Looking in the lower right hand corner of the standard Tube map, you’ll find a key explaining which lines are which in the coloured tangle of routes.
At the bottom it says ‘Emirates Air Line’. If you know London and you’re up on the latest news, you’ll know that Emirates Air Line is a cable car that runs between North Greenwich and Royal Victoria.
If you’re one of the hundreds of non-British tourists who use the map daily, or if you happen not to have heard the news about the airline-sponsored cable car, you could become very confused indeed when confronted with what looks like a flight connection. It’s not even at Heathrow. And it only goes a few stops. What?
The problem with this label is one of information scent. Information scent means the language cues we look for to tell us we’re on the right track when we’re hunting for information. The label ‘Emirates Air Line’ doesn’t ‘smell’ like the right name for ‘Thames cable car’. It smells like, well, an airline.
In fact, the name is so confusing that Wikipedia has had to put up a disambiguation page to sort out the cable car from the airline itself.
Had TfL put its users first, it would almost certainly have used a label like ‘Thames cable car’ or ‘cable car route’ or even ‘cable car (separate ticket purchase necessary)’, if it wanted to be extra helpful.
Instead, the priority is on showcasing a clever pun on ‘Emirates Air Line’ which reflects the sponsor who has made the project possible.
It’s certainly not the only example of a product name or label that is all about internal priorities and nothing at all to do with users’ needs and expectations.
In fact, TfL have another product that’s primed to mystify uninitiated users – Oyster. Nothing about ‘oyster’ implies ‘travel pass’, as Ginny Reddish notes in Letting Go of the Words.
In our work we come across many examples, from industries of all kinds, of products and sites which are named according to an institution’s own agenda, and not the users they are intended for. Result: labels and links which provide very little information scent to clue users in to their purpose or nature.
Here are a few classics…
- Omnibox – this is Google’s name for its address bar. Not many people call it this.
- Charms – this is the name for Windows 8’s new set of navigation icons, which appear in a bar on the side of the screen. It sounds more like a feature in an adventure RPG to us.
- X3X Grooves – despite sounding like an MP3 player, X3X Grooves are actually a design feature in one of Nike’s golf clubs
- BuildAssure6 – a warranty for buildings that lasts 6 years - obviously
- ETWeb – not an internet hub for aliens, but a piece of talent-management software for HR professionals