I have this thing with... Information Architecture
It's a fact that we are now swamped with information, day in and day out: some information we ask for ourselves (searching and browsing) and some others are served to us from outside sources.
It is also a fact that we are oftentimes overwhelmed with the countless sources that serve us various types of information. It becomes of vital importance, then, to organise this information in a way that is easy to get around to, both in the physical and digital worlds. As usual, this is far easier said than (properly) done. Here's a couple of examples I have come across lately.
Typical airport situation: past security check, you now need to locate your gate. Now, this pictured above is not the worst of views, but it could easily be improved. Our minds can easier detect and process information
grouped in chunks, and when similar data is in close proximity to each others. (Reference: Gestalt Principles). Case in hand, this situation could be improved by placing arrow and gate number closer together, and adding more whitespace between the rows, so that the left gates are visually leaning to the left and the right ones to the right, thus making it easier for the user to clearly distinguish their gate and direction.
'In case of an emergency, press the alarm button for a couple of seconds to activate the emergency procedure', says the upper right piece of text. Now, which button? Oh right, the bottom right one, next to the "keep door open" button.
In an actual case of an emergency, the user needs to read and then find the button, or the other way around: find the button (it is a yellow bell, after all) and then look for the instructions. But thinking about it, why not pair them together, close by, so that the association can be made easily and more effortless? Especially since the context of use of this specific feature is a delicate one: people in an emergency situation get confused, distracted and panicked.
Pictured: an elevator at a train station in Italy.
This is what I meant that it could get worse. The low quality photo doesn't tell the whole story, because I was, well stressed and distracted. The train to the airport, is it upstairs or is it on the left, where almost all the tracks are? Is it FL1 or FL2? And what's with the escalator sign with the small arrow? And then the other up arrow, indicating something to do with money. So is it all trains to the left, and only the Exchange office/ ticket/ money(?) office upstairs? But there's also an escalator sign close to the FL's, what are these FL's by the way? It is a basic requirement for train stations and airports to be conveying lots of directions in small and cluttered spaces, but also of a crucial importance to do this in a simple and concise way. The solution? Or better said, the key to a good enough solution? Following Gestalt Principles, of course. Case in hand, grouping the trains that are located to the left, separating them with white space from the upstairs' trains and making the arrows clearly visible.
Desert for last: a very compact and elegant solution to displaying book information, device settings and a couple of ads, all in a 7" black and white screen. Kindle's design has evolved into a concise and purposeful interface that turns organising your library and discovering your next read into a truly enjoyable experience, in my opinion. It has 4 main sections in the homepage, all divided with white spaces and focus put in your last read, which takes the most screen space.
When reading a book, interaction patterns of underlining, taking notes or opening the dictionary have developed into a very natural (at least for me) design language, that it has occurred more than once that I press on a physical book, to get the definition of that word. Personally, I feel that Kindle's UI design and overall user experience are to a large extent the epitome of a seamless and delightful experience. It also happens that Kindle just had its 10 year anniversary and this is a good article if you want to read more about how Kindle's design has evolved ever since it came to market in 2007.
I resisted purchasing a Kindle for about 5-6 years. The reason was simply that I was too hang up and took a lot of pride on physical books, which I enjoyed buying and owning. I believe travelling was the main incentive that enticed me to giving this 'Kindle thing' a try: carrying a physical book was impractical and damaged my priciest possessions. My usage of kindle has evolved during a couple of months: I used to cramp journal articles, fiction and non fiction books into lists, which I browsed between all the time. This (unsurprisingly) didn't seem to work. I gradually switched to reading one book at a time and sticking to that, thus turning my Kindle into literally a book and not using any of its other features, except from buying/ emailing the book. This use case I have recently paired with switching between one fiction and one non fiction book. Regardless of how differently I might have been using the device, its design has catered to any use case.
Have you ever been confused which way to go because directions were displayed messily?