June 11, 2008

Giving Good Airport

While on my flight home from NASIG last week, I used my iPod Touch to watch a New Yorker conference session called Deconstructing the Airport. Paco Underhill, founder of market research and consulting company Envirosell, talks about how to remake air travel for the twenty-first century. Underhill has written books on the Science of Shopping and the Call of the Mall (subtitled "the geography of shopping"), and now turns his attention to airports. If I may translate what he does into library / IT language, he talks about usability / user interaction assessments of people as they use airports.

For instance, he says that people's perception of time spent waiting while in a security or check-in line is usually longer than the reality -- up to 50%, in fact! Underhill suggests that the entire airport needs to be completely redone, in part for functionality, and in part to reduce our perception of this long wait time. He gives many examples of functionality, but here are two I liked: the "body bubble" is different in airports than it is in other areas of our lives -- we have only one hand free (if that) and we are pulling / carrying a suitcase, and possibly also a backpack. So our peripersonal space is totally different - but that is not taken into consideration when designing the airport. Another ha! moment: "the filthiest place in the first world is the bathroom in the economy section of an airplane."

As I watched all this, I started thinking that there are a lot of similarities between how Underhill describes the problems with airports and the difficulties some of our patrons face in libraries.

Underhill says: "... we live in a world that is owned by men, designed by men, managed by men, and yet we expect women to participate in it." Amen, brother! (but I digress) Except ... I'm not really digressing. What if we modify that phrase like this:

"... we create a library that is owned by librarians, designed by librarians, managed by librarians, and yet we expect novice library patrons to participate in it." (changed words italicized) It's a slight modification, but all of a sudden some of us might have a better understanding of what the library is like for our patrons. D'oh!

Underhill gives some great ideas on how airports could be "reinvented:"
  • Free WiFi everywhere, among other suggestions to improve incessant travel waiting. again I say, Amen, brother! (and also: thank you! to my local airport, BDL, which does offer free WiFi)
  • Offer different lines at security, for families, registered travelers, etc.
  • Offer healthy food choices! halal, vegetarian ...
  • Shopping (and other services) that reflect a one-handed customer. He suggests offering a wand-style checkout like the Exxon/Mobil Speedpass to reduce physical difficulties paying for items in an airport.
  • Rocking chairs like at the Charlotte airport, and other kinds of movable seating (his demonstration of the rocking movement is charming).
Sounds like it could be called Airport 2.0. Let's hope airports and libraries can both redesign themselves (quickly) to be usable, and functional for real users.

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1 comment:

Hillary said...

Amen, sister! What a great post. You know, I just heard a story about some airports offering different security lines based on the ski industry's approach: black diamond means really experienced; blue diamond means somewhat experienced, etc. It sounded pretty interesting! Libraries indeed have a lot of work to do to make it more friendly to the "civilian"!