Trips and User Experience

13.12.2010 | Author: Borislav Kiprin
We all take trips on regular basis. They might defer 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.

Fewdays back, I had to fly to Germany for one day - a quick in and out into the heart of 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 direction. 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 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:

  • - 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.

  • 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!

  • 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 advise, if you decide to do that, have a shot of vodka next to the computer… On a second thought, get the whole bottle!

As I said, the whole trip was a quick and dirty job - no fancy-shmancy 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 up front, 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 Metropolitain 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!):


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


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 in the comment section bellow!

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


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

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  12. Hi Borislav,

    Nice post, I have always been a fan of underground maps and maps in general, you know a good one from a poor one within seconds. City maps are a classic. Spend a little money on one and the world is a better place. Get a freebie from the hotel and you'll certainly know where all the McDonald's are....but the important detail is missing.

    You can't go wrong with the LU map, you just can't, impossible. Look at its Johnston sans font for starters, it beautful, functional...look at that lowercase 'g' for example. Brilliant.

    The world is getting easier and easier to navigate and good design always lasts. So when I downloaded the London underground map to my phone for my trip to London last week, I was very happy to see the actual London Underground map appear and not some replacement-tailored-to-phone screen app.


    Comment by Brian Coles - 23:12 14.12.2010
  13. Hi Brian,

    It is an interesting way you took in your comment. In my humble opinion a simple, beautiful and functional design can't really go wrong. Sometimes I exclude "beautiful", cause it is quite so often a subjective point of view. Nonetheless, I agree with you.

    I am yet to see a well designed freebie map. The McDonaldses you talk about always take more space than my eye can appreciate. But then, this is why the map is a freebie. ;)


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