Monday, September 1, 2008

The Psychology of Waiting in Lines

I was poking around the Experientia blog, they had an interesting reference to Don Norman's forthcoming book. One of the chapters on "They Psychology of Waiting Lines" is available for preview - it's awesome (albeit poorly edited). Ironically, coming back from Ottawa a few weekends ago with my family, I was furious about the "line design" and actually said out loud "this would be interesting to study" (they were using a multi-line, multi-cashier model - it was awful).

Here's the Cole's notes: Eight Design Principles for (Designing) Waiting Lines:
  1. Emotions Dominate - People believe "Attractive Things Work Better"
  2. Eliminate Confusion: Provide a Conceptual Model, Feedback and Explanation - Ever wait in a long line, just to find out it's the wrong one?
  3. The Wait Must Be Appropriate - People accept waits, but it needs to be perceived as appropriate. Tell your workers that customers take priority over counter cleaning!
  4. Set Expectations, Then Meet or Exceed Them - Tell people how long the line is.
  5. Keep People Occupied: Filled Time Passes More Quickly Than Unfilled Time - The idea of a "double buffer" for lines: have a staging area to entertain people before they wait in line.
  6. Be Fair - The optimal "fairness" line is a single line, with multiple cashiers. Interesting note re: multi-line, multi-cashier scenarios: people tend to notice when their lines move slower more than they notice when it's moving faster.
  7. End Strong, Start Strong - People will even perceive longer lines "better" than shorter ones if the longer line has a "positive" period.
  8. Memory of an Event Is More Important Than the Experience - Eg. Giving pictures after a roller-coaster.
Many of these "waiting line" design principles apply to "designing experiences in general", but specifically to mobile (for the first 4 anyway):
  1. Emotions Dominate - Think iPhone, Apple Store experience.
  2. Eliminate Confusion: Tivo and Ikea have awesome "out of box experiences" with fold out maps.
  3. The Wait Must Be Appropriate - People expect some work to get their phone up and running, just make it match their expectations.
  4. Set Expectations, Then Meet or Exceed Them - Apple's getting hammered due to their over-promise of 3G network speeds.


Anonymous said...

Very nice embellishments on the rules for designing a good waiting line experience.

I promise to fix the proofing.

Don Norman

Sonny Wang said...

Hi, this is Sonny. Interesting reading. For the No.5 "keep people occupied", there is one good example of offering video advertisement while mobile users spent time on download.