Week 7: Final Project Research

For my simulated final project I have selected the theme of waiting. This past week I dug into doing some research on waiting. I looked into psychology of slowing down and boredom, the psychology of waiting in lines,  waiting design (formally known as service design) and waiting narratives. I also brainstormed different types of waiting and categorized them by type. Here are some summaries from my findings.

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

Boredom/Slowing down

Default mode network - our brain when we are “bored”

“It is during these times that we might be daydreaming, recalling memories, envisioning the future, monitoring the environment, thinking about the intentions of others, and so on--all things that we often do when we find ourselves just "thinking" without any explicit goal of thinking in mind.”

In her TED Talk, podcaster Manouch Zomorodi talks about how learning about this inspired her to write a book about our relationship with devices and why default mode is important:

So our body, it goes on autopilot while we're folding the laundry or we're walking to work, but actually that is when our brain gets really busy. Here's boredom researcher Dr. Sandi Mann: ‘Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. It's really awesome, actually.’

In this “default mode” a few things happen according to Zomorodi:

  • we connect disparate ideas

  • solve some of our most nagging problems

  • do "autobiographical planning”, looking back on our lives, taking note of big moments, create a personal narrative and set goals and figure out steps to reach them

There is still a lot about it that isn’t well understood, but with constant stimulation from devices, this is happening less frequently for the average person.

Other related ted talks:


Psychology of waiting in lines

NYTimes - Why Waiting is Torture

  • “This story hints at a general principle: the experience of waiting, whether for luggage or groceries, is defined only partly by the objective length of the wait.”

  • “Occupied time (walking to baggage claim) feels shorter than unoccupied time (standing at the carousel).”

  • Research on queuing has shown that, on average, people overestimate how long they’ve waited in a line by about 36 percent.

  • Mirrors are next to elevators so that people have something to pass the time with

  • For the same reason, supermarkets have impulse buy items

  • Uncertainty magnifies the stress of waiting

  • Feedback on waiting experience can make it better

  • Experiences of waiting strongly influenced by final moments

  • “Slips and skips” in line - demand for fairness

  • Lines are a social system

  • Choosing lines - people focus on the line they’re “losing” to instead of the one they are beating

  • Fairness also dictates that the length of a line should be commensurate with the value of the product or service for which we’re waiting.


More on The Psychology of Waiting in Lines

  • People want to get started

  • Anxiety makes waits seem longer

  • Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits

  • Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits (same idea as feedback)

  • Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits

  • Solo waits feel longer than group waits

Service Design/Queueing theory

There is a whole science around making people wait in lines! Everyone points to Disney as the master fo this.


More Psychology of Waiting

  • 8 principles

    • Emotions dominate

    • Eliminate Confusion

    • The Wait must be appropriate

    • Set expectations

    • Keep people occupied

    • Be Fair

    • End Strong, Start Strong

    • Memory of an event is more important than the experience

  • Design Implication: Make the surrounds bright and cheery, attractive and inviting.

More resources on queueing theory


Art About Waiting

I also revisited one of my favorite plays, Waiting for Godot, to understand what makes the play so compelling. The whole plot is people waiting together (for Godot) and the whole time it’s unclear who Godot is or why they are waiting for him or when he will come. I found the below diagram that explains really concisely the emotional arc that makes the play work:


Waiting Experiences

For something to start - anticipation:

  • Movie

  • Summer

  • For someone to come back

  • Pot to boil

  • Cookies to be done

  • Internet dial-up

  • Tape to rewind

For something to change:

  • Delay on an airplane

  • Delay on the subway

  • Stoplight to turn green

  • Someone to leave

  • Ice to freeze/Ice to melt

For something to arrive:

  • Subway platform

  • Bus stop

  • Santa

  • Letter

  • Phone call

  • For a friend

  • Takeout delivery

  • Food at restaurant

  • Coffee order

  • Elevator

  • Email

  • Text

In line:

  • Post office

  • Grocery Store

  • Airport

  • Drive through

  • DMV

  • Voting

  • Doctor’s office

For something to pass by:

  • Cars when crossing the street

  • On the sidewalk: birds, dogs, bikers, joggers

  • Parade

  • Race


And finally, from Phantom Thread:

Reynolds: “Waiting for what?”  Alma: “For you to leave me”

Reynolds: “Waiting for what?”

Alma: “For you to leave me”