Peter Smart's Idea for Rethinking the Boarding Pass

“Rethink the Airline Boarding Pass” (Peter Smart)

NB: This post was updated on 04-Jun-2016 to remove the photo of my British Airways boarding pass. Although the flight is in the past, I’ve read that it can be dangerous to post boarding passes online as the data contained within the QR code can still be accessed. Speaking of improvements to airline boarding passes, maybe we should be talking about boarding pass security!

I came across the following idea blog by Peter Smart, an award-winning designer from the UK. He proposes a new way of printing airline boarding passes, which are at present unwieldy and complicated. By identifying the three core user groups for boarding passes – passengers, airline staff, and machines – he offers a simplistic design that provides equivalent (if not significantly improved) information quality and format when compared to the existing product.

One constraint that is not completely addressed is colour. While Peter states that the “solution must be printed using only black ink to use existing boarding pass printers and not increase cost implications of printing,” the final designs shown on his website and above make heavy use of colourful airline logos and formatting. However, I don’t see this as a negative – in fact, I think that having colour on boarding passes adds vibrancy and allow airlines significant branding and advertising opportunities (which would likely compensate for the additional cost implications of colour printing).

I think that Peter’s idea is simple, yet fabulously efficient, and I would love to see airlines implement it. My preferred airline, British Airways (BA), has already rolled out a sleek mobile application which has functionality with Apple’s Passbook application. Here are some screenshots of the BA iPhone application:

British Airways Mobile Application - Launch Page

Launch Page

British Airways Mobile Application - Homepage


However, it still makes sense to print paper boarding passes like those suggested by Peter. Firstly, many airlines still don’t have the streamlined mobile interface that BA does. Even for those airlines that allow passengers to print their boarding passes at home, most offer the “collect at the airport” option. I personally always choose this option, since I’d rather not bother printing at home when I could have it done for me at the airport by either an attendant or a machine kiosk – and either way, I usually have to check in a suitcase, so I don’t really save any time by printing at home. Besides, a boarding pass printed at the airport feels much more official than a thin sheet of paper, and my Passbook ticket won’t show my flight’s gate number (it also has some problems with my name, as shown above). Peter’s design can be printed using the existing ticket cardstock, allowing airlines to provide customers an aesthetically-pleasing and efficient boarding pass with the marketing advantages discussed above.

In “Good Ideas and How to Generate Them,” Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres explain that there are two simple methods for idea generation: problems in search of solutions, and solutions in search of problems. The former is the most intuitive for the individual entrepreneur to apply – by identifying a problem in the world and crafting a tailored solution to it. Certainly, it would seem that Peter’s redesigned boarding pass came about as a result of this approach to idea generation. In the idea pitch, he first describes the many inefficiencies of the current boarding pass. By placing the reader in his shoes as a frequent traveler, he makes us “feel [his] pain,” which helps us become aware of and internalize this problem.

Furthermore, Peter raises a cost-related constraint to his design: the need for the ticket to be printed in black and white. However, as discussed before, the final design ended up breaching the limitations of this constraint with good reason. In the absence of the colour constraint, Peter’s process represents what Nalebuff and Ayres call the “What Would Croesus Do? (WWCD)” tool. Named after a “supremely rich” 6th century Lydian king whose name has become synonymous with wealth, the WWCD approach stresses idea generation without any cost constraints. Practicality and affordability are not primary concerns in the idea generation phase, although they may later be important in the design and implementation stages. Breaking the colour constraint has ultimately allowed Peter’s concept to take on significantly more aesthetic (and potentially advertising) value than afforded by a B&W design.

In Peter’s words, “These ideas are the result of 14 flights, 14 boarding passes and one, simple question: “How could this experience be better? The solution is by no means perfect and further iterations will see greater levels of refinement. However, as designers our aim should be to question what is otherwise accepted – a relentless mission to better, simplify and improve the experiences of other people. Innovation starts with a natural distrust of the status quo. When you’re prepared to start asking simple questions of everyday things – the world is suddenly full of possibilities.”


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