Heathrow Terminal 5 – Another rant about respecting conventions

This seems to be my theme at the moment. Respect conventions.

Respecting conventions doesn’t mean that you have to slavishly follow them, that would be boring and unnecessary, BUT if you *are* going to break with convention then make sure it is very well sign posted, otherwise people will make mistakes.

I give you terminal 5 at Heathrow. 

Firstly a quick question – how long before an international flight do you need to get to the airport? 

The vast majority of people would say that the conservative answer is 2 hours but they don’t usually give it quite that long. 

Another quick question – how long before a flight to a European destination do you need to get to Heathrow? 

Again, most people will give you an answer around the 1 hour mark.

Now… you may already know this, but if you want to fly from London Heathrow Terminal 5 to Istanbul in Turkey (as I did the other day – yes the weather is beautiful, thank you!) they want you to get there not one, not two, but THREE hours before your flight.

We arrived an hour before our flight the other day and were severely reprimanded and had to be given ‘permission’ to proceed from the check in desk to try to get our flight. Fortunately (for us) the entire security software system crashed and massive queues meant that most flights (including ours) were delayed and we made our flight with plenty of time to spare.

So, given that getting to the airport 3 hours before the flight is apparently a big deal for BA, and given that T5 is relatively new, and given that in all my years of international flights, I’ve never been expected to be anywhere any earlier than 2 hours before the flight, you might expect that BA would make a big song and dance about this 3 hour requirement.

You’d be wrong.

They *do* make a big song and dance about the fact that we were leaving from T5 and that T5 is a new terminal. I definitely knew that because they advised me at almost every interaction I had with them regarding this flight (and these days there are quite a few touchpoints between purchasing the ticket and boarding the flight). But what did they tell me about time?

This is an excerpt from the email they sent me one week before the flight, specifically to help me to prepare for my upcoming flight:

IMPORTANT: For flights departing from Terminal 5, you must pass through ticket presentation and security at least 35 minutes before the flight departs. For other important information about passport, visa and UK domestic flight security checks, please visit ba.com/t5information.

So, honestly. Do they *really* expect me to turn up 3 hours early when this is the information they give me.

Perhaps they do, but I can tell you that a good portion of the passengers for the Istanbul flight were stuck in the security queue with us, having arrived much later than 3 hours before. And I doubt that it was because they were being naughty travelers, or that they liked the adrenaline rush of almost missing a flight. They just assumed, as we did, that turning up an hour before a flight from London to somewhere in Europe was the right thing to do, because that’s what we’ve done many times before.

This is what we do as humans. We make assumptions based on past experience and if we think we *know* how something works we don’t bother investigating it in detail, because we could spend our time and energy investigating things we think are new and interesting.

If people are making assumptions about your product, service or interface design and you’re *not* following the conventional approach, make sure whatever you’re doing differently is very clearly signposted. And then signposted again. Otherwise mistakes will happen.

And a customer who is making a mistake is very rarely a happy customer.

(disclaimer – yes, yes. I know that technical Istanbul is both European and Asian, doesn’t really make a difference to the discussion tho’)

Some unformed thoughts on Ambient Intimacy for the next generation

My little boy is six months old tomorrow. I’ve been thinking a lot, since he’s been around, about what the world looks like to him now, what it might be like in the future, and trying to understand how his little brain develops and turns him into a real little person (incredibly quickly, as it turns out).

I’ve been thinking a bit about this lately and I’d love to workshop it with you…

For people born in 2008 (and probably a few years before) – ambient intimacy will just be a normal state. It won’t have the novelty that it has had for us. The ability to stay in touch with people that we have stronger or weaker ties with in this light weight way will be something available to them from a very young age and – in all probability – throughout their entire lives.

What do you imagine the repercussions will be?

For example, assuming that within the next few years, more and more people will have a social presence online, my little guy will have no real excuse to ‘lost contact’ with anyone he makes contact with. Can you imagine a kindergarten equivalent of Facebook? I can. Extrapolate from there.

What does that mean? Being able to ‘lose touch’ is, when you think about it, a pretty valuable luxury. How will we negotiate this I wonder.

What about ‘contact’ scalability. How many contacts could you accumulate over the course of a lifetime if you start really young? How will we manage that? If we get stressed about our mum’s friending us on FaceBook now, what do our kids have coming? We think Twitter gets distracting now – how will we manage all the noise that such a huge number of contacts will generate? Or will we all just shut up? (I doubt it).

How will we manage our identity online as our identity changes? Will this pressure that seems to be about to have an ‘integrated’ online persona (work, social, family, all in together) continue? If not, how will different personas evolve and how will the be related? Will we be able to re-invent ourselves? Will it be as fun? Will our kids ever forgive their parents for putting so many photos of them on Flickr when they were babies?

On the brighter side though, imagine how powerful and extensive these networks will be – the ability to motivate, research, refer, inspire, inquire. How distributed and trusted information sources will be.

Put on your future goggles and imagine what it would be like… what do you see?

Thoughtless design is going to cost me money… (or, why you shouldn’t ignore conventions)

BT Aqua Phone

Here is a new phone we got the other day. It’s our landline phone. Pretty cute huh? It’s called the Aqua by BT. Don’t buy it. I paid about £100 for a set of these phones. They are going to cost me a lot more than that in no time.

Here’s the thing. How do you end a call on a slide phone (which is what these are)? Simple – you close the slide, right? Well – yes, on every other slide phone that I’ve ever encountered, but not on this phone. Closing the slide does nothing… except closing the slide. So, when I went to make a call last night I discovered that, in fact, a call was still in progress. A call to a mobile phone, that had been connected for 8 hours. Ouch. I am *dreading* seeing this months phone bill because this isn’t the first time we’ve made this mistake. Although, this is probably the worst example.

We keep making this mistake because the slide-to-end-call convention is such a strong part of our model of how a slide phone works. We will keep making this mistake – despite the fact that we will be punished, seriously, by our telco.

As cute as these phones are, they’re going to be returned very soon because the experience of using them is so broken.

Moral to the story – if you’re designing something that has existing conventions associated with it – ignore them at your peril. Otherwise you’ll end up designing something that sucks as badly as this phone. And we don’t want that, do we.

End of rant.

On documentation (or lack thereof)

I was talking to someone recently about doing some work with them. They said ‘can you send me some examples of documentation you’ve done lately’ – they wanted this to check that I could do what I said I could. Fair enough. Except, aside from the fact that all the documentation I’ve done lately is commercially confidential, so I’d have to hack it around a little to be able to show it to someone else… it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve actually done the kind of ‘finished’ documentation I used to spend a lot of my time doing.

I just don’t work that way anymore, it seems. Sure, I still do wireframes every now and then, but never a ‘complete set’ and often with no where near the detail I used to include. Why? I think there are three reasons. Firstly, I tend to work on more of a strategic level than a detail ‘exactly where does that button go’ level these days. Secondly, I tend to work on projects where there is no time for that level of detail. And finally – and most interesting I think – I tend to work closer to the production team these days – more often are graphic designers designing and/or developers developing the very same stuff I’m wireframing at the same time. Investing too much in the documentation is a waste of everyones time – much better to do just enough to get them going and then work collaboratively with the team to do the fine tuning.

Personally, I think I should have been working more like this since forever.

Does any of this sound familiar?