Entrepreneurial Project Management

Guerrilla tips and tactics for getting things done

Usability, Instructions, and Foreign Airports

Posted by matteverard on August 3, 2006

I recently traveled through Toronto International Airport for the first time and the experience reminded me of how it is nearly impossible to communicate an unintuitive process to a listener. Take, for instance, trying to teach somone how to drive a manual transmission auto (“Let out gently on the clutch, slowly engage the gas…Slowly…Slooowly…GOOD LORD I SAID SLOWLY!!”).

Or teaching a 6 year old how to punt a soccer ball (“hold it like this, and drop the ball when it gets just below your knee…No, don’t toss it up…up is bad, let it fall…whatever…just have fun, you’ll get the hang of it).

So, OK, I’m waiting in terminal 1 for my baggage…waiting…getting nervous…watching the same two forelorn bags circling and circling without any new friends to join them. Then I did what I normally do when I can’t find my luggage (and don’t ask me why b/c it has never yielded results, but it just seems like “common sense”), I walk around the other baggage carousels thinking there’s a mix up. I think I blew 30 minutes before I went for help.

Baggage guy: “Oh, you’re going international, so you pick up your bags in terminal 2. Which is way over there.” He looks at me, twists his head a bit and points to a vague, far off land that requires a bus ride. To him, looking for international luggage in term 1 was just insane. Just then I remember hearing something in the PA system talking about international passengers which I had tuned out. Sure enough, it gave me perfect directions.

Yep, the manual was there but I didn’t read it. Why? Well, I never read manuals b/c they are usually very, very dumb. Here was an exception, but I’ve already figured out how to navigate these types of systems and the PA system has never before contained critical information. (BTW–my friends in Vancouver had warned me of the weirdness of the Toronto luggage system before I left, but I had no category to receive the data. I just didn’t get it.)

So to me, looking for luggage in a remote terminal is insane. Sure, I live in Ohio and don’t get out much. Go ahead, make your jokes. Never mind. This is the way software works. People don’t read the instructions b/c they’ve, say it with me, used this stuff before and know how it should work.


OK, so, here’s the moral of the story: I hated the Toronto International Airport and blamed them for my bad experience. “That’s not fair,” you might say. True, but that’s the way it went.

I think end-users grow to hate sofware through similar experiences. If you don’t design a highly usable UI/flow, don’t count on warning signs or manuals to help with adoption.

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