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

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?



A degree alone does not guarantee career success


Image from Daily Mail UK

 …in order to succeed in life post degree, a scholar needs a much broader range of skills…

Today, the acquisition of a degree, even a higher degree such as a Masters or Doctorate, is no longer enough to guarantee career success. In fact, according to many recent media accounts, pursuing a higher degree has been cast as a waste of time.

As a society, we collectively benefit from the investment made by each scholar in pursuing an education. Education has been, and always will be, the key weapon that we have against prejudice, ignorance, hatred and war.  Unfortunately, the global trend is towards reducing, rather than increasing, the amount of higher education pursued by each individual.

A major cause for the decreasing popularity of higher education is the perceived negative return on the time and cost of such degrees. Potential scholars feel that after completing their degree, they will emerge without the skills required to guarantee career success. For the most part, they are correct.

Historically, education institutions have been in the market of teaching scholars a specific set of skills. The range of skills taught actually decreases as the rank of the degree increases. In order to complete a Doctorate, for example, scholars are trained to attain world-class competency in a (necessarily) narrow skill set. The issue is, of course, than in order to succeed in life post degree, a scholar needs a much broader range of skills. Unfortunately, the teaching of these broader skills lies outside of the curriculum of most tertiary institutions.

In response to this need, I launched a new eBook (and tries of workshops) late last year. You can find more info about the project here: The book is free for personal use… if you enjoy it, please share it 🙂