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“Delivery Initiated” A word on having empathy for the users of your software

Dear Reader,

Lost Luggage 1 by Aaron Tyo-DickersonLast week I was in Amsterdam for DrupalCon Amsterdam, 2014. I traveled to Amsterdam from Sofia, Bulgaria where I was attending WordCamp Europe.

The Setup: I lost my luggage

I traveled from Sofia to Amsterdam by way of Frankfurt, Germany. I was traveling via Lufthansa, a great airline if you’ve not yet had the pleasure. As I had lost my travel talisman, I fully expected something to happen along the way and I was not disappointed.

My flight arrived late into Frankfurt and I had to sprint across the Frankfurt airport to get to my flight to Amsterdam. I made it with scarce minutes to spare; my luggage however, was not so lucky. My luggage got an unexpected holiday in Frankfurt for a couple of days. This post is not about my travels or the Eli Travel Curse, I just needed to set things up. I learned something very important in all of this, I learned that we as software developers and designers need to have a great deal of empathy for the people using what we build.

It is not enough to put yourself in your user’s shoes, you have to put yourself in their mindset. You have to design every user interaction with an understanding of not only who is using your software, but why they are using it.

Once I knew my luggage did not make it, I contacted Lufthansa, they handed me off to the company that handles lost bags. I filled out the forms, they gave me a packet with a fresh T-Shirt and a bad razor, give me a copy of the report that included a URL I can visit to check the status, and sent me on my way. It is this URL that is the focus of this post.

The Problem: Developers don’t use their own software

The next day I had not heard from Lufthansa so I decided to check the status on-line. I was greeted with a form from 2004 that asked me for the basic information about my incident and the showed me a status page. That page is the heart of this post. (I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a screenshot)

The form told me that the status was “Delivery Initiated”, that is all, “Delivery Initiated”.

Now as a developer, I respect the brevity of the message. However, as a traveler in a strange land, wearing the same pair of boxers for the second day in a row, I did not appreciate it at all. The message itself was absolutely unhelpful and did nothing to ease my mind – or discomfort.

  • Did this mean they located the suitcase in Frankfurt and it was being delivered to Schiphol?
  • Did this mean that it was in Amsterdam and was being delivered to the hotel?
  • What time did the status change to this?
  • When could I expect to be reunited with my suitcase?

Nope, all I got was “Delivery Initiated”. See, Lufthansa – and the developers of their lost luggage system forgot that nobody uses their system for grins and giggles. There is no option to track someone’s random lost luggage for fun. If you are using this system, you are most likely a little stressed and probably angry at the company. They did not have any empathy for me as the user. If they had they would have given me more information. At the very least, a key off to the side that let me know what “Delivery Initiated” means would have been helpful.


The Solution: Have empathy for your users

A more empathetic system would have given additional statuses.

  • We found your luggage in XXX
  • Your luggage has arrived here in XXX
  • We’ve dispatched a courier with your luggage to your hotel/home
  • Your luggage has been delivered safely, we are sorry for the inconvenience

All of these would have been great statuses to let me know what was going on. Adding a timestamp would have been even better.

It is not enough to put yourself in your user’s shoes, you have to put yourself in their mindset. You have to design every user interaction with an understanding of not only who is using your software, but why they are using it.

  • If you are designing a game, the interactions will be fun, entertaining. Your users are usually in a good mood or looking to kill some time.
  • If you are designing an airline check-in system, your interactions will be streamlined and matter-of-fact. Your users want to get it done and get on with their travels.
  • If you are designing a shopping system, your interactions will help users make a buying decision.

It is not enough to create personas and figure out who is using your software. You need to understand why they are using it, and what their mindset will be when they are using it. You need to have empathy for your users.


It turns out that by the time I checked the online status, my luggage was actually at the hotel. The hotel however had misplaced it. :) Eli, I really need you to give me another bottle of Pyrat Rum. I need a new talisman.

Until next time,
I <3 |<

Photo Credit: Lost Luggage 1 by Aaron Tyo-Dickerson
Used under Creative Commons license