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Designing Wait That Works Essay

4628 words - 19 pages


V O L . 5 0 N O. 4

Donald A. Norman

Designing Waits
That Work

Please note that gray areas reflect artwork that has been
intentionally removed. The substantive content of the article appears as originally published.



Designers at restaurants, theme parks and elsewhere have investigated how to make waiting
in line more pleasant. What they have learned has profound implications for all managers.


AT SOME POINT, every manager has had to tell someone to wait. We all have to wait sometimes.
It’s a simple matter of timing and resources. ...view middle of the document...

Manage perceived
fairness by reframing
what waiting is.
Manage memories,
because the memories of an event last
much longer than
the event itself.



Manage Understanding


»On Donald Norman’s

Web site, you can read
the original version of
this essay, to be featured in his upcoming
book, Sociable Design.

For this and more, go to

While writing this article I was an unwilling participant in a situation that illustrated many of its
principles. I boarded an airplane that was scheduled to take me from San Francisco to Chicago,
but the departure was delayed while airline technicians worked in the back. Frequent
announcements told us that the rear toilets were
not working, but we would leave as soon as they
were fixed. Then the crew told us that we might
leave without the toilets operating. Every 20 minutes I received a text message on my cell phone
updating the departure time. After an hour of
continual maintenance effort and announcements, the captain explained that he had decided
that we should not fly with only one operating
toilet. Instead, we would disembark and leave
later on another airplane. Despite the uncertainty,
the passengers were calm and understanding. My
seatmate told me that it was reassuring that the
captain himself had made the final announcement and explained his reasoning.
It was not so reassuring in the terminal. The gate
agents, bombarded with questions, had no information. One announced a gate change using the
correct flight number but the incorrect destination.
I quietly corrected her, and she explained that she
had been called in hastily and wasn’t clear what the
issue was. Passengers fretted over missed appointments and airline connections, but the gate agents
were even more stressed than the passengers. At one
point an agent tried to make an announcement, but
her confused statements puzzled the passengers so
much that they interrupted her. They asked sensible, reasonable questions in reasonable voices, but
the agent, flustered, said that if they didn’t stop she
would call the police. After the next question, she
picked up the telephone but evidently had second
thoughts and simply left.
Why the difference in behavior? Lack of information and appropriate feedback, and no understanding
of the underlying causes. The employees felt more
stress than the customers: Employees are people,
governed by the same principles. However, their
situation is worse than that of their customers, for
they must endure the complaints, even though they
neither had any part in causing the situation nor
have the information to help solve it. People get


frustrated when they lack control and understanding. Frustration is a strong negative emotion.
Informed, intelligent feedback is as important to
your staff as it is to your...

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