I despise air travel. Rising before the rooster, driven to the airport, herded through security, enduring flight delays, belted to an undersized airplane seat, and couriered to the destination hotel… I avoid this whenever possible. After arriving, my sole desire is to get to my room and put down my luggage.
A Story of Frustration
So, upon my recent arrival at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, I was amused — in a twisted way — with the missing front desk. After wrangling my luggage through the revolving door, I was greeted by an electronic “Welcome” sign, and a single escalator descending from the upper floors.
Wandering around the 1st floor and unsuccessfully seeking the front desk, I found a sign indicating it was located on the Atrium Level. New to this hotel, “The Atrium Level” was meaningless; apparently it means “the 3rd floor”. The up-escalator was out of sight from the entrance.
At the end of the escalator chain, the front desk continued to be annoyingly elusive. Nothing in front of me, elevators to the right, and a crowd of people to the left. A closer look revealed the crowd was in the lounge, not the front desk. Finally, behind me, opposite the escalators resided the front desk.
Over the next day, I pondered the quirkiness of this hotel. I enjoyed watching new guests retrace my confusion. And then it struck me: the escalators were running in reverse.
The down-escalator that greeted all new guests was designed to usher arriving guests directly to the front desk. Further, if the direction was reversed, guests would step off the final escalator directly facing the front desk.
Disorientation at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco does not result from a design flaw, it is an operations failure.
I immediately walked to the concierge desk and shared my insight. He laughed and gave me a shockingly honest answer. Not believing my ears, I walked to the valet and shared my observation. The valet had the same response.
The general manager had previously directed the escalators be reversed from their designed operation. His people on the floor immediately saw the customer’s resulting confusion and reported this to the GM. But the GM insisted the escalators operate in reverse. Why? Because when operating in reverse, the view is more impressive as the escalator arrives at the Atrium Level.
The management of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco has purposefully frustrated their guests to create an improved first impression. Does anyone else see irony here? By choosing aesthetic over usability, management has undermined both.
Aesthetic is important; please don’t misunderstand my point. But which alternative provides for an improved first-impression?
- A lost and frustrated guest is presented with a grand view as they first enter the Atrium Level
- A guest easily finds what she is looking for only to notice initially overlooked beauty as she turns from the front desk.
Many website owners are seduced by the same siren as this general manager. By seeking to provide an amazing experience, we lose sight of our visitor’s objectives. Visitors do not come to your website looking for an experience. They come looking for information. Our goal should be to enable efficient acquisition of this information.
Setting the mood with music, or creating visual interest with movement may seem like good practice, but user testing continually verifies these are impediments. Flowery welcome text may seem hospitable, but users want immediate answers for their questions. We fill our navigation with evocative names, like “Atrium Level”, that confuse without context. The more we seek to meet their needs, the better their experience will be.
Effective web design is never centered on the website owner’s perspective. It is grounded in understanding the end user.