Will a line around an Airport Baggage Conveyor make it easier to get to your bags? Only if we can work together.

I’ve written before about how I hate the design of airport baggage conveyors. At the type I wrote:

I hate is because everyone huddles around the conveyer.

It’s a catch 22 or prisoner’s dilemma. You can’t see your bag coming unless you’re close… But by everyone moving closer you clog the view.

Not only can’t you see your bag, but it’s difficult to get off. 

My idea for a solution was to put line around the baggage conveyor.  I even found a picture one in existence at the Tulsa International Airport:

But, I am a massive believer in the power of observation and experimentation, and did have some doubt that people would follow the rule. It looked great, and it’s easy to see that the line made the conveyor more visible to a greater number of people. Unfortunately, no one was around in Tulsa for me to watch. 

But them earlier this year when I was in Helsinki — the capital of a nation known for a love of orderly queues — I found such a line:

You can imagine the service design nerd-squeal that happened inside my head.  I stood back and observed.  

For a while it was like the above, and it seemed to work.   A couple of rule breakers near the top, but nothing major.

But then something started to change.  A couple people got stated to enter the area, maybe they thought they saw their bag coming, but I can’t be sure.  Either way, they entered the area and remained there.  

Pretty soon the huddle started to happen:

And just like that, it was the same old story.  If you stood back, you would end up 4 rows deep.  

So you are either in the front row or, like the the guy in the orange bag, when your bag arrives you catch a glimpse of it just as it’s about to go past and you have to bash through a crowd of people just to get it, and then try not to bash people over or dislocate your shoulder whilst you swing it off.

It’s interesting to me how quickly the ordered system descended into a disordered one.  But not surprising.  It follows the experimental studies I looked at before where people copy little disorders whether that be leaving shopping cart around car parks or dirty plates in a sink.

Basically, it’s broken windows theory meets a tipping point. Perhaps the line works well most times, but this time the early few rule breakers broke the system?  

If you are from Helsinki please let me know.



We received an excellent post in the comments below from Ali Robertson which I thought was worth adding to the body:

"In Melbourne, Australia, we had something like this at train stations. The solution was to actually use rubber studs in the floor to texture the ground very differently, and provide multiple threshholds for people to ‘break through’. This was done at pretty much every station. I’ve attached a couple of images of a crowded platform 7 at Flinders street station… One from the 1920s, and one from 2007. Note the distance people now maintain from the edge - this is not due to any signs or announcements."

1920s Melbourne Train Platform - Close to Edge.

2007s Melbourne Train Platform - Textures seem to move people away from the track.

The below is my response:

"I have actually taken photos of this in a number examples of just this point and intended to blog about it.

I believe (though I have not confirmed this) that these studs are actually for the visually impaired.

However, they definitely seem to work to provide a tactile barrier.  My post was going to be if this was an unintended side-effect of a design change - I was going to try and coin this ‘unintended affordance’.

Do you know I’m incorrect that it’s unintended?

Thanks so much for the comment and pics.”

2011s London Tube Platform - Textures seem to move people away from the track.

Can anyone confirm these studs are for the visually impaired?  

Do you think they move people away from the platform?

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