Experiences should be self-evident in their natural environment

Experiences should be self-evident in their natural environment

Busy commuter stations are hardly conducive to good experiences, but standing at London’s Kings Cross yesterday, I was particularly struck by this example of how design can go awry. There are some lessons for digital industry here.

In the middle of the concourse stood a branded desk, backed by a large, free-standing poster. It was, no doubt, advertising something to the hordes of commuters who pour through Kings Cross every evening. However, it was most noticeable not for the quality of its design or the interesting product it was promoting, but for the ragged, hand-written notice someone had added to mitigate the major flaw in its design.

Here it is in context. Perhaps you can guess the problem?

Unplanned design consequences in the field

By the look of that large crease in the bottom of the poster, someone had already tested the structural properties of this ‘wall’ by leaning themselves or their luggage against it and getting a nasty shock as the thing collapsed in on itself. It’s what people do in stations, particularly stations like Kings Cross where this no seating on the main concourse, and commuters look for things they can lean against as they wait for their trains to be announced.

You can often do a quick check on how well suited public installations or architecture are to their environment by counting the number of signs which have been added to the physical fabric of the space. If you have to explain the experience to people or warn about its pitfalls, the chances are it isn’t fit for purpose.

I see these same issues occurring time and time again in digital industry, where product iterations are conducted in labs far removed from the environments in which the customers will experience the product. The situation is further compounded when those responsible for product development are different to those responsible for the user research.

This poster provides a succinct example of exactly that problem. The designer who put together the attractive branding for this pop-up poster and desk probably thought they did a great job – within the limitations of how they understood their role. Unfortunately, however, the overall experience it delivered was not fit for purpose, because it was designed without consideration for the environment in which it would be used.

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