I have been flying a rather insane amount over the last few weeks. I complain about a lot of things when I’m traveling: the food, babies, people that insist on stuffing overhead luggage when it will NOT fit, etc. The one thing I have never considered is the boarding pass. Tyler Thompson has written an excellent article on why the boarding pass is indeed worthy of scrutiny. Take one look at the old Delta pass above and you’ll see why. As he states, “It was like someone put on a blindfold, drank a fifth of whiskey, spun around 100 times, got kicked in the face by a mule (the person who designed this definitely has a mule living with them inside their house) and then just started puking numbers and letters onto the boarding pass at random”.
Tyler has done Delta a big favor and redesigned their boarding pass, the design of which you see above. I think it’s obvious that aesthetically, these are much more pleasing to the eye. I would want to hold onto these after my flight was over just because they look awesome. Now of course, the design of a boarding pass has to be more than just beautiful. There are a number of criteria and limitations in place that might prevent your boarding pass from becoming a little piece of art. Worth mentioning in this regard is Timoni Grone’s response to Tylers inital designs. She runs through a meticulous process to come up with a redesign of her own, taking into account all the necessary “practicalities and priorities”.
The cool thing about his project is how he opened it up to others to submit reworkings and suggestions, a few of which he’s posted as you scroll down his page. He’s provided the Illustrator file for download and tweaking. Make sure to head over there and submit yours if you’ve got something brewing. And feel free to sound off if you too feel like the boarding pass design is indeed a fail.
I must say my favorite part of any boarding pass is the little scribbles the security guards make when you pass the initial check at the metal detectors. They do it with such purpose and apparent deliberation, that I think the scribbles must mean something. I always wonder what would happen if I augment their scribbles with scribbles of my own (or scribble before they do). Would I get sent to Homeland Security? Maybe two scribbles on your boarding pass = terrorist. Anyway. I feel safe knowing we have such a complicated system in place.
I could write a similar article about the terrible design of movie tickets, which I feel have slid drastically in the past few years. Since when is a movie ticket printed on receipt paper worth saving? I used to love hoarding all of my movie ticket stubs — now, calling it a “stub” would be an absurd misrepresentation. I call my movie tickets trash.
34 Comments Leave A Comment
blackabee says:January 6, 2010 at 11:16 am
the type work is exceptional. My favorite one is the top design with the huge 29 for the gate. I always stare at my boarding passes looking for my gate number.
Anonymous says:January 6, 2010 at 11:23 am
great idea. I flew this weekend for a design presentation i had to make in Seattle. While I was sitting in the airport i was thinking about the Arrivals and Departures screens. I feel like those could be drastically improved as well. I travel up and down the west coast a lot, and so far i enjoy the signage in the Sacramento airport the most.
What are other people’s favorite airports for signage?
David says:January 6, 2010 at 11:29 am
Once upon a time the design would have been limited by the serial printers that generated them. Even today, many of the airlines license the software/hardware that generates their tickets, and those vendors are incentivized only to minimize costs.
Jesse says:January 6, 2010 at 11:29 am
I thought i would post a small example of the Sac-to airport signage from from what i said above. Take a look
NAVIS says:January 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm
These are great – the only problem I see is that airlines would then charge you another $20 for the new tickets on top of a $20 baggage handling fee. Over Christmas, I paid $40 r/t for checking my bag and on the way back, it was delayed a day and a half. Clearly, money well spent.
In case you didn’t know, BAGS FLY FREE on Southwest Airlines. BAGS FLY FREE BAGS FLY FREE BAGS FLY FREE BAGS FLY FREE ;lkasdjf;asflj.
Tim says:January 6, 2010 at 12:21 pm
Jesse – that Sacramento signage is just awesome!
Alex – I’m comforted to hear that US cinema tickets have recently degenerated from card stubs to ‘receipt paper’ too – I feared that might be just a nasty trait of UK cinemas trying to save money. I can appreciate that a smaller ticket on thinner paper stock will save cash and materials, but man they are so horribly designed, they literally look like a receipt and the type is always illegible. They go straight in the bin when I get home from movies nowadays :(
Jeff says:January 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm
Definitely agree about the movie tickets as well. I have been saving ticket stubs from all the events I have attended over the years, but like you said, now it’s usually just a lame printed receipt. I guess it’s hard to argue if it’s a cost thing, but as a designer I miss getting real “tickets” to save as mementos.
albi says:January 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm
i do not agree. ok, the original is not a beauty. but the two redesigns with that black bar do not work. should every airline print their passes digital? or how is the white font on a black or blue background done?
the first one is okay. but actually i do not like fonts this condensed. in my opinion it is readable as bad as the orignial boarding pass, which simply got no hierarchy. i think this is a type thing between europe and america. we do not really love to read that consensed types.
Alphonse says:January 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm
The only thing I’d consider a failure is putting JFK-SEA.
Nic says:January 6, 2010 at 2:02 pm
I agree with Albi. The colour print is a problem. I must admit that it looks cool, but too much cost in a thing that it will be going directly to garbage once it is used.
The original Delta boarding pass looks terrible anyway.
Design Police says:January 6, 2010 at 3:01 pm
Insert predictably witty “designer” comment here>> i like it :) <<.
cheddar says:January 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm
I have to say I agree in part with Albi there, not only on the colour print but moreso on the legibility of that condensed typeface used. It’s easy for a bunch of us design snobs to sit here and criticise but the fact is that these products have to be used in the real world. I agree that the original is a bit ill-thought through and shows a poor use of available space but I think if you were to quiz the check-in or cabin crew, for example, they would find it a lot easier to pick info off that original than one of these self-conscious designery alternatives, especially considering they’d have to glance at probably hundreds a day…I guess what I mean is a redesign would be good but as designers we have to strike the balance between our own aesthetic gratification and the practical demands of those who use our products on a regular basis… no? :)
Nick Hudspeth says:January 6, 2010 at 7:18 pm
I’m loving these! I’m especially fond of the layout of information on the top one. What’s the typeface used on the redesigned passes?
Josh says:January 7, 2010 at 5:57 am
I have to agree with Navis 100% on this. I flew Delta awhile back and printed my tickets at one of the kiosks. After the initial shock of having to pay another 50% of what it cost for my seat just to check my bags, I went up to the desk to drop my bags off and asked for one of paper ticket jackets. (I tend to stuff my tickets in my pocket, and they rip pretty easily, so I like having them in those paper holders to keep them from ripping.) It turns out they aren’t even making those anymore. The ticket agent said they had stopped making those because they “were trying to cut costs.” Yeesh, you charge me $40 for bags, but you can’t provide a simple piece of paper, which happens to be a common airline “amenity” that has been around since they start of the airline industry? Seems pretty ridiculous to me.
All that to say, I am reluctant to think that Delta will do anything to improve themselves cosmetically for their consumers after the point of purchase. I’ve definitely had a rethinking in my airline preferences, and now try to fly Southwest as much as possible: Free bags, and no penalizations for changing your ticket. Oh yeah, and they are usually cheaper anyway.
Christel says:January 7, 2010 at 6:37 am
After all the mad flights around the holidays I would have loved to have a ticket like that. At first glance I actually mistook my seat number for the gate number due to poor layout, but luckily I got where I was going in the end.
Phil says:January 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm
Love the composition, simplicity, and heirarchy, but the narrow font and all-uppercase is difficult to read and discern word-forms.
igl says:January 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm
I actually found the information i would need on the old one quicker :P
There must be more ecological alternatives for such a short lasting disposable item. Could definitly be more minimalistic. Think about it.
Chris says:January 10, 2010 at 10:48 am
Building on Albi’s concerns, not only is the print job impractical, think about its usage after being issued. In the heat of the moment, many airlines will change gates/times/seats before the system that prints the tickets can react or after a ticket has been printed. It’s much harder to strike through white on dark gray and there isn’t as much space left to write in a correction that could over power the gigantic printed information. The gate number in the first design would be particularly ridiculous to scribble out.
The bar code placement would most likely be a bane for airline workers. Smaller and less padded means more misreads. It’s position and orientation is a departure from the more standard centered-at-the-end-of-the-punch-card position where a passenger can just point the bar code end of the ticket towards the attendant in a ready-to-scan way. Rotating and placing the bar code in the corner means that grab-and-scan will most likely become grab-and-rotate-and-scan. This might sound Seinfeldian in a single use case, but any efficiency degradation taken to an airport’s level of demand will become apparent.
All that said, I applaud the attempt. The current state of airline tickets is far from where they need to be. Just consider all of the ways it could be used.
Austin says:January 11, 2010 at 7:33 am
Great looking but just not practical. These tickets are printed quickly and by standard serial printers. It just wouldn’t work, without of course [as Navis said] an additional $20 just to check in.
Troy Lehman says:January 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Could agree more
Garrett Haas says:January 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm
The bit about scribbles is brilliant.
Thanks for a laugh.
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JaidgeDiere says:April 4, 2010 at 12:41 pm
cafe says:July 23, 2010 at 3:37 am
Albatross says:January 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm
Okay…The ultra-condensed-type-set-sparingly-on-superfluous-grids look was dope on the Feltron annual reports (http://feltron.com/ar08_02.html) and many other design projects… it was a little silly when the NYTimes magazine switched to the same look, but it only comes on sundays so no biggie.
But enough is enough, kiddos. I was glad to see something finally tear us away from Gotham, but please.. no more Knockout, pleeeeaaase!
An industrial design problem like boarding passes is the worst place for a graphic solution that so unabashedly prioritizes trends and aesthetics over function, legibility and lifespan (trendier designs need to be re-designed more often than those boring, plain effective designs).
Albatross says:January 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm
Okay…The ultra-condensed-type-set-sparingly-on-superfluous-grids look was dope for a while… the Feltron annual reports were fresh (http://feltron.com/ar08_02.html) and plenty other projects… but by the time the NYTimes magazine redesigned itself to the same look, it was getting pretty annoying.
Enough is enough, kiddos. I was glad to see something finally tear us away from Gotham, but please.. no more Knockout, pleeeeaaase!
An industrial design problem like boarding passes is the worst place for a graphic solution that so unabashedly prioritizes trends and aesthetics over function, legibility and lifespan (trendier designs need to be re-designed more often than those boring, effective and appropriate designs).