Designing from the User Standpoint (Literally)

Designing from the User Standpoint (Literally)Last weekend, we decided to go for a hike at the nearby Blue Hills Reservation to celebrate the arrival of lovely spring weather. We arrived to find plenty of free parking, a visitor center with clean restrooms, and clearly displayed instructions for hiking trails with varying difficulty levels and lengths. It all seemed great, until we tried to follow the directions to the head of our chosen trail:

Directions to the trail head
Directions to the trail head

The directions to the Buck Hill red dot loop start with “Go down the driveway, cross Hillside Street at the crosswalk.” We went down the driveway to discover . . . no crosswalk. What? The directions were so clear! We decided to take a chance and walk to the right, where we eventually came upon the Reservation Headquarters. We walked up to the building and noticed the same exact set of directions posted there. A quick look around revealed that the directions were written for people standing in front of the Headquarters building. Yet, the same ones were posted in other locations, leading to confusing.

It’s a relatively harmless example that illustrates the importance of taking on the user’s perspective when creating any instructions or guidance. The directions above are great . . . if you’re standing in exactly the right spot. For someone standing in another spot, they’re confusing.

Designing something that works for the user starts with understanding the user’s perspective. Sometimes that includes where the user is literally standing.

In the end, no harm was done. We found the trailhead, and were rewarded with an amazing view of Boston in the distance. Next time, we will know to calibrate the directions using the Headquarters as a starting point. In the meantime, this is an easy user experience to improve with a little perspective-taking and adjustment.

View from the top of the trail: Boston in the distance
View from the top of the trail: Boston in the distance

2 thoughts on “Designing from the User Standpoint (Literally)

  1. Needless to say the format in which the directions are printed is awful. Even looking at a picture of them requires pretty intense focus. So now I’m focusing intently on these poorly written and formatted directions as I walk this trail and… waaaaaahhhhh (off the cliff I go).

    Also, just a quick note to say I find your site a ton of fun and very inspirational. Good job! Hope all is well.

    1. John!! Hi! So good to see your name!

      Yeah, the directions were pretty lousy. There were a couple times where we stood at a crossroads looking for markings on the trail and cross-referencing the photo we’d taken of the printed directions, and then just hoped for the best.

      I hope you’re doing well! Don’t fall off a cliff!

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