What do people really do at airports?

A few days ago researcher Ben Kraal gave a talk at UX Australia 2015 describing four years of research done by him and his colleagues on what people do in airports and what airport user experience really means. He just posted his slides and speaker notes.


Airports are a consensual hallucination experienced by billions of people each year. Airport User Experience is lie we tell ourselves because the reality is too horrible to contemplate: there’s no such thing as an airport user experience. In this talk, I’ll describe four years of research on what people do in airports and you’ll find out what we really mean when we talk about airport user experience.

Over the last four years, my colleagues and I have been to big and small airports, in arrivals and departures, and we’ve looked at passengers and staff. We’ve followed people around, used eye-tracking to see if people really do read all those signs and we’ve recorded how people shop in excruciating detail. We analyzed what we saw and heard using statistical and qualitative methods and we used that analysis to build new ways to understand how people engage with complex service environments.

In this talk, I’ll first show how to see complex services, like airports, as service ecosystems comprised of smaller service building blocks that interact in particular ways — some are tightly linked and others never occur together. Second, I’ll show how people using complex services are trying to match their expectations with the features of the service environment. We call these features “elements” of the space.

Last, I’ll describe the role that the concepts of risk and engagement can play for different types of users in complex services.

This is a lot to cover in 45 minutes so I’ll be providing a downloadable background sheet that includes they key practical lessons learned, has additional detail on the research methods, analysis techniques and software used and has links to all my colleagues and my freely available formal academic work on airport experience.

Dr Ben Kraal is a Research Fellow with the People and Systems Lab and a lecturer in the School of Design at QUT.

Photo credit: @AndrewCave