February 27, 2012

design fail snowball at the airport

The Atlanta airport (supposedly the busiest on the planet), has an incredibly bizarre problem that due to a recent personal flurry of travel has become more apparent and irritating to me.

There is a train that takes one from terminal to terminal, as there is in any large, modern, American airport. This train has a audio prompting system, so in the event you can't see or read the signs, you know what terminal you are in, and what direction the train is going.

The female voice that tells you which station the train is in, is so poorly synthesized that it's nearly impossible to differentiate between B, C, D, and E unless you are giving it your fullest attention. I imagine they let this go in production for a while, or maybe they realized it during testing and debugging. They exasperated the issue instead of fixing it by having the train-robot repeat at maximum volume “This train is arriving at TERMINAL A. A as in alpha.” The distance between each stop (very short) and volume of the robot make this an extremely unpleasant ride. The robot is talking the entire way. Every time I make it back to baggage claim, which is your destination when coming inbound, I have to take a deep breath and adjust myself and remind myself ehat I'm only in a huge rush and feeling anxious because I've been shouted at by a hostile, barely-literate robot for the past few minutes.

This whole situation could easily be avoided in numerous ways:

  • Using a recording instead of using the synthesized voice.
  • Using large, obvious visual prompts on the inside of the train.
  • Lowering the volume and letting people ask one another.

There are many more. Instead of fixing the problem they allowed it to snowball into a UX nightmare. I imagine these things are not hard to change, someone just has to want to.