Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Secrets of St Pancras and UX revealed

Last week, while exploring the theme of proximity at MEX, my group went on a little field trip to St Pancras. While related to the theme of location, the concept of proximity is a subtly different beast and deals with the user's relationship to an object, space, location or event with regards to 'nearness'.

As we observed people in the station, one of the notions that came to mind was that the station was merely a stage in the approach to, or retreat from, some other destination. And yet, within the context of proximity, the passenger arrives at, passes through and departs from it, in its own right. So, while there is ample space to pass quickly through it, some careful thought has been given to the architecture and furnishing of the station, which correspond with the activities of its visitors, however transitory.

A broad passage leads through the station to allow quick entry and departure. Along the sides are a number of retail outlets, including several caf├ęs that are always packed, and some clothing, luggage and souvenir shops that are slightly less busy. These wide, glass shop fronts sit about a metre behind a colonnade, that separates the idle window shopper from the rapid pedestrian thoroughfare. Escalators and electronic information panels are placed centrally and offer the opportunity to alter the flow around the concourse.

By now, Londoners will be familiar with the pianos in the station, and elsewhere around London. That the pianos at St Pancras, after so much time, remain largely in tune, suggests a careful maintenance and, therefore, value to their continued residence. For many passengers moving through the station on their way to or from continental Europe, the pianos offer surprise and delight: they also create the opportunity for social interaction.

Our conclusions from our research, exploring interactions with a range of objects and places in differing contexts, led to the development of six design principles to draw people emotionally closer to their physical environment through the use of technology. In the refinement process, a lot of material and thought is forcibly discarded. However, it is fascinating to review this material after the event and notice how much insight is evolved in such a short space of time.

Amongst the ideas that found their way to my phone's camera roll via scribblings on a flipchart, one derives from the pianos in St Pancras and I suggest here an additional principle: mitigate linger time in transition by offering unobtrusive elements for distraction and delight.

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