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Ruedi Baur aimed to create signs with soft shading to make Vienna airport stand out to travelers, but the hard-to-read signage only confused passengers proving that utility outweighs design in busy hubs like airports.

Walking through Vienna Airport recently, I noticed something odd about the signs. It wasn’t that they were misleading, on the contrary, they seemed to relay the right information in the right places, but that they looked slightly blurred. The characters and symbols on most airport signage are crisply defined, but some of these signs appeared to have been drawn by hand.

The oddness is intentional. The designer of the signs, Ruedi Baur, devised the blurred effect as part of his efforts to make Vienna Airport seem different from other airports at a time when most of them look pretty much the same. A fierce critic of the identikit school of airport design, he was determined to ensure that his signage reflected the spirit of Vienna. “The sociologist Marc Augé has described airports as ‘nonplaces,’ not destinations, but somewhere in between,” he said. “My job was to create a system of signs that makes this airport a place, not a nonplace.”

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