Traffic as metaphor for UX design

Five of my favourite traffic based metaphors for certain aspects of experience design

  1. User Empathy: Motorways and Web Analytics
  2. User Efficiency: Motorways and Front-end loading
  3. Simplicity: Designing a Stop Sign
  4. User Journeys: Red Routes and Pain Points
  5. User Personas: Aeroplanes and Archetype Relevance

User Empathy: Motorways and Web Analytics

It’s super-easy to get drown-in rich quantitative data from services like Crazy Egg click-tracking and Google Analytics. It’s quite another to find the time to understand that data and, most importantly, factor for what it cannot tell you about your users and their experience.

In a 2010 article for Johnny Holland Claire O’Brien devised the analogy of standing by a motorway recording the visible attributes of the vehicles to explain the limitations of web analytics to stakeholders:

Traffic numbers are just that. Summaries of individual measures.

Anyone can sit alongside a motorway and count cars, know if they’re travelling North or South, what models they are, how fast they’re going…

Finding out why they’re on the road, what their journey’s for, and whether the route works?

Well, that’s a bit harder, and such is the problem with online metrics and analytics.

The appetite to invest in getting to know audiences/users – actually asking people what they want and then verifying their answers—is still pretty small.

Claire O’Brien

User Efficiency: Motorways and Front-end loading

David Hammill, an independent UX Consultant, recalls the failure of a banner advert at the side of a motorway to complete its message because of…

  • misunderstanding about its context of use
  • the cognitive load and focus on tasks of people driving at speed
  • failure to front-end load the important information

There’s an advertising sign I often see when driving down the M74 in Scotland. I’ve noticed it dozens of times but I can’t tell you what company it’s promoting because I didn’t notice the company name. The copy on the advert starts something like this: Which company was awarded the best blah blah blah…

David Hammill

Simplicity: Designing a Stop Sign

This classic from 2009 aggregates tonnes of project process #fails into an easily digested #win:

The best is (almost) always simple? Group think? Design by Committee? Abuse of data? User requirements definition? Accurate audience segmentation? User-Testing prior to production? Stakeholder management?

User Journeys: Red Routes and Pain Points

My favourite traffic metaphor is definitely Red Route Usability from Dr. David Travis of User Focus, a badass UX consultancy and training company in London.

David identifies a practical kinship between the traffic planners who created London’s red routes and user experience architects insofar as both strive to create frictionless user journeys, especially for mission critical tasks and objectives.

User Personas: Aeroplanes and Archetype Relevance

Kim Goodwin on thinking laterally about user requirements, skills and mental models. Affects personae creation, and with whom to conduct usability testing:

A business traveler would actually make a poor design target, though, because she would be too familiar with flying and with using computers and other gadgets.

If you design for the business traveler, the retired bricklayer going to see his grandchildren won’t be able to use the system.

If you design for the bricklayer, you may need to add a little something extra to satisfy the business traveler, but the bulk of the interaction will satisfy them both.

Kim Goodwin

By Rik Williams

I write about how to collaborate to design simple, usable and inclusive information experiences that make the lives of customers easier. Read more in Categories and Tags.