Airport User Experience

Ashley McKee

April 12th, 2007

Andy Budd wrote an article a few days ago looking at what we can learn from a well-crafted airport user experience (flight delays aside). Andy also describes how London’s Gatwick Airport employs several people who constantly perform research and contextual inquiry on passenger navigation of the entire facility. When companies fully understand users and anticipate their needs, designers can create a delightful and meaningful experience every time. I find that the airport analogy reinforces these tried and true ideas, and will stick with me for some time.

If airports were built like most modern websites, finding your way around would be a nightmare. In order to extract the most money from visitors, the airport would be littered with signs for shops and restaurants. These would take priority over less revenue generating signs for gates or toilets, which would be placed wherever there was space. The marketing department would insist on huge banners advertising their latest offers, and the maintenance men would hang them wherever it was easiest to reach, often covering up existing signage.

The problem is, this type of thinking is very short sighted. Travellers would start missing connections or get frustrated that they couldn’t find the bathroom after a long flight. People would start spending less time at the airports, or if the option was available. switch airports altogether. So by trying to increase revenue in the short term, you end up frustrating your users and potentially damaging future profitability.

Thankfully airports take a much more user-centerd approach in their design…

You can read Andy’s full article here: Airport User Experience

You can find out more about contextual inquiry and customer-centered design by reading Christine Perfetti’s Driving Innovation and Creativity through Customer Data.

4 Responses to “Airport User Experience”

  1. Cheryl Says:

    A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away I posted about the horrible user experience in the DFW women’s restroom. Nothing gross, just impossible logistics:

  2. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Hong Kong Airport – simply amazing UX and helped if you have one of these – when leaving and entering Hong Kong. Everything in HK is engineered to make it easier and faster to get things done. Also see the HK Octopus Card and nice summary of it here –

  3. Ashley McKee Says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Cheryl. I rarely travel alone so it hadn’t occurred to me. Makes me wonder who is designing airport bathrooms…

    I’ve actually been to Hong Kong Airport, and I thought it was amazing. My relatives there made sure to point out all the things that made it better than Boston’s Logan Airport. The Hong Kong MTR was also fantastic.

  4. Cheryl Says:

    I’ve been to Hong Kong, too, and loved it. I actually think DIA (which is my post, not DFW, doh.) does a lovely job of stealing some of the best ideas at HK — the rail system seemed to be very familar, and in both cases insanely easy to use.

    The women’s restrooms issue– it’s something you see in many, many airports. No thinking to put something DIFFERENT in, and really, the stalls that work poorly in the mall (hey, people loaded down with stuff!), are even worse in an airport. Often you will see lines for the ADA stall for this reason.

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