Customers



There’s a list of reasons why I think these messages are so important. To begin with, we so rarely see storytelling in situations and spaces that are more formal, but also the way it was done is something to learn from. Here are some of the points that I think are most important:

  • Context / Timing & Place: the signs are conveniently placed along the line where the most people will read them as they wait. They will prepare the passengers and inform them about something they need to know or do in this part of their journey


  • Contextual units: each sign/message is not only written in a clear language and friendly tone, but it is also related to one thing, e.g. electronics, liquids, … so that it is even easier to consume and understand the content, as well as follow instructions


  • Clear information: thanks to the upper parts of the signs, the main message is received in just a glance. Sometimes it is important to convey this message, e.g. XY is not allowed, as clear and simple as possible, and then go deeper using storytelling techniques


  • Good content: It is not enough to only get it right when it comes to timing and place, contextual units and clear and important message, you need to have good content. But what does good content mean? There’s a lot of books dealing with what good content is, and I definitely don’t want to (and I cant) completely answer to this question in a single paragraph of a blog post, but there are criteria to have in mind – good content is useful, relevant, interesting, concise and well-written in an adequate tone. And those conveniently placed short messages definitely were good content regarding all these criteria.


[tweetthis]Content is not only a Facebook-post or a brochure – it’s how we learn and interact with the world[/tweetthis]




I think it is important to rethink content and storytelling in a broader perspective – it is not only a Facebook-post or a brochure – stories are how we learn and interact with the world around us. There’s a thing called invisible problem – something that can be (and needs to be!) improved, but we’re all kind of used to it so much that we’re not even aware of having a problem. The most famous example are windshield wipers that weren’t part of the first cars, but were invented later. I believe that it’s the same thing with content around us: from different applications and forms to signs and documents. Why not make these better and tell stories instead of listing facts and requirements?

That’s the answer to the limits question as well – there aren’t any. As long as content is useful and relevant and as long as it gives value.

Have you noticed some good examples of dealing with content in public places or standard documents? Have you ever thought of ways to improve these?