Slow-UX: A better experience?

You may be familiar with the slow-food movement. It’s about better quality of life and food. From their manifesto: “May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.”

Caption: The same station, with 2 trains going to the same location, leaving within 5 minutes of each other.

While the vast majority of my posts are about the benefits of increasing speed and efficiency, it is worth thinking about the potential advantages of designing for the opposite goal. It could be that designing for speed above all else causes other significant factors to be forgotten, as has occurred with the fast food industry.

The train commute to work is a great demonstration of the effects of speed on user experience. The first train is a bullet train arriving in the city in 36 minutes. The second train leaves 5 minutes after it and arrives in 53 minutes. That is a difference of 17 minutes travel time plus 5 minutes at the station. The fast train is usually packed. People commonly have to stand for the entire trip. Being able to get out your laptop to blog about UX problems is nearly impossible! People make little “annoyed, I’m surviving this” glances at each other. Sometimes people have to step outside the train to let others exit the train at busy stations. In contrast, the slow train is relaxed. There are lots of empty seats - even the better seats with tables and places to put your feet up. It stops at every station, so it is more scenic. It is quite possible to sit down and zone out with headphones on your laptop or phone and never be bothered by anyone until the train reaches its final destination. It is the essence of calm transportation.

So why is the fast train so much less enjoyable and why do people choose to torture themselves when they have a viable alternative? Transportation becomes less enjoyable when it becomes overcrowded, or when it is not designed for peak loads. But more importantly, many users seem to have decided that the fast experience is the better experience. Or possibly they think that the transportation environment is so undesirable that they want to get it over with as soon as possible. This is reminiscent of going to the dentist, and also riding coach in pretty much any airline. In these cases, you are probably willing to pay more to be able to exit the situation as rapidly as possible. It could also be that people have bigger priorities than an enjoyable journey — like bosses that demand they walk in the door on time or families they want to spend more time with.

But slow-trains are actually kind of nice. Sometimes they have tables to work on. Sometimes they have power outlets. Sometimes they have beds. The passengers are more relaxed. You can get work done or chat to people.

Good design is about focusing on a few key factors and then ensuring that they are a beautiful experience for users. There is also value in not trying to do everything at once, and in designing for human happiness. Granted, humans may be uniquely suited for finding discontent in just about any situation (just read my blog as proof) but prioritizing physical comfort and mental stability over some other factors could have a huge affect on society. Perhaps we should approach design projects (and transportation design projects in particular) with an increased emphasis on creating “sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment” and see how different our cities look afterwards.

Photo Credit: Flying Houses

Thought experiment: The Hyperloop (which I am a big fan of) promises to put people in small, group capsules and send them safely from SF to LA at 600 mph for a 35 min journey. The capsules are likely to be all front-facing and offer a reasonable amount of privacy and ease of entry and exit. This is compelling, particularly when compared to the uniformly-crappy alternatives. However, what if there were an alternative air-cruise offering which took 4 hours. It offered a sun-deck, wine-tasting section, movie theater, hot tub, observation deck, massage-room, and gourmet slow-food car. You could get warmed up for your night in LA on the trip to LA. Is there really not a market for this type of transportation?

Designers: What experiences do you see that offer a worse experience because of prioritizing speed? Why don’t we have more transportation experiences that are luxurious, comfortable, and slow?

Originally published at

UX Design & Research