The user-friendliness of air travel has been documented before. The confusing nature of boarding passes is just one example of how the world’s airlines could make things a little easier for travellers.
Catching a flight from London City Airport this morning, I spotted another gem.
If your flight is leaving from gate 21, 22, 23 or 24 at London City, you need to pay special attention to where you’re walking. Because this is how those gates are numbered:
Yes. 22, 21, 24, 23. At City Airport, numbers run in a different order.
This isn’t just another dig at how airports work. It’s a great example of how small details can make the difference between an average experience and a good one.
If you need a sign to explain the order in which thing are numbered, you’re doing it wrong. That sign is equivalent to the sticking plaster copy that clogs up websites because things aren’t sufficiently intuitive.
Or to put it another way: you couldn’t be bothered doing it properly, because it was easier to just explain why it doesn’t work the way people expect.
And yes, these details really matter. Imagine you’re running late for a flight. Your gate — gate 24 — is about to close. Sprinting through departures, you catch a glimpse of a sign: ‘Gates 21 – 24 this way.’
‘Great,’ you think. ‘It’s just typical that my gate would be furthest away.’
As your feet pound the floor, you know it’s going to be tight. Turning a corner, you can see a gate at the end of the corridor.
The sign comes into focus as you approach. It says ’23’. You’ve run right past the gate you needed. And you’ve missed your flight.
I’ve written before about how breaking with convention is a dangerous game. If you’re going to mess with the most fundamental of all conventions — like the order of numbers — you can expect to irritate your users.
If you’ve been paying attention to the world of domain names (come on, who doesn’t?), then you’ll know that waves of new domain extensions are being released onto the market.
If you’re not happy with the usual .co.uk or .com, you can choose .ninja, .doctor, .london, .coffee … or any one of over a thousand other options.
For instance, London’s chain of Nimax theatres can now be found at www.nimaxtheatres.london.
Against this backdrop of new domains, leading travel site Booking.com (note the .com in the company’s name and logo) has launched a TV advertising campaign.
The ad closes with a simple tagline:
Planet Earth’s #1 Accommodation Site
Although it seems clever at first glance, this tagline could cause confusion.
As awareness of new domain names becomes more widespread, it’s perfectly conceivable that people could think Booking.yeah is a genuine domain name.
Except that it doesn’t exist. What’s more, it isn’t going to exist any time soon, because .yeah is not on the list of forthcoming domain extensions.
Even more confusingly, Booking.com has applied to run its own .booking domain. (I’m thinking hotels.booking, travel.booking, stuff like that.)
Frankly, with these new domains set to cause some confusion anyway, now seems like a bad time to start inventing non-existent domains just so you can finish your ad with a clever tagline.
But if your company has actually decided to invest time and money applying for its own domain extension, surely you’d think very carefully about what URLs you associate with your brand.
Now, I’m no expert in running trains, but you might have gathered from previous posts that I’ve had the odd run-in with train company web design, signs and labelling.
In general, it’s fair to say I’m not a fan. And now I’ve found another piece of nasty sticking-plaster copy lurking on the First Great Western website:
It seems the train company recently made its user password system case sensitive. In terms of security, this is a good move. But to accommodate the change, First Great Western decided to make everyone’s passwords all-uppercase.
If you don’t realise this when you try and sign in, you see this contrived error message:
We’re sorry, the email address or password you entered was not correct. Passwords changed or created after 13th Nov 2012 are case sensitive. If you have not changed your password since the 13th November 2012, please enter your current password in UPPERCASE.
The red text means it look like a serious error message, and it makes the user think they’ve done something wrong.
This is a classic example of a company making a well-intentioned technical change to its website, but forcing users to adapt to this change, rather than taking some extra steps to make life easier for them.
I call it ‘sticking plaster copy’ because it uses lengthy instructional copy to try and patch up the issue rather than fixing it properly.
Essentially, First Great Western has changed my password without asking. That’s inelegant and impolite. (It also raises the question of how securely user passwords are stored, but I’ll leave that issue to the technical experts.)
It makes my interaction with the website more awkward, adding an extra barrier that I have to overcome in order to buy a train ticket.
As an alternative, they could simply have allowed me to sign in as normal, then prompted me to change my password at a later point – perhaps immediately after signing in, or once I’d completed my purchase.
That would have made my life a bit easier, and it might even have positive impact on their website’s conversion rate too.