From Madrid to New York in 3 jobs-to-be-done

A tale of good and bad user experiences while doing an international trip

When organizations design their interactions with their clients they usually forget they are just a part of a bigger job-to-be-done. Most of them think on the different interactions as individual elements from different departments when they should be one system no matter if the interaction is going to be with a person, a sign, a screen, an audio or a physical object.

As an example, I’ve analyzed all the interactions I had on my trip from Madrid to New York. I interacted with Madrid Airport, Iberia, JFK Airport, Google Maps, Uber and New York Subway.

First job-to-be-done: Get on the plane


  • A day before the flight I received an email from Iberia saying that I could do the check-in. I clicked on the email but it gave me an error. I reloaded the page and it seemed it was allowing me to do the check-in. However when I submitted, it said that I needed to go to the airport. Iberia 👎
  • When I entered the Departures area of the airport, I quickly saw a big screen with all the flights. I searched for my flight and I got the counters I had to go. Madrid Airport 👌
  • I reached the counters and there was only one line (read queueing theory for more info). Iberia 👌
  • The queue was full of people but only half of the counters were open and some of those had a closed sign above. This confused some people. Iberia 😤
  • At the beginning of the queue there was a screen indicating the next passenger to go to a specific counter. The idea is great but there were three problems:
    (one) the screen was on the left but passengers were looking right to the counters so some didn’t notice the screen
    (two) the screen had a delay of 10 seconds so it was easier for Iberia employees to waive their hands
    (three) the UX of open/close counters was confusing
    Iberia 👎

Reach the boarding gate

  • I had to scan my boarding ticket in order to access the passenger control area. It worked instantly. Madrid Airport 👌
  • There was only two big queues and they weren’t full of people. Madrid Airport 👌
  • After crossing the passenger control area, there are some buttons that ask you for you opinion about their service in 1 second. Madrid Airport 👌
  • There is a big screen to check again where you have to go, the signs are really clear. I reached the boarding gate without any doubts. Madrid Airport 👌

Second job-to-be-done: Survive a 7h flight

I’ve written ‘survive’ because for many people that’s their job, and emotionally it’s not an easy job in fact.

  • My entertainment screen wasn’t working. The stewardess told me she was going to reboot it but it didn’t worked. Luckily I had an empty seat next to me. If I hadn’t, my flight would have seemed longer. Iberia 😤
  • The entertainment system is reasonably well done. It has a favorites section which is, surprisingly, a really interesting and useful feature. I wonder how many people use it. Iberia 👍
  • The new Iberia planes show you a live video of the flight while taking off and landing. It’s really cool until the very last minute of landing when you think you are going to crash because you can see the houses, buildings and roads just below you. I could feel the tension in the environment. It’s a nice feature with negative side effects. Iberia 😨

Third job-to-be-done: Reach the apartment

Cross customs control

  • We arrived at JFK airport. After a maze of corridors, I reached customs control. There was a sign which indicated that American residents, VISA owners and returning ESTA passengers should go to the left; others must go to the right. I understood it correctly but many people didn’t; airport personnel had to answer many questions. JFK Airport 😵
  • I kept walking and there was another split, this time without any sign. Some people in front of me doubted where to go. They were parallel queues going to the same place. JFK Airport 👎
  • There were two airport agents trying to organize this step (left machines for left queue, right machines for right queue) but some people were impatient, others were doubtful, others didn’t move until the airport personnel told them to do so. JFK Airport 👎
  • I was indicated to go to a machine but it was blocked. The airport agent told me to wait. It took one minute to get unblocked. I scanned my passport and it didn’t work. The airport agent came and asked me if I had a visa. As I have, she scanned the visa. I answered the questions that I already answered on the blue paper that I filled on the airplane, and a paper got printed. I took it without looking. JFK Airport 😓
  • 3 meters ahead, there was another split with two signs. A sign with a crossed document with an arrow pointing to the right and a non-crossed document to the left. I looked at mine and it was crossed. There was another airport agent there helping passengers. JFK Airport 🤔
  • This new queue ended on the customs agents. We were like 30 people and there were only 2 agents working. At that moment I was wondering what was the need of the machines if we had to talk to the custom agents anyway. The people who didn’t have a cross on their documents only had to show that document to a customs agent. JFK Airport 😤
  • The airport agent of that queue decided to place people on small queues in front of each customs agent booth. Of course, I got bad luck and mine was slower. What was the need of dividing the queues? JFK Airport 😡
  • For the umpteenth time, I had to scan all my fingers and take a photo. USA government has more photos of me than myself. Luckily it took little time. JFK Airport 😓
  • After leaving the booth I had to choose between the left or right baggage carrousels. There was no screen to decide. I went right but mine wasn’t there. I had to go back and go left. JFK Airport 😭
  • My baggage was already there. Goodness! 👌

Reach my brother’s apartment

  • I had to choose how to reach the apartment, if by public transportation or by Uber/Lyft. As I didn’t have mobile connection on my phone, I connected to the free airport WiFi. It took 3 steps and one ad that I don’t remember. JFK Airport 😬
  • I checked Google Maps and it indicated that Uber could cost me between $17 and $43. I opened Uber app and the cost of Uber pool was $46. Uber 😠
  • I tried to download Lyft but the Internet wasn’t that good. JFK Airport 😔
  • So I checked how to go by subway. I took a screenshot of Google Maps indications and I was ready to go. Google Maps 👍
  • The first step was going to the Airtrain. It was indicated well. However, if it wasn’t for Google I wouldn’t have known that I had to take the Airtrain to go to the subway station. There was no sign on the terminal. Google Maps 👍, JFK Airport 👎
  • I reached the Airtrain station but there were two platforms. There was a train on one of them. Should I take it? How could I decide quickly? There was no fucking way of knowing. There were screen on both platforms indicating the next stops but from 6 meters I didn’t know what to choose. The train left. JFK Airport 😫
  • Looking at a help screen I discovered which platform I had to choose. However I didn’t see the station name from Google Maps indications. The train came and I entered without being sure if I should stay in this train for much longer; but I hoped I could make sense of it during the way. A Japanese family run to the train and before entering they asked me if that train went to Jamaica station. I told them I didn’t know. They looked confused. As I was. The train left. JFK Airport 😰
  • I looked at the map on the train and I discovered that the J subway line starts in Jamaica station. In two more stations I had to change to another train. This was the first good map of the airport. JFK Airport 🙃
  • After changing trains, I reached Jamaica station and when I was about to look how to go to the subway; I found a barrier of lathes with the sign “$5 Airtrain”. I looked right and there were many people paying on some machines. I went to one of them, I clicked on the Airtrain+subway combo and I tried to pay with my credit card but it didn’t work. An employee came and she told me to not push the credit card. It was an old machine it seems. JFK Airport 👎
  • After that I followed the sign of the J subway line and I reached an area with 6 platforms and many train lines and names. I started to look around to see if I could see the J line or the name of the last stop. I looked at Google Maps for the last stop but I couldn’t see that name on the platforms. I advanced to the middle, and when I was starting to get frustrated, I saw at the end a J sign with an arrow. The platforms in the middle were for the trains, not for the subway. JFK Airport 😭
  • I finally reached the J subway line. However, a train was stopped at the very beginning of the platform. After some minutes an employee started to talk through the speakers of the train station. There was no way of understanding what he was saying. No one was understanding him. The audio quality was horrendous. New York Subway 😩
  • 10 minutes later the train achieved to re-start but it didn’t stop on the platform. 5 minutes later another train arrived. New York Subway 😩
  • Once I was on the train, the train operator said through the speakers that we were going to skips stops. Again, the audio quality was really bad. And there was no way of knowing on that train where we were or which were the next stops. New York Subway 😱
  • After I reached my station, I checked Google Maps — luckily it kept the map as I had no Internet connection — and I start walking on the direction it indicated me. I checked again one minute later and I realized the Google Maps was confused and I was walking on the wrong direction. Google Maps 😓
  • Finally I was at the building where my brother lives. I got the key and I walked inside. The apartment is the 6D. I noticed that there was no lift and I had to go up five floors. I reached the second floor and I saw that the apartments signs were like 1B, 2B, 3B…. I realized the floor is the letter, so I had to go up three floors instead. Building owner 😓
  • I reached the door. It had three locks but I had only one key. I hit on my second try. Apartment owner 😓

My third job was done and I was really tired of it. It had been really exhausting.

When you read the previous interactions you realize how much good you can do with better signs and defaults. On digital we spend so much effort optimizing our funnels. The offline world is more forgotten. But people are really confused on where to go and real world is more frightening. At least in digital we can close the app or website. On real life we have to decide what to do.