my world of work and user experiences

April 30, 2010

Queens’s day Amsterdam: interaction design in the city

Filed under: Interaction — Tags: — frederique @ 23:41

A city is a system. Today that was very apparent in Amsterdam.

It was queen’s day, when we celebrate the queen’s birthday (the fact that she was actually born in January in no way diminishes the festivities. You can’t have a national party in January, so we stick with the previous queen’s birthday). About 750.000 people came to celebrate in the city center of Amsterdam, which is not that big to begin with.

Queen's day Amsterdam on Flickr

Queen's day Amsterdam on Flickr

So the organizers tried to optimize the interaction between these crowds and the city.

Main personas for queen’s day are based on young people wearing orange clothes and wigs who drink a lot of beer, and children trying to make some money selling their old toys and playing music. For these kids specific areas were reserved, so that they would not be overrun by the beer-drinking crowds. For these beer-drinking crowds, bars were available everywhere (that served special events beer I believe, which is not to strong, to decrease public drunkenness), as well as toilets at strategic locations for the output.

The organizers planned the flow: many people would go for the open-air concerts. So these were planned on big open spaces. And they planned routes to get there from train stations via wide roads: the optimum flow that the leads the users of your system quickly and easily to their targets.
There were official events in different locations and they encouraged people to use other train stations than the central station, for load balancing.

Flows planned by the organizers

Flows planned by the organizers

The buses and trams did not run in the city center at all today. They would not be able to pass without running over the crowds. It was annoying that the bus we wanted to take did not stop where we had hoped it would be. But of course you can’t just put features in your system that are efficient for some people while endangering everybody else.

These routes were sign-posted and managed via electronic screens that could broadcast messages like “Rembrandt square is full” (i.e. don’t even try to go there). When part of your system is overloaded, you want your users to avoid it. Otherwise they will just get frustrated and, in trying, they will aggravate the overload.

Actually, there were two flows: the pedestrians in the streets and the people in boats in the canals. These flows were not entirely independent: the pedestrians often stopped to watch the antics of the boaters – we’ve seen some near-shipwrecks. And the boaters often landed, probably to get more passengers or supplies. Not all of your users are following the same path, but their paths may cross.
Cross-roads offer navigational options but they also were the places were we got stuck the most.
For the boats, it often got interesting at the low bridges that were hiding “cross roads” in the canals. You don’t see the other guys coming while you are maneuvering carefully and trying not to hit your head.
For the pedestrians, the most challenging cross-roads were the ones that had a bar on or near them: the flows arriving from different directions all just got stuck in the crowds that were getting drinks. If people are supposed to get somewhere, don’t put something in their way that will distract them, get them confused or simply stop them in their tracks because everything is just overloaded.

Flow on the water

Flow on the water

The police were present on the canals and on the streets. From what I saw, they were friendly, helpful and just available to keep an eye on things and provide help where needed. And they wore bright yellow shirts so that it was very easy to find them when you needed them. Just what you want your help desk and system administrators.

And in case anyone is worrying: I did not spend the entire day thinking about interaction design. I had a great time enjoying the festivities, the atmosphere and the sunshine with my friends. These interaction challenges were just part of the fun…

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