UX lessons from the Paris Metro

Paris is so beautiful, it takes my breath away. There’s one overlooked beauty that no one ever talks about: the Paris Metro.

The beauty of the Paris Metro is the clarity of its wayfinding system. In two minutes, you can master this system – even if you don’t speak French. Now, that’s what I call intuitive. With 16 lines and 303 stations, the system is huge. Despite its size, it’s easy to find your way.

Each line has two names associated with it – each name represents the last stop on the route. On my last visit, I started and ended every day on Line 11 (Châtelet and Mairie des Lilas). The Châtelet station is in the heart of the city, the Mairie des Lilas station is the final stop, just outside Paris.

The signage is so clear and helpful that you never feel lost even when transferring to other lines. If you have to wait, there is sign telling you when the next train will arrive. The wait was usually less than two minutes.

Takeaway – Finding your way in a new place can be stressful. If you’re creating an app or website, make your navigation intuitive so first time users get it. This takes the stress away and sets the tone for a great user experience.


Like this post?  Share it. Written by Don Seidenberg.

Treat your web visitors like guests

If you are looking to engage your audience, don’t treat them like customers treat them like guests. Welcome them with open arms, make them feel special.

Special. That’s exactly how I felt at the Citizen M Hotel in London. The lobby was a cozy living room full of comforts. A fireplace. Big comfortable chairs. Books on art, fashion, design and architecture.  Free wifi.  A pleasant and helpful staff. The list goes on.

Every room has a king size bed, great shower and a tablet. The tablet is also a remote. Adjust the lighting, set the alarm, watch movies, listen to the radio, surf the internet. Everything at your fingertips. Turn on a movie and the window shades close to prevent reflection from the sun.

Citizen M feels like a friend with fun personality. Instead of standard hotel stationary, there was a small pad in my room with the message: “great fiction, works of art or rude poems – they all start here.” Enter the elevator and you will see a whimsical video of people sitting around the table. Every ride it’s a different group of people. Just enough to make you smile.

Citizen M is more than a place to sleep.  It is a place to feel special. Like any good host, Citizen M set out to create a great experience for their guests. In the process, they redefined the hotel experience.

Takeaway    Every square meter at Citizen M was designed for guests to feel great. On your next web project, you can design a wonderful user experience for your guests. It requires attention to detail and a total focus on others.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

Make your webshop like Schiphol Airport

Your webshop depends on traffic and lots of it.  However, traffic is very difficult to manage.  Schiphol Airport excels in helping people find their way (wayfinding) and creating a good user experience.  You can learn from their example.

Wayfinding consultants Mijksenaar designed the Schiphol wayfinding system to reduce passenger stress. Passengers receive the right information at the right moment to make the next step of their journey.  As a result, they never feel lost.

Developing a wayfinding system starts with the Expert Walkthrough.  The wayfinding designer walks every step the passenger does from the parking area until boarding the plane.  The designer makes sure all signage is clear, comprehensive and consistent. Passengers trust they will be on time for their flight.  Since they are relaxed, they are more likely to enjoy the airport’s shops and restaurants.

Like the airport, your webshop needs to create an experience where customers feel relaxed. You must present the right content at the right moment to help them in their shopping journey.  For example, good product descriptions and reviews help customers make informed decisions.  This puts people at ease and makes them feel confident with their decision.

Do your own version of the Expert Walkthrough and make the same journey as your customers – from home page until check out.  Your customers will begin and end their journeys in different ways so you need to plan for all possibilities.  If there’s something in your process that limits conversion, then you can discover what it is.

Schiphol’s focus on good customer experience has led to several awards.  Your webshop may not win any awards but if you stay focused on your customers, you will certainly be moving in the right direction.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.


Make your navigation like Schiphol Airport

Web writers, interaction designers and information architects can learn a lot from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Like the airport, our work depends on good user experience and helping people find their way.

Many website navigations offer too many choices.  As a result, people get lost. At Schiphol, you can’t get lost. The signs are clear, consistent and easy to comprehend. You are always presented with information when you need it and in a logical sequence. You are never overwhelmed with choices.

Paul Mijksenaar and his team designed the wayfinding (navigation) at Schiphol to address the needs of the stressed traveler. At his firm, every project starts with an expert walkthrough. The designer needs to understand the psychology of the traveler at every step of the long journey, which begins when leaving home and ends when boarding the plane.

Each sign provides just enough information so the traveler can decide the next step in the journey. In the parking garage, you are presented with the choice of departures or arrivals. At this point it’s too early to receive information about check-in or flights.

According to Mijksenaar, a user friendly navigation has a big impact on customer satisfaction and trust. For Mijksenaar, good signage is like being a good host. It reduces stress, makes visitors feel welcome and sets the tone for a pleasant experience.

You can do the same when you create the navigation of your next website. To learn more about Mijksenaar’s wayfinding principles, visit their website or download the app: 99 do’s and don’ts of wayfinding.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Attention, the only currency that matters


We are drowning in an online sea of information.  Online attention is the only currency that matters.  To succeed in this world of limited attention spans, clarity is critical.

When people visit your site, you have their attention for a few seconds.  Create a user experience that recognises the value of every second.  Here are six things to consider:

1. Good design – For many prospects, your site is their first introduction to your company.  Your design needs to present you in a positive light.

2. Navigation  – Plan your navigation from the perspective of the visitor.  If your navigation is clear and easy to follow, there’s a better chance people will find what they are looking for.

3. Clear message – The clearer the message, the quicker the visitor gets it.  If you are selling services, make sure the value you add is very clear.

4. Useful content  – Only publish content that is useful to your visitors.  Get rid of all self-promotional copy that provides no useful information.

5. Images  – If there are too many images on a screen, there’s a good chance your visitors miss the good stuff.  Make sure your images help tell your story or serve a useful purpose.

6.  Telephone – Sometimes people have questions.  Supply a phone number that’s easy to find.  Expecting someone to visit your FAQ section is a recipe for frustration.

Takeaway  –  Someone’s attention is a valuable currency.  Don’t waste it. Make it easy for people to have a short and pleasant visit.  Don’t let a lack of clarity get in the way.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Sint, clarity and a wonderful experience

Every year at this time, I forget about clarity and let the magic of Sinterklaas take me to another place.

I remember my first December 5 in Amsterdam.  There was a loud bang on the front door. When I answered it, there were two presents: one for my wife and one for me.  Both had poems attached signed by Sint and Piet.  I was both excited and curious.

I had only been in the country a few weeks and was feeling a bit blue.  Sint seemed to know this. That present put a big smile on my face.  There was no clarity as to who sent the present but that didn’t matter.  Someone thought enough about me to create a wonderful experience.

Takeway –  Only if you understand someone’s needs, be it a website visitor or a new neighbor, can you create a truly special experience.  And if you do, that person will never forget.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

NY’s Metrocard vs Amsterdam’s OV Chipcard

New York's Metrocard vs Amsterdam's OV Chipcard

New York and Amsterdam.  Two wonderful cities to visit.  One has a public transit card that makes it easy to enjoy the city. The other has a card so complex that even locals have trouble using it.

In New York $ 20 buys a Metrocard, which entitles you to ten rides.  Up to four people can use the same card.  If you are travelling with a family of four by bus, swipe the Metrocard four times.  If you transfer to another bus, swipe it once and the system recognizes four transfers. Very clear. Very easy to use.

In Amsterdam, travelling with a family of four by tram is a logistical nightmare.  Since only one person can travel per card, you must buy four empty OV Chipcards for €7.50 each.  To use the card, you need to add money in increments of € 10.  That’s eight transactions before you step into the tram.

Since you are charged by distance traveled, you must swipe your card upon entering and leaving.  The second swipe can be difficult in a crowded tram.  If you forget the second swipe, you are charged more for your ride. Not a pleasant experience and certainly not user friendly!

The takeaway   Don’t force technology on people. Design a system that creates a pleasant experience and people won’t even realize that there is a technology involved.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Six tips to enhance your site’s readability

enhance website readability

Your website is not about you.  It’s about your visitors and how they experience your site. Online readers usually scan for information to complete a task.  Since they are impatient by nature, you need to write for people in a hurry.  The following tips will add clarity and make your content more readable.

1 –  Make content relevant – Understand why people visit your site.  Make your content relevant to their visit.  If you’re a writer, show writing samples. Your visitors are most likely not interested in your vision or mission.  So don’t waste their time.

2 – Get to the point – If you have irrelevant content, there’s a good chance visitors will miss the good stuff.  Edit your content so the heart of your message is clear.  The length? Long enough to cover the details, short enough to be a pleasant read.

3 – Omit needless words  –  The more words you use, the more difficult it is to follow your point.  Shorter sentences make for easy reading.  Break up longer sentences into two or three sentences.

4 – Headlines are traffic signs – A good headline is like a traffic sign.  It informs people what’s coming next.  Make sure your headline illustrates a benefit and is informative.  Then visitors know what to expect.

5 – The most important sentence first – Visitors often scan the first sentence of each paragraph. If the information is useful, they will complete the paragraph.  Write every first sentence, so visitors know what will follow.

6 – White space makes people notice – The more white space around something, the more people will notice it.  Break up your text into shorter paragraphs and use bullet points where appropriate.  This makes it easier to scan.

If you find these tips helpful, forward this post to a friend or colleague.  Or re-post it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.  My list is not comprehensive, so feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg.

Do ad writers get the web?

Ad writers are great at campaigns and coming up with the big idea.  But when it comes to writing web content, they don’t really get it.   Web writing is not about cool or big ideas.  Like technical writing, it is task oriented and focused on the user experience.

People usually visit a website for information or to complete a task like applying for a job or researching a product purchase.  A good web writer provides enough information to help visitors complete that task.  Unlike an ad, a website can have several target audiences not one.   So as you can see the job of a web writer can get rather complicated.

And who are the experts writing on the subject?   Steve Krug, Ginny Redish and the Netherlands own, Aartjan van Erkel.   Each one – an experienced technical writer!   Their books are shown below.

Like this post?  Share it.  Written by Don Seidenberg

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