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The Architectures of Information Spaces

Aug 11, 2014



Closing keynote at the UX Poland 2014 "The Human Experience" conference.

  • Last summer I flew Qatar Airways all the way to Melbourne, to speak at UX Australia: a long 24hour haulacrossmostoftheglobethattookmefirstfrom CopenhagentoDoha,Qatar,wherethecompanyhastheir mainhub.Wehadourwheelsdownaround10:00pmlocal timein40degreesheatandIwasoffforMelbournea coupleofhourslater. The trip was comfortable, uneventful, positively unremarkable. The major thrill being how to avoid to spillchickenpomodoroallovermypantsandshirt.I failed,ifyoureallywanttoknow.
  • Myboardingpasseswereremarkabletho.Theycameina brightly colored yellow folder, with instructions to havethemvisibleandhandywhenleavingtheplanein Doha. While we have become generally good at managing the largeamountsofinformationwehavetomovearoundto make commercial flying a sensible proposition, flight connections can be tricky, and Doha is not only an entry point to Qatar, but also a 21million passengersperyearexchangepointformanywhotravel EastorWest. Acomplexchoreographymovestravelersfromoneflight all the way to to their next connections. With such numbers, staying on time, avoiding potentially disruptivemistakesandkeepingcustomershappyisnot aneasyfeat.
  • .. All signage within Doha airport is routinely bilingual,usingArabicandEnglishandworkingswell. Still, the major friction point travelers encounter comesbeforeevenenteringtheterminals.
  • URBANROMANCEONLINE.COM Travelersmovebetweenplanesandterminalsonbuses, and airport buses are not the best of places for signagespotting. Paying attention to detailed explanations is difficult as well: we are tired, we are distracted, we are irritable after hours of immobilitytorturedbyuncomfortableplaneseats. Wealsomightnotknowwhatwehavetolookoutfor, or simply care in the least. Ill mind my business, soonerorlatersomeonewilltakecareofmeandmove mewhereIhavetobe. Buses in Doha make it even worse, as all windows are darkenedtopreventoverheating.Beingonthelookout might be difficult, impractical, or plain impossible ifyouarestandingmidofthebus.Usuallytryingto preventsomeoneelsessolidsteelbackpackbucklesto mark you with possibly interesting but absolutely impractical permanent scars takes most of our attention.
  • So Qatar Airways devised a simple solution to help peoplemovearoundtheairportthatworksprettywell becauseitisimplementedsystemicallyandbecauseit beginswaybeforeyougettoDoha:youstarttolearn about your terminal and what you have to do on the ground when you checkin and you either print or receiveyourboardingpasses. Ifyouareprintingyourpasshome,yougetastandard A4 page sporting a very evident colorcoded area: yellow,blue,orgreen.Ifyoucheckinattheairport ordropyourbaggage,youwillreceivestandardpasses in a similarly colorcoded folder, and coordinated tagsforanyhandluggageyoumightcarry.
  • Samethingonthewebsite.Thesecolorscorrespondto the different terminals and activities involved with yourtripwhenyouhitDoha:yellowisfortransfers, green is for shortrange transfers between planes, blue is for people entering Qatar. Business class is handledseparatelyandcolorcodedpurple.
  • WhentheplanebeginsitsdescentintoDoha,yougeta reminder.Avideodetailswhatisgoingtohappen,and howthefoldercontainingtheboardingpasses(orthe passesthemselves)isgoingtobeanimportantelement ofidentification.Youarerepeatedlytoldtokeepit visible, and the tags on your bags reinforce these visualclues:notonlytheyallowyoutoknowwhatis your color, and what group you belong to (a strong, nofuss message: if unsure, flock. Stay with your color),buttheyallowairportpersonneltocatchthe occasionally straying or unaware bird before anything potentiallydisruptivehappens. When on the bus, a recorded message plays in the background reminding you of how the system works. At this point its visual, aural, and using every means togettoyou.
  • DOHA AIRPORT When you arrive at the terminal, you find out that this colorcoding is applied to the building themselves and that staff awaits at the doors waving facsimiles of the right boarding pass for that stop, andthattheyactivelycheckthatnobodywhoshouldbe gettingoffthebusremainsonboard.
  • Ifyouexcludethevideoplayedinflight,mostofthe technology involved here amounts to paint something indifferentcolors,explainpeoplewhy,andstickto it. But the basic value of consistency and of delivering an unequivocal message that does not rely (only) on any spoken language cannot be stressed enough. In all, this is a brilliant information architecture deployed across many different channels through a numberoftouchpoints,systemically.
  • There'slayeruponlayerofpossiblechoicesandpaths intersectingateachnodalpoint.
  • Productstodayareservices.Thisisnotreallynews: I wrote about this ongoing transformation together withLucaRosatiin2009,andDonNorman,whosurehas much more clout than us when it comes to user experience, wrote a similar piece for Interaction in the same year by the title Systems Thinking A Product is More than the Product. And honestly, we werentreallysayinganythingnewatthetimeeither. Butthetrendiskeepingup,steadily,anditsworth a little attention: products are services, and those whicharenotareturningfast.
  • Even those who might seem at first to be reasonably immunetothisepidemics,thinkyourfavoritecereals, are really not. They are pieces of a complex machinery, an ecology of products where every single elementisagearofalargersystem. A few months ago, Ferrero, the Italian brand that produces Nutella, went through a social media hailstorm.
  • SARA ROSSO They suddenly decided they wanted a longtime self declared Nutella fan, American journalist Sara Rosso, to stop organizing World Nutella Day, a fansof Nutellaconferenceshehadbeenhostingsince2007.As soon as the news hit the Internet, outrage got rampant.
  • Inamatterofdaystheonlinebacklashbecamewasso fierce that Ferrero retreated quickly and generously changed their minds, allowing Ms Rosso to continue spreading(literally)herpassionforyearstocome.
  • BRAND MEDIA STRATEGY BRAND PRODUCT CUSTOMERS SOCIAL MEDIA This is still an ecosystem. An open, participated ecosystem.Ferrerojustdidn'tseeitandsufferedthe consequences. The change is of course much more evidentwhereproductslendthemselvesmoreeasilyto suchasystemicchange.Theentertainmentindustryis acaseinpoint.
  • Products are services, but it does not end there: users, customers, consumers, actors, you choose the name, are also cocreators. They are wranglers, as Bruce Sterling called them back then in 2005 in his Shaping Things: actively remixing, creating and harvesting content and meanings. Facebook and FourSquare are only possible because we provide the goodsthattheyusetofilluptheiremptyshelvesand scaffolding.
  • THE WALKING DEAD COMICS (The WalkingDeadas anexampleofa recent,crossmedial franchise. Originally a comic book series by Robert Kirkman, it spawned a successful multiseason tv series, interlacedvideogames,andplentyofzombiemerchandise.)
  • Narrativesdonotseateasilywithinonechannel. Through these continuous narrative, services become experiences. Now, if you are thinking this is nothing that should interestanyonewithadesignorbusinessperspective, nothing that really matters much in the grand scheme ofthings,youremissingthepoint.Servicesiswhere the money is going to be. You also have probably not paid the necessary attention to said entertainment industry,oflate.
  • Like,say,GTAV,avideogamebymultinationalcompany RockstarGames...
  • ... making$800millionin24hours. That's more than most Hollywood blockbusters, right? (And those are stillentertainment,aren'tthey?)
  • JANISJOPLIN Now,youmightnotbeinterestedingamesanyway.You might also have decided that music really died with JanisJoplin.Ifthatisthecase,youareprobablyin the wrong line of business, trust me. But here's a littlestory.
  • WIKIPEDIA IdohavealittlecollectionofvinylLPsinthe house.Whenevermyteenagedaughterbringsin friends,theyhavealaughatthem.Notsurprising, right?
  • Old man in the house, right. But the interesting partisthattheylaughattheCDsaswell.Iasked, and I was told t