Trips and User Experience

It seems blogging is taking more and more of my time and devotion. Which gives me quite a joy, by the way.

This time, however, I published a piece on information design, trips, and user experience at FatDUX’s blog. So if you fancy a read, please visit this link! Don’t forget to browse beyond my post! There are some very interesting thoughts that deserve a read.

Update: You can also read the post below, but you will be missing the great posts available at FatDUX’ Blog

Trips and User Experience

We all take trips on a regular basis. They might differ in destination, purpose, and pace, but nonetheless, we travel to that finale we once set foot to. And while we are at that, we do not venture on a flat surface, but rather go through a maze of intersecting multiple such ones. What I am trying to say is that we all have an ultimate goal, and although there are twists and turns in each road map we all get there eventually.

A few days back, I had to fly to Germany for one day – a quick in and out into the heart of a technological country’s capital Munich. There were two meetings to attend and both of them required extensive hops on the trains. Now, my German, if I can say I have any, is strictly attached to the fact that I speak French and English. And if I try very hard, from time to time I can make up the meaning of all these signs, names, and directions. I have to say that prior to the trip I was worried. No one was supposed to pick me up from the airport and I had to find my way in a city I have never visited before.

To my surprise, there was not a single moment I doubted the way I took. This is not, because I am a super-duper smart bloke. It is because someone in the city’s government took the time to make everything so accessible through the metropolitan’s rail system. This is what I call great user experience – Munich simply did not allow me to think of anything else except for my upcoming meetings. Efficiency seems to be written in bold capital letters.

Now let’s take a step back to the week before the trip when I had actually to figure out the whole trip – this is my online travel to the destination – getting as much information and setting the plan up:

  1. – I had to buy a ticket and the site offered me a purchasing process in 5 simple steps. It actually added value to me acquiring the ticket without pushing any irrelevant info or added value service.
  2. Google Maps – East, West, South, North, you know, that type of thing. Well, street names and addresses to look up. Simply input the address and the magnify. Click on Print and the PDF is already on you Mac and then on the Kindle. Easy-peasy!
  3. Munich Transportation System – with this one I had a blast at Not only it saved me money by pinpointing the cheapest option for my travel, but also the info was available in 5 languages. Try to research these for Moscow, Shanghai, or Sofia. Word of advice, if you decide to do that, have a shot of vodka next to the computer… On second thought, get the whole bottle!

As I said, the whole trip was a quick and dirty job – no fancy-schmancy touristy stuff, no time for food, and definitely no opportunity to be lost in translation. The only bad moment I can think of is that Munich has virtually nonexistent free Wi-Fi spots. Shanghai and Sofia rule big time over that.

But here is the punch in the whole story – User Experience. This is not a notion that applies only to your website or application. It concerns every trip the user takes in order to complete a task set upfront, reach a goal, or simply enjoy the ride. Great user experience is achieved through supplying all the means in terms of information architecture, content, clarity, and staying out-of-the-way(which means no messing up with my mind). And believe me, doing all that needs careful consideration based on research, common sense, and ability to walk in someone else’s shoes.

And before you take off to another page on the FatDUX’s site, have you ever wondered how the whole thing with the Metropolitan map started?

Well, you have to give credit to Henry (Harry) Charles Beck. Almost 80 years ago, he created the London Tube Map based on a topological approach. And since, he did that on his own time (not during working hours), I guess he simply wanted to offer a better information architecture and user experience. Or in Grant Campbell’s most eloquent words at EuroIA 2010 in Paris:

Much of IA involves clarification: how can complex information spaces be made clear to users? In many cases, we achieve clarity by anticipating the user’s need and selecting or suppressing details, just as the mind suppresses sensory information that is extraneous to a given task. Beck’s map of the London Underground is a famous example of information visualization that achieves just such a purpose, by abandoning scale, and by emphasizing only those details necessary for a clear purpose.”

In 1908 London Tube’s map had a geographical approach (distance, babe!):

London tube map1908
Image source:

In 1933 Harry Beck took a structural approach that takes the noise and user’s perplex off:

London Tube Map - Beck
Image source:

It seems Munich Transportation Services paid close attention. Lufthansa and Google Maps did so, too. But do you? Next time you take a trip, think about it and do share it in the comment section below!

P.S. Thanks to our own Eric Reiss for providing pointers on background information!

Copyright © 2010 Borislav Kiprin. All Rights Reserved.