Dubai Airports

Global Voice, Local Accent


We’re told that “first impressions count”, but “never judge a book by its cover”. So, which is to be heeded? If you are the host city of Expo 2020, proprietor of the world’s busiest airport and targeting to attract +20 million tourists to the city by the same year, the answer is quite clear; the former.

First impressions absolutely do count because people will and do judge books, banks, restaurants, people, airports, cities and in turn entire nations by their ‘cover’. To arrive at a city’s airport is to arrive at an opinion whether you intend to or not. And with 83.6 million people passing through Dubai in 2016, that’s an awful lot of opinions. 

Owning the prestige of “The World’s Busiest Airport” is a great accolade to hold and certainly cements ‘brand’ Dubai and DXB on the world stage. However, of the 83.6 million people arriving only 30% landed intending to visit the city. DXB is therefore in a unique position to assist Dubai’s to persuade the surplus +58.2 million passengers not to simply pass through but to actually visit the city. Yet Dubai Airports are well aware that to achieve this you need more than glossy marble and big windows – you need to deliver an efficient and comfortable experience that gets them from A-B in the quickest and most convenient manner possible. Leveraged correctly, this presents a huge opportunity for Dubai towards achieving that +20 million mandate.


Dubai Airports’ intent isn’t to be the busiest airport in the world (tick) but the “best”. Achieving this is a multi-faceted and extremely wide reaching task comprised of many touchpoints, all of which add up to the overall experience attained. Today ‘experience’ is ‘brand’, and ‘brand’ is ‘experience’ – they’re one and the same and so too can we view their mutual measures of success.

1. Make my life easier
2. Make my life less stressful and more enjoyable
3. Give me great value for money
4. Continue to evolve and innovate as I do

Yet globally airports have a measure of what ‘best’ actually means. It’s called an ASQ* rating. Under constant self-assessment by two internally appointed, independent consultancies, DXB saw its ASQ ratings drop for ‘Boarding Gate Experience’ and wanted to act fast. Too many beam seats, no diversification and very little engagement were the outcomes. The solution – buy more seats? Well, no that doesn’t align to brand DXB’s intent. Ochre were engaged as Brand Experience specialists to bridge the realms of brand and experience in subtle yet compelling ways required to achieve success. *ASQ- the American Society of Quality is a global leader in quality standards

We had two key drivers when creating the new gates – one informed our experiential drive, the other more towards the visual. For the experiential, we looked to the ‘perceived’ world view of Dubai as a ‘Premium Destination’ and through strategic exploration developed the central idea “FREEMIUM”. “Welcome to Dubai, where premium comes as standard”. 

The second, which became of paramount importance to us, was the desire to weave a ‘sense of place’ throughout the design and create a space that was distinctly of Emirati influence. We wanted all those that brushed past the spaces to gain a sense of life beyond the confines of airport’s walls. We drew inspiration from renowned Emirati artist, Aljoud Lootah’s 2015 “Yaroof” screens. Yaroof being a traditional Emirati fishing technique involving unique nets used along the shores of UAE for centuries. Working with Aljoud we co-created the iconic and dominating Yaroof structures. For privacy and space segregation we set oasis reeds between two sheets of glass and lit them from the base to create glowing screens and a material unique to DXB. Woven throughout the space reside short stories originating from the Emirates; small vignettes and poetic glimpses of everyday life in the UAE. The concept was derived from the age-old tradition of The Hakawati (storyteller in Arabic), who would entertain passing travellers and caravan-dwellers with his tales in the Bedouin tents of old or around campfires. 

In addition, those choosing to rest and recline were treated to ‘whispers of the Emirates’ – sounds depicting the landscapes and people of the UAE, from the souks to the desert villages, to the mountains tops and the lapping shores. These are sounds that ambiently defined a nation. Finally, we utilised lighting to functional effect calling upon circadian rhythms and the physiological effect light has on the body. The Yaroof structures inbuilt RBG LED lighting adjusts in accordance with the flight status, cycling from a midnight blue, through various hues to warm white and eventually to bright white as the flight moves from waiting, boarding and eventually final call.


The result put simply, is a gate that lets you sit, work, chat, sleep, lean, stand or recline; on your own, with your family or friends. It offers diversified seating facilities but still achieves greater per mnumbers than the default beam seats currently used. We achieved this by developing three custom furniture systems unique to DXB including a soft, modular seating system designed for mass implementation. The overall design brings you closer to Dubai and the Emirates but does so in subtle and surprising ways. An airport or a carrier is not simply a gateway to a place, they’ve become a yardstick and ambassador, a driver of prosperity and an influence catalyst on the world stage. We just made one slice of that experience a little better and look forward to enhancing more to come. We’re currently trialling the concept across 11 gates within the airport, observing, adjusting and collecting feedback all the time. Welcome to DXB, the 10th most influential city in the world, the 4th most visited, the most #hashtagged and where “Premium Comes as Standard”.