280. A Practical yet Human Boarding Pass Design.
Jan 11, 2010 at 01:10AM

image courtesy of http://jacoblshapiro.com/blog/?p=114Recently, designer Tyler Thompson posted a nice little blog about one thing and one thing only: his frustration towards the design of his Delta boarding pass. "The design of boarding passes makes me want to scratch my eyes out," is the rallying cry and gives you a sense of the site's tone.

Thompson's Actual Delta Pass:

Not content to just complain about matters Thompson also studied the functions of this piece of communication and started designing a better and more easily understood pass of his own. Ultimately he posted four versions of his own design and more recently design contributions from other frustrated would-be travelers. This site is called Pass Fail and although a bit blue on the language (Hey, who isn't irritated by all things air-travel these days?), the site is a wondeful study in the power of intelligent communication design. In short, it's the kind of blogging that is actually worth reading. Below are his designs. Please go to the site and read more about each one.

Thompson's First Design and Second (adding color):

Thompson's Third Design to Show Airline Neutrality:

Thompson's Final Design:

As you can see his final design makes a world of difference compared to his actual Delta pass. On the site he received a lot of comments and feedback that led to his final approach and it's pretty solid. Everything lives where you can find it and is well organized. Seeing this at the counter would bring me great relief.

One of the more thoughtful contributions from his visitors came from Timoni Grone. She wrote a response to Thompson's article called "A practical boarding pass redesign." Here is her design that takes into account the limitations and restrictions of a boarding pass. I like her academic approach as well as the similarly practical design of Yoni De Beule who addressed a lot of the comments on the blog up to that point.

Grone's Practical Design:

De Beule's Design:

These two designs favor practicality over artsy design and rightfully so. All of the information is organized and more intuitive than the real-world version. It would have been easy to simply choose a nice typeface hierarchy that would look great, but it's worthless if they coudn't print it cost-effectively using the current methods. And this is definitely one project that brings with it a lot of technical and economic boundaries. So I applaud the perspective both designers brought to this conversation. All that being said, I think there is still room to improve the boarding pass design while remaining absolutely stone-cold reasonable.

I think Thompson's final design is well-done and a worthy candidate for implementation. I like the use of small graphic elements to direct the eye and ease understanding. I also appreciate the limitations and solutions provided by Grone and De Beule. But what both approaches fail to do is consider that the traveler is not a machine and is a human being that takes in information differently than a scanner. To be clear, none of these designs go far enough past convention, they still are organized and optimized for the scanner instead of the human eye and this need not be. A scanner can be programmed to read the codes and information so long as it is present at a technologically sound size and color. A human is far less flexible and needs to be approached on that level first. My design attempts to balance practical printing limitations with a little bit of humanity.

For cost reasons I stuck with one color (though I do mention the benefit of a two color option further below.) I am assuming the template ticket would be preprinted in the case of cards with the airline logos. And in the case of kiosk printing, this could be done as it is now with lower quality color printing on demand. I chose a common monospace font so that all the characers are of equal width to provide consistent fields for data printing and because machines butcher typefaces that need to be kerned anyway. I kept the size and format of the ticket fairly standard to retain the focus on the design for the sake of this argument as well. What is not standard is the delivery of the information on the boarding pass, and it is this delivery that is the main focus of my concept even beyond the design particulars.

My Human Boarding Pass (click for larger view):

My version uses clear information delivered in the same manner that an airline attendant might use, in common prose. It is also given in the same order that a traveler needs it. The data can still be read by a scanner but can also be easily absorbed by the customer. This approach also has the added benefit of being warm and personable and could be reiterated by the airline personnel in the same way. Given the current state of flying, this is a much needed change. More important is the fact that I felt most of the designs in the dialogue so far still feel like a fenced-in gathering of lots of rogue pieces of information. Simply put they are still too busy and harder to digest than necessary.

I realize that people are not that into reading these days, but I think a simple concise directive still would work better than an amalgam of data points. I resisted the urge to call out the information on my boarding pass any further, though I could easily imagine a revision using a heavier weight or color change to draw more attention to them. And I used international time for no other reason than it allows the elimination of the day and night (am/pm) label. I feel like I have arrived at a solution that is quite elegant requiring very little implementation costs/changese. In approach it could not be more different than the real-world Delta ticket that started this all, but in design terms it is a small but effective change. I am surprised how similar the orginal Delta ticket and my version ended up being, but this pleases me in some odd way too.

In the spirit of Thompson's post I couldn't resist adding my version to the fray. I do believe my design solves most of the issues involved in the discussion about boarding pass design and was a joy to consider for a few hours. But I repeat Thompson's thoughts when I say we're all just trying to make this better. Cheers.

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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