Design, Passenger Experience

Why “letting go” is hard in experience design

Bob and Alice enter the restaurant and survey the scene. It is not their first time, and yet, they struggle to contain their excitement as their eyes dart across the mountains of food. Alice tests the elastic in her stretch pants and takes a moment to congratulate herself on her clothing choice. The waiter shows them to their table, and they order drinks. The eating games are about to begin.

We are all guilty of having had too many helpings at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. We upsize to the grande latte when the tall would have done, and we rationalize that the jumbo fries are better value. What we less often consider, however, is the impact of this “buffet effect” on the maintainability of software.

A few days after their buffet indulgence, Alice and Bob resume their normal lives as software engineers. Although they have both shed their stretch pants, they return to work with an unchanged psychology. The same subconscious thought processes that led Alice and Bob to overeat make them reluctant to retire old product features.

Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and even our own TinyMCE, all carry the scars of product maturity in the form of super-sized feature sets. Even products that are new and have minimalism as a core value are prone to suffer from the same affliction: Medium delivered a minimalist, paradigm-changing content creation interface. The initial release showed discipline in the feature set but is starting to bloat over time, with the introduction of more layout options and writing features. It appears that our human condition fools us into creating software that is less maintainable over time.

Our inability to let go of things, even things that we no longer need, is a fascinating topic explored by psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely. According to Ariely, the buffet phenomenon occurs due to two patterns of human logic.

First, we fall in love with what we already have. This love manifests in software as a high rate of feature retention. Sadly, inside most software products, there is little correlation between a feature’s utility and its persistence.

Secondly, we focus on what we may lose, rather than what we may gain. When we include a feature in a product, the thought that we might cut it from a future release creates a sense of loss. Removing a capability represents a loss that is seldom weighed against the benefits of a smaller, more maintainable code base.

The trend in content creation is towards clean, well-designed and minimalistic interfaces. Stripping away extraneous features enables authors to focus on the task of content creation, freeing themselves from distraction and overhead. Minimal features and more maintainable code bases are significant benefits, yet, like well-fed humans at an all you can eat buffet, our attachment to features-past leads us to bloat our software in the name of flexibility.

This post was first published on the blog

Passenger Experience

Bahrain leads the way with inaugural Airports Arabia Conference

By Dan Wong, Assistant Professor, Aviation Management Prince Sultan University, Saudi Arabia

In IATA’s recent March 2015 Air Passenger Market Analysis, the Middle East region was reported to continue experiencing strong growth in terms of both international and domestic air travel in terms of both Revenue-Passenger-Kilometers (RPK) and Available-Seat-Kilometers (ASK) above industry norms for the one-year period from March 2014 to 2015. The geographic location of the major hub airports in the Middle East to destinations in Africa, Asia and Europe, combined with increased air travel demand within the Middle East, will continue to make the Middle East a thriving airline marketplace in the foreseeable future.

As the airlines within the Middle East continue to build up their aircraft fleets to meet projected air travel demands, airport operators throughout the Middle East are also having to contend with issues in conjunction with developing sufficient airport infrastructure to accommodate the increases in both air passenger volumes and aircraft traffic both now and into the future. In light of these challenges faced by Middle East airport operators, while also embracing the desire to improve the air passenger’s travel experience, the Bahrain Society of Engineers, in association with the Federation of Arab Engineers, convened the first Airports Arabia Conference in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In addition to my paper on The Integration of Governance into Airport Terminal Designs Supporting Ground Transportation Services, over 20 papers from academics, airport executives and aviation industry professionals from around the world were presented to the 170+ delegates in attendance on various aspects of airport development. A panel discussion was integrated into the program on the challenges facing airport development projects. Significant discussions and networking opportunities also ensued during the many coffee breaks and meals among all of the attendees regarding airport development issues.

Many of those attending believed that both the subject matter and the particular venue of the conference was a long time coming given the challenges Middle East airport operators are facing in light of the increasing importance of civil aviation to the economic development and growth of the region, as well as the sheer increase in the numbers of air passengers and aircraft traffic both currently experienced and projected to experience in the near future. I believe that more conferences in the Middle East region are needed allowing for more fruitful conversations between academics, airport operators and aviation industry professionals to better facilitate the current and future aviation infrastructure needs in the Middle East. Given the increasing interconnectivity of much of the world by way of the Middle East, the impacts of these exchanges may very well influence the future of air travel for a significant percentage of the world’s population for years to come

About Dan
Dr. Dan Wong is currently an Assistant Professor of Aviation Management at Prince Sultan University. Originally born and raised in Northeastern Iowa, Dan was conferred a PhD for his pioneering research work in airport planning from Queensland University of Technology. He has since been a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Aviation at the University of Central Missouri prior to his current position in Saudi Arabia. Dan is well known for traveling the world looking for adventure, knowledge and life experiences with his wife, Donna, and their large Maine Coon cat. Dan can be reached by e-mail at:

Design, Passenger Experience

On destinations and gratitude

Street Art by Scampi, New Zealand |

Street Art by Scampi, New Zealand |

I have reached the end of the academic endurance event that I have been pursuing for the last 3+ years at QUT, Australia. Although the race was mine, there were a number of amazing people that I met along the way who helped me at pivotal times during this research.

If we shared a conversation at a conference in the last three years, exchanged ideas via email, had a chat walking the corridors of an airport terminal, or connected in any way, please accept my sincere thanks… I have learned, been inspired and discovered my passion. I look forward to continuing to share research and lessons about how to create meaningful and profitable experiences – both in, and out, of the airport – right here at inPlaneTerms.

…There are, however, a number of exceptional persons who have had a direct influence on the direction and quality of this research. My supervisory team at QUT’s School of Design, Prof Vesna Popovic and Dr Ben Kraal, have been unshakeable in their support since the start of my PhD journey. Their high standards and integrity, and weekly doses of inspiration were instrumental to the completion of this work and the ultimate form that it took. Thanks also to Dr Tristan Kleinschmidt, who was part of the supervisory team in the early phase of this journey.
The learning curve associated with the aviation industry is extremely steep. I am very much indebted to the generosity of the following industry experts who helped to flatten the gradient of this curve: Steve Tarbuck (CPH), Pawel Kolatorski (ZRH), Kiyoshi Goto (KIX), Kickie Hiller and Lars Forssell (ARN), Sek Min Foo (SIN), Teresa Motley (LAS), Shreemen Prabhakaran (DXB) and Geoff Hehir (BVN Architects). In particular, I am grateful for their hospitality, frank insights and shared passion for innovation and unorthodox thinking.
The data collection for this research was made possible through a joint ARC research project (LP0990135). Thanks to the collaboration of the partners, I was able to call Brisbane International Airport my working laboratory for over a year. In particular, thank you to Kelly Wilkes, Dennis Krause and Adrian Bannister from Brisbane Airport Corporation for their help and insightful feedback. Thanks are also due to the 199 participants who shared their stories and airport experiences with me.

Anna Harrison, Principles of Experience Design in Airport Terminals

Design, Passenger Experience

Design’s Mid-Life Crisis

The real value of Design training transcends the ability to incrementally refine the shape of staplers, orange juicers and the myriad of objects owned by the world’s “10%”

This week, I have been at the Design Research Society’s 2014 conference in Umeå, Sweden. There were some outstanding presentations from an international audience “pushing the boundaries of design and design research”. On an individual scale, there is no question that amazing and interesting work is being done in the field of Design: Dog & Bone; Experience Design; The Chef as Designer; Airport Security ScreeningDesigning Medical JewelleryArchitectural UsabilityAirline Passenger Comfort to mention a few. On a collective scale, however, I leave DRS2014 with the feeling that Design as a field is trapped in a struggle to articulate its own value. Questions of whether “Service” Design is more important than “Industrial” Design appear to miss the point completely. Why are we asking these questions at all?

It is generally acknowledged that as complexity in the world increases, there is a need for collaboration in order to create solutions to problems. Put in a different way: no one individual Designer can hope to have the skills needed to solve the problems that we are confronted with in society today. An excellent example of this was provided in the opening debate at DRS2014 – unfortunately, the elephant that remained in the room was that in order to “design” solutions in a field like synthetic biology, there is a necessary amount of domain knowledge that the design team must possess. It is naïve to think that design skills alone can lead to thoughtful solutions amidst such complexity. It is critical to work with people from different Design and other disciplines. Questioning which of these fields or professions is more important than the other is meaningless and smacks of insecurity.

Rather than continuing conversations that showcase this insecurity and demonstrate a lack of conviction (“Please don’t tweet what the speakers say as they don’t believe their own words”. Really??) perhaps we collectively should focus on articulating the value that Design training brings to developing solutions to complex world problems.

To be useful in the future, ‪#design needs to learn to articulate its value ‪#drs2014 Twitter

Let’s replace the “fake debates” with authentic conversations. Let’s stop cowering in the shadows of our own opinions. Let’s recognize that collectively, as Designers, we are trained to listen, hear, empathise and understand, think laterally, communicate effectively and have the courage to work with others to create solutions to world problems. The real value of Design training transcends the ability to incrementally refine the shape of staplers, orange juicers and the myriad of objects owned by the world’s “10%”. The real value of Design training lies in its contribution towards solving challenging and complex problems.

The next international Design conference will be hosted in Brisbane in November next year. Will we have the confidence to venture outside the status quo and address Design’s mid-life crisis?


Passenger Experience

Head Fake: Focus on the Passenger, not the Profits

For the last three months, I have been 4 weeks away from finishing my thesis on the Principles of Experience Design for Airport Terminals. I am now fitter than I ever have been, have watched every rom-com produced in the last decade, and until today, I have been stuck in what felt like an infinite writing vortex (or perhaps pit). Two weeks ago, I was ready to throw it all in… luckily (for me, if not the universe :-)), I somehow pushed on and today completed a significant milestone.

In the process of coercing 100,000 words to take their rightful place on 238 pages of manuscript, I discovered that the work I have produced is a head fake, in the late Randy Pausch spirit of the term:

…and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake… we actually don’t want our kids to learn football… we send our kids out to learn much more important things: teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance…

Dr. Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The research I undertook began as an exploration of the factors of influence of passenger experience. By taking a passenger oriented perspective, based on the principles of design thinking, the research uncovered three key findings (i) a paradox in the Level of Service metrics which limits their use in the evaluation of service quality, (ii) four distinct modes of engagement between the passenger and the airport environment, and (iii) six principles for experience design in passenger terminals.

Although the goals of the research were to gain a deeper understanding of how passengers relate to their time in the airport, in the end, what was uncovered was a way to not only improve the passenger experience, but also the returns on passenger footprint invested (by optimizing the allocation of space in the terminal building).

By inverting the way that terminal design is approached and beginning the process with a solid understanding of passenger needs and desires, strategies to increase the returns were identified. The head fake, is of course, that the research focused on the passenger, not the profits.

Sources: A Harrison, Principles of Experience Design for Airport Terminals, PhD Thesis, June 2014; R McGrath, Transient Advantage; T Brown, Design Thinking.