Part 1 in an occasional series about how digital products and services can learn from real world experiences.

What happens when a new service replaces one that you’re familiar with? A service that you’ve used for as long as you can remember, infrequently but at times of high emotion and potential stress?

The new service is intended to be better – speeding up a process by being available anywhere from the palm of your hand. It has the potential to make a moment in life easier, but is the transition from old to new easy or a moment of strife?

Last year I flew out to Stockholm to give a lecture to the good folks at Hyper Island. A day before the flight I received a text message telling me I could check-in via my mobile. I clicked on a link in the message and was given my boarding pass, there on my phone. A slip of paper you had to queue up for at the airport (or print out before), and then clutch in a sweaty palm had been replaced by a completely digital service.

It’s a great idea – convenient, simple and stress reducing. Yet the one thing it doesn’t do is inspire confidence. Here’s the boarding pass I received:

Image of iPhone boarding pass

Functionally, this screen may do everything it needs to. A QR code for the security agent at Heathrow. Information for me about the flight times and when I need to board the plane. Yet, something is lacking. In fact, as a first time user I was left thinking ‘is this it?’

Do I still need to check-in at the airport? Do I need to print this out? Will my boarding pass disappear if I close the window by mistake? Is this really all I need?

None of these are life or death questions. But this is a service intended to make an existing process better. Part of me was left thinking how cool it was that I can go through security with a digital QR code, the other half was left wanting a lot more handholding.

Imagine if the boarding pass had looked more like this:

Redesigned boarding pass

Of course, the next time I fly and check-in with my mobile phone I shall know exactly what to expect. I shan’t need calming visual cues or reassuring copy. However, I will be thinking about how to bring users along the same journey I’ve just been through:

  • Inspire confidence with instructions that help users make the jump from one service to another. These need to be rooted in the user’s current knowledge of the system, not their future behaviour

  • Provide reassurance with design cues that reflect objects the user is already familiar with. These can be very subtle, but may need to be amplified for services that have been around for a long time or are used in stressful situations

  • Include back-up options that help the user feel safe with new uses of technology

I think this is a classic case of the need for empathy when designing a new service. After all, no-one wants to line up at a security desk looking nervous.... Or alienate your existing, hard won users when you transition them from one service to another. 

Isaac Pinnock

Isaac Pinnock

Isaac is a founding member of Made by Many, where he employs his experience in rapid web prototyping, and in transforming a set of business requirements into a viable and desirable customer experience. Isaac is an interaction designer who understands how to develop a service idea and make it real.