Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The unsurprisingly connected world

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

On BBC News today there are some lovely visualisations of global flight paths by Michael Markieta.

This reminded me of a visualisation by Facebook by Paul Butler showing global friend networks done several years ago — both in visual appearance and similarity of the data presented.

Here are the two compared:

Flight paths versus Facebook friends

The similarities, of course, are not surprising.

Without comparing the datasets directly, it’s hard to find any definitive insights, but a few things that look interesting:

  1. Social networks with the Hawaiian islands are stronger than the flights (it’s a long flight I guess, but the beaches are good right?)
  2. Chinese mainland connections through Facebook are not as pronounced as the air traffic. But Facebook isn’t as big in China as it is in the West
  3. West Africa has stronger connections through Facebook than through flight paths (again, not surprising)
  4. Western Europe is heavily interconnected in both maps, but moving east this reduces in density… but Moscow is a large hub in both maps
  5. Australia and New Zealand prefer to keep in touch through Facebook rather than flying across the Tasman

I’d love to compare these datasets together along with similar stats from Twitter, Baidu/Weibo in China and VK in Russia/Eastern Europe.

Can anyone else see any other interesting similarities (or differences) in here?

Intelligent defaulting, responsive clarification

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Checking the weather on a gorgeous spring day in London (ostensibly to see how long the beautiful weather will last), and this is the experience documented from the BBC Mobile site:

After clicking weather, I was then prompted to search for my location. I entered London. I was then presented with 15 options for London — the first two in South Africa. BBC Weather is usually pretty good with geolocation, but for some reason on my mobile it can never work out where I am.

That’s not so bad; but seriously, if I enter ‘london’ into any site (let alone the BBC), surely London UK is a far more likely match than East London South Africa or London Canada?

What percentage of users would benefit from defaulting London to London UK (population 8,174,000) and making users from London Canada (population 366,151) and East London South Africa (population 135,560) then change to their London? An awful lot.

Google Maps does this very well: it contextually defaults to the closest geographic match and gives the option of ‘did you mean a different x?’

Intelligent defaulting, responsive clarification: it’s really not that hard.

Life would be so much easier if more sites did this properly; I look forward to the day when I don’t have to see insanely stupid screens like this (thank you journey planner):

Desire paths and how old habits die hard

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I find the concept of desire paths really fascinating. Over the winter in Gordon Square in London half the park was covered in hazard tape to allow the grass trodden to death by walkers over a desire path to heal. The tape is gone now, the path healed — but no doubt the path will re-emerge soon enough. (In fact I only realised it had healed as I was walking over the path itself — cutting across the grass).

While desire paths are essentially short cuts made by users within a system, I noticed something the other day: when the system goes out of its way to create a new short cut specifically for users, often it’s hard to get users to adopt this easier option.

For me I realised this at Euston Underground station last week. From the Tube station ticket hall, there had been two escalators (one up, one down) and a stair case in the middle. The stairs were rarely used and for the past several months they had been blocked off while an escalator was put installed to replace them.

Heading out of the ticketing platform, the escalators are on a sharp right angle off a straight walk. Without realising I went for the first up escalator, which already had a queue forming. But then I realised the new escalator was now running right next to the original one, but with no one using it.

Commuters had become so used to the walk straight/turn right/queue for first escalator routine virtually no one had noticed the new one.

Over time Euston commuters will obviously notice the new escalator. But for me the most interesting aspect of this was how they had become so preconditioned to the system they failed to see a new and better way to navigate the system.

Perhaps a sign pointing to the new escalator might’ve helped? There are two solutions for new features such as this: either promote it or just wait (and hope) users find it.

Unfortunately, you can never guarantee users to find such things — so perhaps promotion of new features is always the best route.

An overview of SXSW 2012

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

It’s been almost a month now since SXSW Interactive wrapped up — but it really feels like it was much longer ago. Before my memories get too blurry, now seems a great time to put together an overview of what happened at South-By this year.

It was colder and wetter in Austin than London for the first three days. Not fair in the slighest.


First and foremost: it was busy. Bigger. Much bigger! I heard various numbers about how much larger the attendance was. Someone in my hotel said there were 7,000 extra attendees this year. Day-to-day it was hard to notice this surge — it was only during the mammoth registration queue and equally mammoth queues to get into the after session parties that this really became apparent. The parties last year were fantastic — but I didn’t go to anywhere near as many this time because of the staggering wait times. But the upside of this was just enjoying local Austin bars and food — or being studious yet boring by going back to my hotel early to write up notes and ideas from the day.

…and better

Generally, as well as bigger, it was definitely better. The quality of the talks and panels this year were fantastic. Last year was great, but this year was greater. (Or I just chose better this year!)

Data is still a hot topic

The amount of presentations about data (and visualisation) were telling of what the SXSW organisers are thinking: that this is still a very important and topical subject. But a look at the titles of these presentations is also telling: sex sells. And so does putting ‘sexy’ and ‘data’ together in your panel idea. Sexy dirty data. Sexy data for public transit systems. Data is sexier than sex. Data is a sex machine — it honestly makes me wonder why the organisers didn’t create a special venue called the Data Bordello or something similarly flippant. If anything, the presence of ‘sexy’ in so many talks about data viz makes it clear that interest in the topic has definitely moved into the mainstream.

But what concerns me is the future of this mainstream interest in data viz: will it be more Hans Rosling or more chart junk saturation that is already dominating the web with 3mb high-res graphics with little or no value?

Science and design

While data visualisation wasn’t mentioned in Ben McAllister, many of the points he raised are very relevant. Specifically Ben discussed what he calls “scientism” – what feels like science, but it isn’t the real thing. We’re all both guilty of this and also victims of scientism in day-to-day life: making arguments (or fighting other arguments) by using pseudo-scientific reasoning. We’ve all done it: avoided something a client or stakeholder wants by saying ‘research’ or ‘testing’ showed it was ‘a bad idea’. Basically, so much of what we do in design is formed by pseudo-scientific method. User testing can be highly scientific and can be very insightful: but it’s also incredibly easy to skew results and taint the users being tested with what we actually want to hear. Ben has a great article on the topic on The Atlantic — definitely worth reading.

Interaction design as brand interaction

Another theme at SXSW was the idea of how interaction design is ultimately brand design. It cropped up in a few talks I saw, but specifically Marc Shillum really went into this at the panel he chaired entitled ‘Brands as Patterns‘. I’m still getting my head around the finer points, but I think it’s a very interesting concept — you can read more at the Method 10×10 site.

For example, something that occurred to me after the session: the Ryanair website is often criticized for its poor usability, poor design and shady-bordering-on-dark usability patterns. But thinking about Ryanair’s general brand, the interaction experienced on the website is an absolutely faithful interaction with Ryanair’s brand. The airline that wants to charge you a pound to use the toilet is of course going to hide ‘fees’ and ‘extras’ until the very end of the booking process.

Touch on the web

Josh Clark presented a brilliant talk on designing touch interfaces in Teaching Touch: Tapworthy Touchscreen Design. As someone who does most their work in a browser, Josh pointed out a very large elephant in the room: our standard interaction toolkits on the web are appalling behind their native mobile and tablet cousins. Even getting simple swipes working with jQuery is buggy at best — nevermind pinch, zoom and multi-finger gestures. How long before we can natively make use of these new touch gestures in the browser? It might be quite a while.

Sports and fandom in the digital world

I managed to catch some great presentations about how sport and fandom is changing in the face of social media and new technology. Not only was it a great mix of different sports and presenters from different countries, it was also very thought provoking. Ticketmaster now lets you find your Facebook friends at events so you can sit near them. This is just scratching the surface of how technology and social networks will change the sporting experience — and there are some very exciting opportunities here.

Free food

And most importantly, the best free food? Definitely the Turner Recharge Lounge, who served up incredible jalapeño chorizo and jalapeño gravy to boot. Absolutely delicious.

Now, how am I going to get to SXSW 2013…

Eurostar: a bit of irony and some great customer service

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Looking into booking Eurostar tickets for next year and I encountered this:

The old chestnut of Flash banners overlaying any object on the page. But the irony here is that the Flash banner is advertising Eurostar’s flash sale. Oops.

Actually, I choose to blame UKBA — if it wasn’t for the strike next week, the info box here wouldn’t be pushing the banner down.

But kudos to Eurostar…

Stellar social media service!

SXSW 2012: The submission is in

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

I enjoyed my first SXSW so much this year that I decided to take the plunge and submit a panel idea.


I’ve entitled the proposal ‘Global UX: beyond language, location and culture‘. I’m hoping to impart some of the UX and design knowledge I’ve learnt over the years from working at a multi-language media outlet (BBC World Service) along with a few of my other design passions: from general usability through to my obsession with seeing the end of flags being used to represent languages.

So, check it out, and if you like the sound of it, give it a vote!

Airlines: Please kill your interstitial pages!

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Comparison sites such as Kayak and Skyscanner are not only great for finding great deals on flights and hotels, but also cutting out much of the below-par user experience that seems endemic with many airline sites — in particular the obsession the airline industry seems to have with interstitial pages.

It’s depressing how many major airlines present you with screens like this on their landing pages:

British Airways


Hello Shaun

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

This post is just for Google really: introducing Shaun van Oorde-Grainger‘s spanking new website, Delusions of Grainger. Get it? He’s not just a pretty face.


Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Looking for hotels tonight on Radisson Hotels website and I quite literally got stuck. Trying to select a date range, the pop up date picker conveniently hides behind the big flashy Flash banner like some shy child cowering behind a parent’s leg.

Screenshot of Radisson homepage

Manually entering dates is also frustrating as some part of the Javascript intermittently clears the field when changing focus between the fields. Initially I honestly couldn’t get a date in. I’ve since tried again and it worked (barely). Just as well there’s a fairly obvious Reservations link in the top bar.

By the way, anyone know of any good hotels in Calgary?

R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut is off to the big Breakfast of Champions in the sky.