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!

FatDUX Ottawa Welcomes Kristina Mausser

21.09.2010 | Author: Jeff Parks
It is with great pride that I announce the addition of Kristina Mausser to the FatDUX Ottawa team!

Kristina is one of Canada's leading Web Content Strategists whose expertise in identifying, positioning, and creating online content and messaging through best practices in web content writing and strategy has earned her accolades from clients and web industry professionals alike.

Her portfolio includes client work for Microsoft Corporation, Sephora, Fusion Brands Inc, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, the Government of Jamaica and McGill University. A firm believer in UX centred design, Kristina is an active member of the UX Book Club Ottawa and founder of Canada's first Web Content Strategy Meet-Up.

Kristina has been interviewed on both radio and television in Canada and Jamaica, and has guest lectured on the subjects of Information Management, Writing for the Web, and Web Communications at the University of Maryland in the U.S. and at the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica.

A graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature, Kristina studied advertising, web publishing and e-business at Centennial College's School of Communications, Media and Design in Toronto.

In 2007, Kristina was nominated for Canada's Top 40 Under 40 Award, in recognition of her vision, innovation, and impact within the web industry.

I have had the pleasure of working with Kristina on several projects within the private and pubic sectors here in Canada; she is a brilliant asset to an incredible International team of User Experience professionals!

Way-finding, Maps, and Common Sense

21.11.2008 | Author: Andrea Resmini
Way-finding is one of my pets. Actually, way-finding and the concepts of space and place in information space are, but that sounds a bit pompous, so let's stick to way-finding.

Now, way-finding tries to understand how we are able to walk around and make sense of the surrounding environment, remember paths, places, and generally know where we can fetch that tasty sandwich or how to avoid a gangsta neighborhood. It has its roots in urban studies, cognitive psychology, the environmental sciences, and psychology: first applied by Kevin Lynch in the Sixties to understand the way we experience urban landscapes, way-finding is an important piece of the theories which try to unravel the complex relationship we entertain with digital interfaces, navigation in virtual environments, and the Web.

I had a chance to do some research-related traveling during the Summer, and I happened to be in Cambridge, UK, for a whole week-end, so I played tourist big time. I took a lot of pictures, visited all the right places (and if you are there with kids, do not miss the Sedgwick Museum), ate in a half a dozen bad restaurants. The city is beautiful, albeit so stuffed up with Italians that at times it looks and sounds like the Riviera.

Anyway, I walked a lot. Being always the resourceful kind of guy, I had a foldable paper map with me all of the time: Cambridge is a medieval city, has plenty of monumental buildings at its center, and although the river Cam makes it even more interesting with bridges and all it did not help the laying down of a regular grid: Cambridge is your classic web of turning, winding streets. While cruising St. John's Street I walked into this map:

Map of Cambridge, details

Map of Cambridge, details

I looked at it, and ladies and gentlemen I got completely lost. I didn't recognize the city it depicted. I knew it had to be Cambridge (of course it had to, who would place a map of Exeter there. That is, except me and Søren, possibly), but couldn't make any sense of it. I wasn't drunk, I wasn't low on sugars, and I'm pretty good at maps: I just couldn't read it. I was puzzled for the good part of five minutes, then I got it.

Now, before we solve the mystery for you as well, a description and a few pedantic notes are necessary. Indulge me. The map per se is your pretty normal, standard street map. It's in a visible, accessible place, and large enough to be readable even from a few steps away. Typefaces, colors, wording, icons, everything is neither particularly visionary nor plain wrong. It lists major monumental buildings and places, facilities, parkings, and throws in a few directional arrows for top-of-the-list locations from there (top of the picture).

And that's interesting, since this is actually the kind of 'You are here' map everyone loves, but it adds a little signage. For the technically inclined among you, this is a so-called YAH map, category 4, tools which demonstrate the surrounding environment, with some category 5 addition thrown in.

Let's see. For the not-yet-bored-to-death, the full list of way-finding tools goes like this: 1. tools that display the user's current position, say LORAN, a radio-navigation system; 2. tools that display the user's orientation, such as compasses; 3. tools that log the user's movement, for example the traditional captain's log aboard a ship; 4. tools which show the user's surrounding environment, like maps; 5. guided navigation systems, like GPS and signage.

Now, one of the principles good YAH maps rely on is called structure matching. It can be defined as the need to pair known points in the environment with those on the map, and it can be even more easily described as what you do when you turn around your map to align it with what you currently see from your point of view. Unfortunately, this really works when you either have a kind of false perspective map, like an isometric projection, or when you align the map to some emergent visible feature, easily recognizable on the spot. That makes sense, as I love my maps close to important landmarks, and I love to be able to look at the map and project it easily and directly over what I see.

Map of Cambridge

Map of Cambridge 

Not the case here: the map is a standard aerial view, very map-like, and it's placed in a totally non-meaningful place. No emergent landmarks I can align to. But it applies local structure matching: if you take a closer look at the picture, you will see that in the lower right-end corner you have a neat arrow pointing North. East. Sorry, North, it says, but that is actually East is the normal cognitive map of geographic space.

Once I noticed that, and after subduing a sudden urgency to kick the panel hard, I was able to turn the map ninety degrees left in my mind and I started to go like “Now, here you are. Well, of course. Queen's College, indeed, and there's...” and then everything fell into place. What I experienced is well known in way-finding literature, and is commonly described as being turned around, a rather unpleasant feeling for sure. When relying on maps and not on direct observation it gets even worse, as spatial knowledge derived from them is normally orientation-specific and its even more easier to get lost.

All in all, this made for a very bad user experience. Since there was no emergent feature, a landmark to which I could immediately align the map and no graphical aid except for that small, unnatural East-pointing North pointer to tell me I needed to rotate, I read the map as we do with all maps, figuring North was up. This immediately threw me off, and I got lost.

Now, before you say that, the real issue I have with this is to see how someone obviously cared for this map but then blew it royally by not using simple common-sense: why not simply locate the map somewhere else, pointing North, leave defaults to be defaults, and have happier users? There, fixed it for you.