How to apply good UX to a whole city

Or the importance of increasing friction

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User experience is not exclusive to apps and products.

Pontevedra used it to design their city.

It’s a Spanish city of 90,000 people that’s known for removing cars from the city and giving the streets back to pedestrians.

But they didn’t ban cars. That wouldn’t work. Instead, they subtly suggested that cars are not welcomed. They changed their city to create friction for drivers so they stay out of the city center. For example, they:

  • Replaced surface level car parks with underground ones;

  • Replaced traffic lights with roundabouts;

  • Make use of plants, trees, and other obstacles to slow traffic down;

  • Elevated the pedestrian crossings to suggest drivers they’re in pedestrian space.

I’ve been there. And it’s a pleasure to walk in the city. You feel there’s space.

What’s the lesson here? You need to add obstacles and nudges along the user journey to guide them to the right place. You can stray them away from bad actions - as they did with cars - or incentivise the good ones - as they did with pedestrians, who were nudged to get in the city and walk.

💡 Exercise for you: think of your user journey. What can you change in terms of positioning, UX, or copy to incentivize users to complete each step?