Why usability matters

June 22, 2017 - 

This is a guest post by Joey Pritikin, VP Sales and Marketing at Tascent.

Showing your ID at the airport is one thing. But using your eye as your passport? It might feel like a big step. Nevertheless, iris scanning and other forms of biometrics will soon be common sights at airports around the world.

Airports all over the world are installing biometrics to streamline the traveler journey, from airplane entry gates to baggage pickup. The Australian government plans to modernize its airports with biometrics so international travelers can zip through customs as if they’d taken a domestic flight. Iris scanning is already in use at London’s Gatwick Airport where travelers are able to self-enroll and confirm identity before boarding flights using biometric authentication, as well as Dubai International where automated biometric immigration checks are underway.

Biometric identification has many advantages over paper-based forms of ID. It’s faster, more accurate, and much more convenient. You might lose your boarding pass, but you’ll never lose your eyes.

But biometrics are still unfamiliar. Anything unfamiliar causes stress, and travel is stressful enough.

There’s a right and a wrong way to design new technology. The wrong way focuses on features. The right way focuses on human experience. Airports, governments and biometrics developers need to consider not just how these new systems will work, but how travelers will encounter them — and react to them.

Time in line

Standing in line at the airport is everyone’s least favorite part of air travel. It unites travelers of every age and nationality. The baseline goal for any biometrics project should be reducing their wait time while maintaining or improving security. The faster travelers pass through security, the better they feel. Before Dubai International installed its new biometric system, its immigration processing time was an average of 47 minutes for most travelers. With its new Smart Gate system, most travelers can be through immigration in less than a minute.

What is biometrics, if not personal?

When your body is your ID, authentication can feel — well — personal. If the system doesn’t function as it should, it’s only natural for people to worry there might be something wrong with them. With biometrics, human-centric design isn’t just about getting people through the gate. It’s about making them comfortable with the whole experience.

The fear factor

Let’s face it, travel is stressful. Biometrics shouldn’t make it more so. The technology should work quickly and look welcoming.

To take the example of iris recognition: travelers should be able to stand at a comfortable distance, not press their face to some space-age device. Size really shouldn’t matter either – it should work equally well for people short and tall. And it should scan quickly. It’s incredibly stressful to wait for technology to process information – whether it’s waiting for your bags to pass through X-ray examination, or having your biometrics checked. And finally, while this might seem obvious, any design shouldn’t be intimidating.

Ease of use is key

Introducing a new technology can often take huge amounts of training time and money – something many organizations cannot afford, or simply don’t deem necessary until something goes wrong. But in a busy airport, when something goes wrong, temperatures rise quickly. Not only that, systems that are hard to use are more prone to error. And as we’ve seen, errors make people uneasy as if there is something wrong with them. Ease of use isn’t just for the airport’s benefit; it’s for the traveler as well.

First impressions count

Tourism is big money, and countries are keen to see those tourist dollars pour in. Without doubt, a good entry experience is important for a destination’s image. Lengthy lines, intimidating checks and invasive screening techniques won’t exactly encourage repeat business, or recommendations to friends. A smooth immigration process is key, and the more human-centric and welcoming the experience, the better.

A look into the future

If travellers are comfortable using biometrics now, they will be far more familiar and open to the exciting new possibilities for this technology. Biometrics have the potential to revolutionize travel, creating a customized and dynamic experience.

Beyond ticketless boarding and walk-through passport control, we can expect on-board immigration checks, personalized check-in at airport lounges, and even custom-tailored in-flight entertainment. Imagine starting a film on a connecting flight exactly where you left off on your last one. No more rooting around in the overhead locker for your credit card – you’ll be able to pay for that in-flight drink or duty free using only your eyes too.

So yes, usability in design really does matter when it comes to making biometrics a comfortable and everyday part of travel. The fear of the new will always factor in, but careful, considerate, human-centric design can make a world of difference in rolling out this new age of travel.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com blogs are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BiometricUpdate.com.

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About Joey Pritikin

Joey leads Tascent’s marketing and product management efforts, driving a unified approach to communication, design, and interaction at the company and product level. He has worked in biometrics for nearly 15 years, first developing MEMS-based fingerprint sensors at Fidelica (now part of Lenovo) and then helping to build AOptix’s Identity Solutions business from its infancy through to its acquisition by Tascent.