Head Fake: Focus on the Passenger, not the Profits

For the last three months, I have been 4 weeks away from finishing my thesis on the Principles of Experience Design for Airport Terminals. I am now fitter than I ever have been, have watched every rom-com produced in the last decade, and until today, I have been stuck in what felt like an infinite writing vortex (or perhaps pit). Two weeks ago, I was ready to throw it all in… luckily (for me, if not the universe :-)), I somehow pushed on and today completed a significant milestone.

In the process of coercing 100,000 words to take their rightful place on 238 pages of manuscript, I discovered that the work I have produced is a head fake, in the late Randy Pausch spirit of the term:

…and it’s the first example of what I’m going to call a head fake… we actually don’t want our kids to learn football… we send our kids out to learn much more important things: teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance…

Dr. Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The research I undertook began as an exploration of the factors of influence of passenger experience. By taking a passenger oriented perspective, based on the principles of design thinking, the research uncovered three key findings (i) a paradox in the Level of Service metrics which limits their use in the evaluation of service quality, (ii) four distinct modes of engagement between the passenger and the airport environment, and (iii) six principles for experience design in passenger terminals.

Although the goals of the research were to gain a deeper understanding of how passengers relate to their time in the airport, in the end, what was uncovered was a way to not only improve the passenger experience, but also the returns on passenger footprint invested (by optimizing the allocation of space in the terminal building).

By inverting the way that terminal design is approached and beginning the process with a solid understanding of passenger needs and desires, strategies to increase the returns were identified. The head fake, is of course, that the research focused on the passenger, not the profits.

Sources: A Harrison, Principles of Experience Design for Airport Terminals, PhD Thesis, June 2014; R McGrath, Transient Advantage; T Brown, Design Thinking.