The UX of passport control

16.10.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
Think your front line doesn't affect your bottom line? Nations should take a closer look at what happens at their borders - this is the first major touchpoint with a "national brand". And the impression left is not always good. Here are three stories.

Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow
Last week, I was in Moscow. It took three uniformed folks to let me out of the country. Curiously, the passport (and photo) that got me a visa and into the country, suddenly became suspicious when the time came to leave.   

The young woman officiating spent several minutes staring at me and my passport. She then pushed a button (a signal that things were clearly amiss). Her colleague came over. They both stared at me. They stared at my passport. They stared at me some more. I removed my glasses (on request). I tried to resemble my photo (on my own initiative). I showed them other photo IDs (on request). I gave them my entire wallet (on my own initiative) The photo IDs included an 30-year-old Danish work permit, which they finally accepted as proof of my identity (sigh, if only the rest of the world thought I looked 30 years younger). Only when a third border officer came over and told the two younger officials that this was absurd, was I finally allowed to pass. (Although I don't speak Russian, when someone says someone else is full of shit, I recognize the international signs)  

The whole seance took over 10 minutes - which is really long when only one passport lane is open and the people waiting behind you are starting to wonder what crime you have committed.  

That is the Russian Federation. Western Europeans aren't surprised by this kind of nonsense as it fits the otherwise outdated stereotype. But let me share two more stories with you. And mind you, I am simply too old to take much crap from anybody unless they actually point a gun at me (and even then, I'm pretty cool, for example when poked with the business end of a Kalishnikov in East Berlin - but that's another story. Buy me a beer sometime...

Miami International Airport (aka "Wilcox Field")
Let's move on to the United States. I gathered my entire extended family and brought them to Miami last February to celebrate my Mom's 90th birthday. After we had cleared passport control, I was walking several meters in front of the rest of the family as we approached baggage claim. As anyone who has entered the United States knows, you have to show the stamped customs form to a bored official sitting on a chair before you can leave the first immigration area. Here's the conversation that followed:  

U.S. customs official: Hold on there, buddy.  

Me: Sure. What's the problem?  

U.S. Customs official: This paper says you're travelling with a bunch of people. Where are they?  

Me: They're right there (pointing)  

U.S. Customs official: (angry) They need to be with you at all times.  

Me: (cautiously). Er...they are. They're right there (my wife and son-in-law were now standing next to me. The others were only steps away). We have children with us. They walk slowly.  

U.S. Customs official: That's not my problem. Don't move.  

Me: I'm not going anywhere. Relax. They're right there.  

U.S. Customs official: Don't you give me that backtalk! You stand over there! Right now! And shut your goddamn face.  

Me: (no words. I stand in my appointed corner. The family regroups)  

U.S. Customs official: You people come to our country and think you can tell us what to do. Well, believe me, sonny, this isn't the way we do things over here. I'll tell you when you can go.  

Me: (I wait for over a minute, receive more verbal lashings, and then flash my U.S. passport): "Sonny" yourself. I assure you, I am NOT "you people". You screwed with the wrong American Citizen and you can't scare me. And if this is the way you greet visitors to our country, the Customs and Immigration Service had better find your replacement FAST. Now you let us pass - and I want your name and badge number NOW.  

(I filed an official complaint against Officer Delgado. I was told action was taken. On behalf of the United States of America, I apologize to all visitors who also met this idiot.)  

Kastrup Airport, Copenhagen
Fast forward to last Wednesday in Copenhagen Airport on my way to the United Kingdom.  

The Danish official takes my passport, casually flips to the very last page, and plants a stamp. I roll my eyes. He reacts:  

Danish policeman (in English): So what's your problem?   

Me (in Danish): You just cost me two trips to my embassy - which is about 4 hours of my time!  

Danish policeman: Huh?  

Me (in Danish): You just stamped the very last page in my passport. Now I have to go to my embassy and have extra pages glued in if I want to travel to most countries in Asia. For instance, the Russian Federation requires two consecutive blank pages if I want a visa. You just screwed up my passport.  

Danish policeman (in Danish): You should have told me before.  

Me: It's not my job to teach you your job. Passport control officers around the world know how to stamp a passport. There are even instructions printed in the EU passport.  

Danish policeman: This is an American passport. The stamp is just a fucking souvenir for you people (verbatim translation: "en skide souvenir for jer amerikaner").  

Me: This isn't a souvenir shop. You are authorizing travel documents.  

Danish policeman: Move on. People are waiting...sir. (and under his breath, "Røvhul")

Caveat Dania
Dear Danish Passport Control Policeman. I have your number - number 9. You haven't heard the end of this.  

Lesson learned
Pay heed: idiots in positions of authority can create an incredible amount of bad will. All businesses and institutions should keep this in mind when planning customer-service initiatives. Your front line relates directly to your bottom line!  


Typical pages from my passport as normally stamped by officials, following the best practice of filling up the passport from the front.


Very last page of my passport, incorrectly stamped by bored official who couldn't give a damn about his job.

52 reasons to follow @elreiss on Twitter

31.01.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
I just came across an article suggesting no fewer than 60 ways to attract Twitter followers ( It comes from @technotip (who is worth following).

I'm completely jazzed. I want followers. I crave followers. Followers are now my raison d'etre. Follow me @elreiss. My ego is suffering from hunger pains. FEED IT NOW!

Oops. Did I get carried away? (must remember to Tweet about this - check it out @elreiss)

Penis envy in cyberspace
You really have to laugh at some of these tactics. Number of Twitter followers seems to have become the social media equivalent of penis envy. And some of these scams are clearly the cyber-equivalent of a penis-extender. Henceforth, anyone who even considers running a Twitter contest will be added to my personal blacklist.

Why the tasteless self-promotion, @elreiss?
This is an experiment. OK?

In addition to retweeting stuff from folks smarter than I am and recommending articles, I occasionally have original thoughts. Looking through some of the past year’s tweets, I found around 50 that seemed to stand the test of time better than most.

WTF, @elreiss? Get to the point!
I’m not really out to build a huge follower base, but I would like to experiment a bit with the “content is king” notion. So please remember to “unfollow” if my tweets don’t contribute in some useful way to your own life and work. I'm keeping track of follower stats from day to day. Read 'em and weep-or-whatever.

52 tweets I (@elreiss) wrote and like
Will the iPon be a brand extension of the iPad?

Why follow your Twitter followers if you don't care what folks say?

This is a day for avoiding real work. Which is why I've been pondering cross-dressers who wear burkas. How would anyone know?

I wish it was as big a crime to be dumb as it is to be dishonest.

The more time I spend on social media (Twitter and beyond), the more I'm convinced our society is in deep shit.

Not all pithy thoughts can be compressed to 140 characters no matter how hard you try.

If the meek inherit our earth, it’s because the strong have abandoned them.

I'm more convinced than ever that "unwired" has become the new "organic".

TV news interviews are great reality programming. There's nothing as dumb as an "expert" if you get them off their area of expertise.

If it's dangerous to talk to yourself, it's probably even more dangerous to listen.

Good design can never rescue bad strategy. When did pretty uniforms last win a war?

If your competition sells cheaper, it's called "dumping". If you sell cheaper, it's called "supply side optimization".

America's infatuation with reality TV suggests that many viewers can no longer differentiate between talent and celebrity. Scary!

False friendships are the emotional downside of most current social media offerings.

I love teaching. I learn so much.

Do arbitrary rules really deserve more than arbitrary compliance?

Ahh. What would the world be like without rhetorical questions?

Packaging designers should be forced to clean and organize a larder once in a while. Valuable lessons to be learned.

If I always knew what I was doing, I'd never learn anything. A little adversity can be a really good thing.

Changing the world is easy. Changing it for the positive is the real challenge. That's because no one agrees on what's good.

If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're right.

Still trying to change the world, but I'm more and more convinced that the world would prefer that I just butt out.

Pitting UX against IA is like having your toolbox pick a fight with your wrench. UX is a cognitive container for a variety of skills.

How come "altruistic" is never a value word for companies? Sometimes you've gotta do stuff simply because it's the right thing to do.

Words of wisdom: Don't burn your bridges before you come to them.

Looking for statistics to confirm my fear that the idiots now officially outnumber those of us who know what we're doing.

I'm frustrated that there are so many folks in the UX business who are famous just for being famous, not for any work they've ever done.

Call yourself an expert? Do you really have 10,000 hours of experience, or just one hour, repeated 10,000 times?

Are you passionate or provocative? Passion comes from the heart. But most provocation seems to stem from ego.

Rules are created when people take advantage of that which is unwritten.

If content is king, is context the kingdom?

Bailouts have become the back-button of the financial industries.

How long is "new media" new? Are we now working with "middle-aged media"?

Jakob Nielsen talks about designing his tweets: This is what most people call "editing".

The blogosphere is the Gong Show of Generation Y.

“Thought leadership” means thinking about a community of practice, not thinking about leadership.

No discernable correlation between your popular searches and your popular pages? You have a serious information architecture issue to solve.

Never judge a book by the taste of the binding.

If you want to be a thought leader, it’s best to start your career by fine-tuning your thinking, not your PR.

"Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer." But does that really mean you have to put up with their silly twitter-chatter?

Words to live by: be nice to the people you meet on the way up. They're often the same ones you meet on the way down.

The biggest threat to the future of the web is the neighbor's kid, who is programming crap sites for legit businesses using FrontPage.

Maybe we designers ask too many questions. Maybe we threaten potential clients. Maybe folks don't care if their website contributes to their business.

I'm seeing incredibly incompetent shops getting web work while really talented folks are out of work. What are the idiots doing right?

Responses to yesterday's Twitter denial of service attack lead me to believe that some folks have serious addiction problems.

Ultimately, insistence on formalized processes and standardized deliverables strives not to collect answers but to obliterate questions.

The sooner our pitches reflect the fact that most business decisions are made emotionally and not rationally, the sooner we will get rich.

Political correctness is just another way to hide prejudice behind euphemism. I far prefer straight talk and honesty.

UX certification? Reminds me of Groucho Marx’s comment: “I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would accept me as a member.”

Gonna take flak from the American consultants...but...IMO ”It depends” is just an unnecessary click in the verbal clickstream.

Mashups can be SOOOO ugly. Here’s a new acronym: TIDE (Tight Integration of Diverse Experiences) Goes nicely with AJAX.

Amateurish SEO drives me mad. Keyword density is the worst fairydust of all time. Fact: you cannot bore people into buying something.

Again, if you like these, please follow me for a couple of weeks @elreiss and see if I continue to live up to expectations. If not, that’s cool – I’m not really out to build a huge follower base, but to experiment a bit with the “content is king” notion. And please remember to “unfollow” if my tweets don’t contribute in some useful way to your own life and work.

Hey, you can also comment right here! Let me know what YOU think about Twitter.

Why Rio is going to be the Olympic Committee choice for 2016

01.10.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
I’ve been involved in choosing venues for conferences for a couple of years now. I’m curious as to whether the international Olympic Committee uses the same methodology I do – and examines similar user-experience issues. If so, they’re going to choose Rio de Janeiro tomorrow for the 2016 Olympics. Here’s why:

The case against Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago
Everyone is busy making the case for their city. But being best is not how decisions of this kind are usually made. The slimy truth is, decision-makers always start with the case against a given venue. Here, are four considerations:

- has the city already hosted an Olympics recently?
- is their geographic area interesting in terms of promoting the Olympic concept?
- is a particular choice going to get the Committee into political hot water?
- is a particular choice going to rob the Committee of a PR opportunity?

Evaluating the venues
– not likely. This was the venue back in 1964. And they got it primarily because the start of WWII cancelled the 1940 Tokyo Olympics (in fact, my mom was to have been a U.S. high-jumper at that event). The Committee is probably going to look at other options before returning to Japan.

Madrid – forget it. Barcelona got the Olympics in 1992. Two Spanish cities within a 25-year period? I just can’t see this happening.

Chicago – slim chance. With Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996, there’s been too much U.S. exposure. And honestly, pulling in Barack and Oprah to plead the case is simply overkill; this may ultimately work against the Chicagoans (no one wants to be perceived as buckling under to pressure from American superstars). Moreover, with the U.S. spearheading military “conflicts” in two theaters of operation, I think the Committee will go for more neutral ground.

The case for Rio
South America has never held an Olympics (Mexico City doesn’t count). In this age of sustainability, holding the Olympics in the country that governs the greatest part of the Amazon rain forest can focus the world’s eyes on the country – and hopefully bring about positive change. Rio is only an hour ahead of New York in terms of time-zones, which means events can be scheduled for TV transmission at optimal times for U.S. viewers. Finally, the Brazilians could use the money – South American economies are not the strongest around.

A final note
Mr. President, Ms. Winfrey, please don’t doubt my loyalty to the cause. As an ex-Chicagoan, I would love for our “toddlin’ town” to play host. But I just don’t think it’s going to happen.