Tripped Up

I have an interesting anecdote about the persistence of data, the ramifications of a poor UI, and the unintended consequences of things talking to other things on one’s behalf.

I recently traveled from the Bay Area to Arizona on Southwest Airlines. The day before my flight, I received a flight confirmation email – but it came from a completely unrelated airline, and for travel dates that were slightly different from the days I was supposed to be traveling.

I confess, I momentarily freaked out. I hadn’t made the reservations myself, but I was pretty sure this couldn’t be right. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that this was a reservation for “Mary” – someone I didn’t know – who was traveling between cities on the other side of the country.

So, I emailed Mary to let her know what happened (her email address was on the confirmation), and suggested that perhaps she should contact the airline.

My involvement in this bogus trip didn’t stop there. The information in the reservation email propagated to a number of services, and they all came rushing to help me:

  • TripIt automatically scanned my Gmail account and generated an itinerary for Mary’s flight – a flight I wasn’t taking – which it emailed to me.
  • TripIt also let my network know about the trip.
  • Google started sending me notifications when Mary’s flight was delayed.
  • While I was in Arizona, Google Now began providing me cards of interesting things to do – on the opposite side of the country – based on Mary’s destination. This seemed particularly odd. Google Now should have known where I was based on my phone’s location.

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When Branding Falls Flat

A quick quiz: name the brands represented below.


No problem right? These are clear, distinct and easily identified.

Extending this a bit, the same should be possible with other design elements and imagery – specifically, a brand should be easily identified by its website as well.

Quiz #2: name the brands represented below by their websites.


Not so easy, is it?* Here’s the problem: when everyone adheres to the current flat design trend, distinguishing branding elements disappear. All brands tend to look very similar, essentially defeating the effort to create a lasting, memorable, and recognizable presence.

This critique usually applies when any design trend becomes adopted by millions. For example, the same thing happened with the Apple-originated aqua-like UI elements; once introduced, the style was widely adopted by many applications and platforms, resulting in a similar loss of brand differentiation.
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A Handsome Virgin, Lacking Experience



There is a lot of chatter about the Virgin America beta site, lauding its delightfulness, simplicity, and ease of use. It is an immediate marketing success. People are excited and tweeting about it.

It has an up-to-date look that’s responsive (a first for airline booking) and designed from the ground up to play well with mobile. Its playful, simplified visual design makes it appear fun and easy to use. Virgin touts the speed of booking flights because you make one decision at a time.

And yet…

The process is very linear, designed to lead you through each step in a strict sequence. If you stick to the script and proceed along (the designers’) optimal path, then it is easy and straightforward to book a flight. But, if you stray from that path — because you want to change your return date, for example – usability quickly diminishes. Whenever I change an earlier selection, I have to repeat all of the steps from that point on – work that I’ve already done once. And it’s not especially clear where I am or what I can do – feedback fades off the screen too quickly; the lengthy scroll, back arrow, and occasional ‘X’ control seem at odds with each other.
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