I’ve been noticing an interesting trend in the real world, or the “outernet” as some call it. With the design and development of products that are becoming more and more user friendly, we are becoming increasingly aware and frustrated with things in the real world that don’t conform to our user patterns.
Technology such as a mobile phones or fitness trackers no longer come with a massive manual in tow. Instead of forcing a user to conform to the rules of the device, devices are conforming human tendencies and understandings making adopting new technology fast and easy.
But why stop there? How can we apply this level of thinking to make spaces and rooms more efficient and more intuitive? Sometimes it’s as simple as trial and error. An interesting example cropped up when I was traveling recently. I noticed the carts that return the security trays have a simple solution to keeping the trays neatly stacked: they bolt the bottom tray directly to the cart. This may not sound very impressive to you, but good user experiences are often hard to pinpoint because it feels seamless. You can even see where they’ve addressed a common user problem by marking the bolted tray as not usable.
A few years ago, Holiday Inn noticed many of their customers were going elsewhere for food and drink instead of utilizing the hotel’s restaurant or bar. So they decided to reinvent the experience of a typical hotel lobby into a place guests want to stay and hang out.
Their design firm wanted to tap into how people would flow through the new design, but wanted to create a cheap prototype that could be iterated and evolve according to the user interaction findings. So they made a to-scale prototype of the proposed space out of foam core. That way, when a user problem would arise, the fix was simple and cheap. A server can’t reach over a table that’s too long? Just slice off part of the table and continue the user test.
While we don’t all have the budgets to create full, life-sized testable prototypes, we can learn a thing or two about this particular case study. The one thing I’ve learned time and time again is that users constantly surprise me. Not because users are dumb, but because everyone thinks differently. An approach or behavior that’s obvious to me might be less so to others. Allowing users to roam free and play while fixing the interaction points is the key to a happy Internet AND a happy outernet.