Monday, February 4, 2008

Transmediale.08 - a customer interface experience

Hand over the data
The Berlin "House of World Cultures" featured this year's interdisciplinary digital art and culture 'festival'. Having travelled from the other side of the globe we joined the queue to get tickets for the whole event. The condition of purchase of this (5 day) ticket was to divulge our personal data. Oh well, we thought this was maybe a 'German thing', part of 'a normal customer transaction'. Other participants also entered into tacit agreements to en-trust their data in exchange for entering the event space. Despite suspending disbelief and trusting in good data practice, the disproportionality was disturbing. On various occasions participants challenged the collection of their data in discussion times.

Once disenfranchised, we received plastic barcodes to be worn around the neck to identify us when accessing the different spaces. Additionally a stack of dead tree materials was handed over as the 'tickets' for the day.

It appears an irony that one of the main sponsors of the event, The Federal Agency for Civic Education (Die Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung), has as its mission to 'facilitate democratic consciousness and facilitate active political participation'. Being in the business of media literacies, the incongruity of the practice of enabling and containing seems striking.

Customers navigating management-centred logistics
For the opening session in the auditorium, a massive crowd piled up. When the floodgate opened there were 4-5 staff standing at the door and o n e person with o n e handheld scanner (with reading problems). As with most sessions, this one was late too.

On enquiry we were told that “we are trialling a new ticketing system”. This guinea pig factor did not aid the flow of the digitally-branded customers. The environments of "questionable hierarchies” seemed to take very little consideration of the customers' requirements but seemed to be designed for the convenience of management.

Each human gatekeeper interpreted the code of logistics in their own idiosyncratic mode. This in turn dis-oriented the guest into an erratic array of Kafkaesque way-finding. The inconsistencies in the conditions of entry ranged from no identification at all, to most of the time 'the bar code is ok on its own', to rarely barcode plus pulp-version of a ticket.

The human factor - access denied
On the last day, in the final hours, the electronically readable identification was all of a sudden insufficient after 5 days and the human door-management decided to prevent visitors from accessing an exhibition space. Appealing to the humanoid's reason was ineffective as he continuously parroted “I have my orders!”. He insisted we obtain additional paper proof (ticket) and that our barcode alone was invalid. An abundance of additional human door-personnel rushed to do the face-work. All colluded to not recognize their own identity tag which we had purchased and had brought us into all sessions. In the end, access was denied to paying guests.

Not only was customer relationship management an alien concept, but also to
  • evict people from their chosen seats, as “we forgot to reserve them”,
  • be forced to hand over additional photo identification to obtain a translation gadget,
  • assault the senses with a humming, vibrating sound-system (during the Maturana session)
The architecture of conferencing was frontal and hardly facilitated discourse. Missing presenters was another aspects to conspire to irritate the 'audience'. At least this time, unlike TM 07 one didn't have to bring their own chair.

Interface design of an event must allow for heteroglossia, contestation and it must offer more than an irritated central nervous system. Providing access to the services purchased and refraining from 'information-sharing' without consent would constitute a sustainable practice.

> More on the usability-bungle in "Getting A ticket For Transmediale Takes Longer Than Opening A Bank Account" by Joaoflux

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