Designing user experience in casinos

What can I learn from Las Vegas? Apart from the fact that I’m addicted to cheese burgers and penny slots, I tried to think about how Las Vegas was designed. After all, it’s 100% artificial, everything there is man-made.

Getting there

Airports are masterful at moving thousands of people in the right direction whilst trying to minimise stress and confusion. I’m always struck by how clear the signage and icons are. Of course, with such large volumes of people there are always problems, but generally I think it’s easy to find your way around.

Las Vegas is almost the complete opposite. The signage in the casinos is intentionally misleading. It’s easy to find the slot machines but if you want the exit, or even some food, you really have to pay attention and keep focused. They are designed to keep people inside, spending money.

So why doesn’t poor navigation annoy casino users?

Well first off, we are all there to gamble, nobody goes to Vegas for a walk in the dessert (despite what the tourism posters try to suggest).

Secondly, they make it so easy for you. You barely have to lift a finger in Vegas. The escalators, taxis and monorails cart you around from casino to mall and back again before you’ve realised the sun is out.

There are so many places to put your money, your mind-set switches from “should I spend it?” to “what should I spend it on next?”.

And the customer service is great. Drinks and refills are always available. If you’re gambling they’ll serve you free drinks, as long as you keep tipping.

Applying this to web design

I was reminded of an article I read on the 37 Signals blog a few years ago, called The Casino Experience. They examine this subject in more detail and it’s a great read. 37 Signals are well known for creating popular web-based apps, designed to meet people’s needs by putting user experience at the forefront.

I’m not suggesting we take some of the slightly under-handed techniques used in casinos and simply apply them to our websites, but we can certainly learn something by examining the “immersive and compelling customer experiences” that casinos create.