There were no signs and my map of the museum was a distant memory as I clung to my daughter and walked quickly through a hall filled with massive, old trains.
At the end of the room, I discovered that the lift was busy, so I found the stairs and raced up as fast as I could; past the displays and the enlarged photos of old stations, before finally reaching the toilet.
Here, we encountered a queue: four people for one unisex bathroom.
“We’ll have to hold on”, I said.
As anyone with a toddler will know, they are prone to tantrums. ‘Prone’, of course, is an understatement. Being a toddler is also a time for learning.
One of the primary things children are getting to grips with aged two and a half is using the toilet. Not just going, but recognising the sensation, asking to go and holding on until we get there.
And the last thing we needed was the poor girl to have an accident.
This is a day out. This is the reality of having a toddler. Very basic things have the potential to completely destroy an experience; and if not destroy, then at the very least make it memorable for all the wrong reasons.
How can organisations consider the broader user experience?
You don’t need to have children to appreciate the peripheral parts of an experience that have an impact. Similarly, regardless of whether you have a child hanging off your arm, few of us ever go for a day out without a load of baggage, as well as expectations, needs and desires.
How you match those up is how you will be judged. Not on how good the website or app is — but on the actual, physical experience of the day.
As a principal UX consultant here at Nomensa, I have a wealth of experience when it comes designing innovative digital estates.
However, user experience and product design are not just digital: they encompass all of our encounters and interactions, tangible or not.
As a consequence of my occupation, I’m particularly attuned to when they fall short. And as a father, I’m more than a little aware of the havoc badly designed days out can cause with a toddler in tow.
So, to get you started, here are the five things to keep in mind if you’re serious about delivering a great end experience in this sector.
1. Don’t overlook logistics
Most websites for days-out feature directions, be it by train, bus or car. I do wonder, though, how often they’re tested out. Did someone actually take the time to carry out the instructions? And if so, how long ago was it?
I recently visited an aquarium in the North East. In the car park I realised the machine only accepted exact change. I didn’t have enough (in fact, I didn’t have any), so I carried my daughter 150 meters to the entrance.
We then queued for 20 minutes in order to get to the desk and pay for parking. Sweating with the effort and cursing under my breath, I carried her 150 meters back to the car because I had to put the physical bit of paper on the dashboard. Back to the main building we then went.
Baby bicep is an actual thing.
Prior to arrival, I had no idea this was how the parking worked; if it was on the website, I missed it. And it was how the whole experience started: badly.
2. Integrate user experience into interaction design
Companies dedicate a lot of time to perfecting their online point of sale (it is, after all, one of the primary revenue streams) and provide customers with a plethora of payment options. However, despite this diligence, they’re prone to overlooking the physical actions that accompany a purchase.
People are increasingly encouraged to download apps to gain entry to attractions. In itself, this is great as it drives more engagement. But do infrequent experiences justify building an app? Especially when there’s no reason why a progressive web app or an email with a link to an online ticket wouldn’t suffice. Even then, there must be accessible alternatives for those who can’t or choose not to use smartphones.
It’s easy to get carried away with payment, delivery and collection methods, but we need to see the bigger picture. These features won’t differentiate you from the competition – they just allow you to keep up. More thought needs to be put into creating experiences that are relevant, timely and related to ticketing, without being strictly centred on getting people into the building. We need to go further.
3. Capitalise on data-driven design
People aren’t always the most patient bunch, and so without access to facilities or the option to grab a coffee or meal, they’re likely to get grumpy. Digital solutions can enhance and improve these pain points. For instance, take interactive maps powered by real-time data, entertainment via interactive screens and signage or other touch points that don’t just problem solve, they amplify the entire experience.
Digitally-curated data, when paired with UX, can refine the general management of facilities. For example, collecting data on toilet usage could lead to a better mapped floor plan (and thus reduce the baby bicep). Good designs reduce friction.
You wouldn’t think twice when applying this to taking payments on a website, so it’s important we apply this thinking in other ways and areas. Meet people’s basic needs with digital thinking and you force the focus on to the bits that really matter.
4. Embrace innovative technologies
Using tech and data to drive engagement is just the beginning. Last year Nomensa undertook an award-winning piece of work for National Trust. We created a Virtual Reality experience that supported and empowered people with dementia. We programmed the experience of walking around a National Trust property into an app, which allowed people who could no longer physically visit the site to do so virtually.
The potential for this kind of work is enormous, not only for accessibility, but for marketing as well. Its deployment in an aquarium or railway museum would massively enhance the experience. And yes, you could put it on the website too. Off the back of that, there’s also Augmented Reality.
Again, there is huge potential for this on days out, and it’s another area Nomensa has experience. I’m calling it now – this is what the future of museums looks like.
5. Incorporate social listening
Social media should be intrinsic to any digital experience. Thousands of conversations are happening constantly online and at least a few will be about your business. It’s imperative that we recognise the pivotal role it plays in unearthing innovative solutions. Social media monitoring, for example, measures mentions across a timeline, encompassing its reach, impact and most importantly, sentiment.
This is happening now and a subject my colleague Peter Kay – Principal Experience Delivery Consultant – discusses in his article ‘How UX and social media can work together’.
Social media should be a two-way conversation and you can’t just talk at your customers: you have to listen closely too. It’s a treasure trove of information that highlights unwanted friction or problem areas that may crop up on a day out.
User experience is about more than just features and functions
Emotions are powerful things and are especially important in the context of a day out — which is meant to be fun. Given that disgruntled visitors will often take their complaints to the internet, I don’t need to tell you that it can have a sizeable impact on your brand’s reputation.
Moreover, at a time of ever-heightening competition, experience is the key differentiator. If you neglect it, you will be disrupted by brands that choose to prioritise it. And it’s the entire experience, starting from before customers even step through the door, that needs to be consistent, cohesive and engaging.
You need to consider all parts of the experience as part of a cohesive UX strategy; merely changing parts of it in an unstructured way won’t lead to an excellent experience.