30 July 2009

Designing waits that work

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Waiting lines
The MIT Sloan Management Review has published Donald Norman’s paper ‘Designing Waits That Work‘ (available for $6.50).

It is based on a 2008 paper by Norman, entitled ‘The Psychology of Waiting Lines‘ (which is freely available), but sections have been added on “Variations of basic waiting lines” (including triage, categorization of needs, and self-selection of queues) and “Deliberate Chaos.”

According to Norman, “the original is better in the amount of detail and formal analyses, worse in the rough draft and inelegance of the writing as well as a lack of examples which I added for SMR.”

Here is Norman’s introduction to the 2008 paper:

Waiting is an inescapable part of life, but that doesn’t mean we enjoy it. But if the lines are truly inescapable, what can be done to make them less painful? Although there is a good deal of practical knowledge, usually known within the heads of corporate managers, very little has been published about the topic. One paper provides the classic treatment: David Maister’s The Psychology of Waiting Lines (1985). Maister suggested several principles for increasing the pleasantness of waiting. Although his paper provides an excellent start, it was published in 1985 and there have been considerable advances in our knowledge since then.

In the PDF file, The Psychology of Waiting Lines, I bring the study of waiting lines up to date, following the spirit of Maister’s original publication, but with considerable revision in light of modern findings. I suggest eight design principles, starting with “emotions dominate” and ending with the principle that “the memory of an event is more important than the experience.” Examples of design solutions include double buffering, providing clear conceptual models of the events with continual feedback, providing positive memories and even why one might deliberately induce waits. These principles apply to all services, not just waiting in lines. Details will vary from situation to situation, industry to industry, but the fundamentals are, in truth, the fundamentals of sociable design for waiting lines, for products, and for service.

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