Ambiguous Visual Controls – Denver Airport

Photo by eflon under Creative Commons Attribution

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I wrapped up a week in a sister plant helping a great group of people improve their PM compliance.  I’m not kidding, this was a great group.  They were scope creepers so I had to herd cats a little bit now and then, but that’s a good problem.  This team was strate up wicked – biased toward action.  Thanks Robert, Kim, Ben, Scott, Paul, RJ, Mike, Mike, and Mike.  I had a great time.  I really didn’t want to be a pain in the a#s guys, but….  Inside joke.

Anyway, we report out, I go to the airport, check my bag (singular – for $20!), and head for gate A34 anxious to clear security, find a cold Fat Tire, and reflect on the week until my flight.  I see a sign directing me to all concourse A gates and follow it.  I get halfway across a bridge and see a corridor heading off to my right.  I glance up to my right to check if it goes to concourse A and see this:

I don’t have any business with security nor with the administration of the airport (unless they’re giving away free Fat Tire Ale) twenty years ago I would have stopped by the USO but they would have no use for me today.  So I keep going.  And going, and going.  Concourse A is nowhere to be found – I am heading toward concourse B!  So I turn around and retrace my steps.  I get back to the middle of the ‘bridge’ and this time I am walking farther from the corridor and this time the sign looks like this:

On my first pass I had been walking on the right (with traffic) which put me underneath the sign that I needed to see.

Signs probably aren’t the crux of world class visuality but are probably an important part.  In any case they should be positioned so that they deliver the right information, at the right time, to the right people, and at the right place.  People walking towards the gates from ticketing and walking on the right side (as is custom in the U.S.) of the bridge have some probability of missing this sign because they will be walking under it.

On your next gemba walk check out the orientation of your signs and other visual controls.  Make sue that they are intuitive and that they deliver the information when and where it is needed.  The designers of the visuality in the Denver airport didn’t miss it by much.  Their error is subtle.  There might not have been an error in this case had ‘the operator’ not been preoccupied with near obsessive thoughts about a Fat Tire.  But respecting the flaws of humanity and rigorous visual design require that we consider that the operator might not be diligently the seeking information that we need them to receive, he or she might be otherwise engaged mentally (hopefully on something more productive than a cold Fat Tire.)

I finally got my beer and thus ended a great week invested with great people.


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3 Responses

  1. Did you have any Fat Tire before you went to the airport? Maybe some “iceless” darker liquid the night before? Just asking…….I remember the great weeks you’ve “invested” in my plants before!

  2. Too many signs (including hospitals!) are designed and installed by people who know their way around the place far too well.

    I’d suggest always testing the signs with a visitor who has never been there before!

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