The User Experience of New York City

I’m starting to think about cities more and more in terms of user experience. It works pretty well as a metaphor – maybe so well that you don’t even need to call it a metaphor at all.

When you’re navigating the city, you want certain things to happen, you want a nice experience, just as you do with a website. You want the city to open up for you at all the right moments. And every city has their own unique user experience, just like every website or app does.

So what is the user experience of New York City? Generally pretty good. Maybe even great. And certainly a lot better than it was ten years ago (getting mugged = a really bad user experience).

But yesterday, jumping into a cab, there was one really bad bit of City UX that jumped out at me: that damn TV screen that is in the back of every cab, always on.

thanks @ flickr user azugaldia

I immediately turned if off, so I could continue my conversation. And of course, it immediately turned itself back on, as it always does (why do they even have an “off” button?)

Think about this: for everyone getting off a plane at JFK and hopping into a cab to get into the city, this is their first encounter with NYC. It’s infuriating. Uncontrollable. The worst user experience possible.

And for all of those people coming in from JFK, it’s basically the landing page of NYC, where their interaction starts.

It’s like the equivalent of those dancing girl banner ads, stuck all across the city’s home page.

And the thing is, that first experience could be so cool. It could have realtime data in it, showing you where the traffic was, so you could answer the driver’s question about which route to take. It could have easy-to-navigate content about museums and shows in town, so you could plan your stay. Maybe it could even let you buy tickets to shows or something like that. Maybe help you decide where you’ll eat tonight after you drop off your bags. Maybe do all of this in different languages, for people visiting from around the world. It could help you, instead of annoying you. It could blow you away.

And it could look a lot like the touchscreens that faberNovel did for bus stops in Paris recently (small plug for the company I just started working with).

There are a million really cool things you could do with that tiny piece of real estate that would transform people’s experience of NYC, and open the city up for them.

Maybe now that I’m working with faberNovel, and working explicitly on these kinds of things (as well as on other kinds of things), I’ll get a chance to help the city get that negative user experience out of the cabs and get something better in there so we can all enjoy our cabbing experience a bit more. I hope so.

In general there are a million ways to think about cities from the UX perspective. All of it can be improved on. What is your city’s UX like? Is it good? Is it bad?

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Alicia Mazzara

I too have found those touch-screens in NYC cabs to be annoying and distracting. It seems impossible not to watch the screen, when I’d rather be looking out the window and paying attention to my surroundings. In DC, we don’t have screens in cabs. In fact, we only recently switched to a meter system — before we had cab fares based on zones, a terrible UX for anyone unfamiliar with the city’s geography. (Actually, it was just pretty terrible all around.) We have screens with real-time arrivals in the DC subway system, but more dynamic maps, weather, news, and retail information could be useful to visitors and residents alike.