I always feel uncomfortable taking photos in airports

I often (wrongfully) ignore great examples of UI design outside the computer world.  While making a connecting flight in Vancouver, I stopped to take a picture of this (in my opinion) great “User Interface”.  It reminded me of Tufte’s Envisioning Information, although I’m sure there are many other books which better exemplify this point, maybe this one.

I am always reminded of an interview question a friend had a few years ago while interviewing for a PM position at Microsoft: “Design a information kiosk assuming that your target demographic is illiterate.” That’s a cool problem that I think a lot of people freeze on.  It opens up so many ways of exploring perceptual psychology and visual affordances, and generally brings up some great design questions.

The above sign is printed in English and French (Canada’s official languages), Chinese (likely due to the large amount of Chinese visitors and immigrants going through Vancouver) and some visual queues for everyone else.  But realistically, the visual queues are the main focus, and the labels are just supplementary information.  An arrow showing which direction to walk, the picture of a man traveling, the Canadian flag, signifying domestic, and a green light… which to be honest Im not sure what means, but lets me know that going this way is good.

Does your application’s or website’s UI communicate well to your users?  Do you rely too heavily on English labels?  Do you rely too heavily on icons?  Does your website pass the blur test (now that green circle makes sense)?  I won’t open the debate of icons vs. labels, or even the discussion about Realism in UI design, I am just thinking aloud.

An interesting thought, which stuck me while passing by this lonely sign in the Vancouver airport .

Update: For a very interesting and thorough breakdown of this idea in field, check out this great article on SmashingMagazine: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/05/20/web-design-trends-2010-real-life-metaphors-and-css3-adaptation/.