Cynical design

2019-07-01 ☼ Design

I flew to Copenhagen out of Gatwick last week. After passing through security screening admirably quickly, I found myself—as usual—at the beginning of an oxbow-shaped path through Gatwick’s duty-free shop. There is no faster way to get to your flight than past rows of giant Toblerones, perfumes endorsed by celebrities, and overpriced vodka. In fact, there is literally no other way to get to the gates.

The proximate reason for this is obvious. But the deeper motivations for designing the airport to be so transparently, tastelessly, relentlessly commercial elude me. Gatwick does not teeter on the verge of profitability. The private consortium that owns Gatwick has taken over £1.3bn out of operating profits in the last 5 years, while leaving enough to invest in upgrading the infrastructure. Gatwick’s cynical design is largely (purely?) in pursuit of increasing profitability at the expense of the traveler’s experience.

Which is obviously the right thing to do as a for-profit operation. And this is what’s perplexing and elusive: Why is it so infrequently sufficient to have a well-functioning operation with a modest profit to provide for ongoing infrastructure improvements and a rainy day fund? When did that stop being in itself an obviously worthwhile goal for an organization to pursue?