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Efficiency, Design and Behavior

by Elise Olding  |  November 23, 2010  |  5 Comments

A while back I wrote a blog questioning if processes can change behavior. What about design? Think about the iPhone – a work of art, sheer beauty and joy to those who use it (well except for the phone part!).

Take an aircraft as another example. The aisles are just wide enough for the beverage and food carts to smack everyone’s knees and elbows as it traverses down the plane. There are two bathrooms in economy for over 100 passengers, overhead storage is at a premium and there is nowhere to stand up and stretch without being jostled by another passenger or told by the flight attendants that you can’t stand there. By the end of “the experience” everyone is in a bad mood, passengers and flight attendants. (I imagine the cockpit crew is fine as they always seem to be smiling!)

Over the years aircraft have been designed for efficiency, not the experience. That has resulted in a bad rap for the industry and an overall view that flying is not fun. It didn’t have to happen this way. I remember happier times with a good amount of space, a piano bar and looking forward to pleasant journey to my final destination. What would have happened if that view persisted, rather than the relentless pursuit of efficiency?

Imagine some of these options:

• A “family flight. There would be a play area for the children, giving the parents some time to relax.
• A “workout flight” There would an area to stretch and exercise.
• A “pamper flight” where you could get a haircut, mani/pedi or chair massage
• “Foodie flight – good food and wine tasting

Plane design would be modular with the ability to reconfigure based on demand – much like a factory production line. There would be a charge for these services, just like there is if you were going to a spa, a gym or daycare. Certainly this could all pay for itself. Flight attendants would be happy, they could move around the aircraft with ease, passengers would enjoy service and arrive to their destinations refreshed and happy.

Short of “beam me up Scotty” with all the technology and advances that we have had in the last 50 years, why can’t we put some of that expertise into better design and user experience? Air travel is one area that sorely needs some innovation.

How many wishes do I have left?

For those in the U.S. have a happy turkey day!

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Category: bpm-strategic-planning  gartner  

Tags: air-travel  bpm  design  efficiency  gartner  innovation  process-improvement  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Efficiency, Design and Behavior

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jovi Umawing, Uptime Devices. Uptime Devices said: Efficiency, Design and Behavior […]

  2. Gary C says:

    Of course the downside to having this modularity and a better user experience is cost. One of the reasons that airlines are able to offer such ‘cheap’ deals is because they ARE as efficient as they can be. OK the experience isn’t quite there – as you so rightly stated – but the question is “How much would you pay to have a better experience rather than a more efficient one?”. Would it really pay for itself?

    Personally I love your idea. It will take air travel back to the days of being an adventure. ‘The Jet Set’ would come back into play and flying would be something that was enjoyable rather than a chore ( -this from a man who used to do between 150 to 250 flights per year!).

    But it does raise the process question : “Obviously the airline’s process is geared towards efficiency. Should this be the end goal of the process or should there be latitude to improve the ‘experience’ at the cost of efficiency?”. Furthermore, how does this link in to those practitioners of ‘Outside-In’ who quote airlines such as Southwest and Ryanair as good examples where it is obvious that they are ‘Efficiency based’ rather than ‘experience (i.e customer) based’.

    Good post, Elise.


  3. Elise Olding says:

    Great comments Gary! I would envision paying for these services – a “Groupon” format could work, to forecast the demand. My thoughts are we pay for these services anyway and busy people can utilize their time for these services when on flights. Devices like the iPad and iPhone come at a premium cost, but have the “wanted experience”, so can command the price. If we don’t try, we won’t know!

    Regarding Southwest and Ryan, they have done an excellent job of matching the experience with the consumer expectation. In this case it’s low cost and high efficiency – that equalizes the “outside-in”. (But there is the fun factor too!) This is similar to the differences between shopping at Nordstrom and Costco – I know what to expect and judge my experience accordingly.

  4. Nick Gall says:

    One airline that let’s us have our cake (better experience) and eat it too (low cost), is Virgin America (different from Virgin Atlantic).

    There are NO food carts on VAm! Instead, you simply order your food/drink using the touch screen for your seat (the same screen that enables you to watch television, movies, etc.). Then the flight attendant brings your order directly to your seat. See a description here: .

    I try to fly VAm any time I can, especially on cross-country flights.

  5. I beg to differ – I think the airlines are designing the experience fliers want. First of all, nearly all of the examples you’ve provided already exist. Qantas A380s (when they fly) have a lounge area in business class you can stretch to your heart’s content. Virgin Atlantic offers massages in business class. And if you want good food and wine tasting that’s what you get on first class (particularly international). Play areas can’t be implemented do to safety reasons.

    But cost is also a design construct. And people will bear the inconveniences of economy travel if it allows them to get to an exotic location, or to see family at a price they can afford. And there’s no end to the efforts airlines will go to achieve that. Proof – RyanAir will be providing supercheap flights for those prepared to stand in specially-designed airstool.

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