After a rainy time in Belize, I was ready for a rainy time in Guatemala.
Having mastered the Belize Water Taxi, I felt confident I could navigate the bus system as well. I booked my ticket over the Belize-Guatemalan border through my hostel and thought to myself, "I totally have this travelling thing down."
I listened clearly to the instructions given by the driver, in both English and Spanish. I understood that at the border we would disembark the bus, walk to immigration and pay an exit tax, get our passports stamped, and walk over the bridge to the bus waiting for us. Simple, right?
Arriving at the Belize-Guatemalan border, we exited the bus in the middle of a parking lot, with little signage to tell us where to go next. Like most borders, I was certain a path of people or guards would naturally lead me to the right place. I mean, they aren't just going to let me stroll right over the border, are they?
User experience is communications management
When I find myself purchasing something online that I don't need, it hits me that someone carefully planned that experience. They say Disneyworld is the best prison in the world, because you don't even realize that it has been designed to keep you there.
Every obstacle encountered in your daily actions provides an excuse to turn back. Go hard or go home, they say? Well, I'm going home. Unless you are a super user of a system, unclear instructions can keep your customers away, or make you an accidental illegal immigrant.
When I boarded back on the bus, the driver asked if I had my passport stamped. I did, with a Belize exit stamp. He didn't ask if I had my passport stamped TWICE.....
I walked right past it
So here I am, an illegal immigrant in Guatemala, with no passport entrance stamp...and I blame the user experience. I was provided with no guidance, no signage, just a pathway straight back to the bus. Where was that call to action? I doubt passport control at the airport will let me argue a case for poor communication planning as justification. Now I have to prepare for a few different scenarios.
My flight is early morning, maybe they won't notice...
A little research proves that I am far from the first person this has happened to, and the solution is to pay a fine, but the range varies from 80$-150$USD.
I live in Guatemala now. Visitors welcome. But get your passport stamped upon arrival.
In this very real choose-your-own-adventure story, the solution was to dip into my miscellaneous fund. They charged me 200Quetzales (40$USD) with a receipt indicating that I evaded customs when crossing the border (but I feel that they evaded me).
Communication is at the core of effective user experience. You have to do more than provide verbal instructions, but also guide your users in the desired direction with non-verbal instructions (one-way escalators, scary-looking guards preventing you from just wandering away) so that they realize your desired objectives.
But maybe I got it all wrong and they actually wanted to keep me there. They may have learned a trick or two from Disney.