The embodied boarding pass

Juulia Enqvist

Social approaches are becoming more and more important in computing according to Dourish. An individual act in an environment and there is no possibility to separate this individual from the environment, which means that the environment and surroundings have to be taken into consideration. As Dourish explained, interaction highly depends on the setting and environment from a physical, social and organizational perspective. For example consider how an individual interacts with their close friends, colleagues, family and unknown individuals, most probably the person acts differently if they are in their own apartment with their close friends from a long time, in comparison to how they interact in a new office on the first day of work with their new colleagues. Similarly these types of interactions depend on the environment and setting, which is the same when considering interaction with computers and interfaces. Phenomenology, which is the way we see and experience the world and environment around us, is the basis in understanding what is embodied interaction (Dourish, 2011). Phenomenology is a discipline in philosophy in which the way we experience and perceive matters and the world around us affect our behaviour (Stanford dictionary), and it has been around for a long time as a philosophical discipline. As an individual we think and we act and these two, through the phenomenological view, happen at the same time which means that perception, action, understanding and the environment all happen and work together – this is the basis for embodied interaction. Embodiment should be understood in order to understand the role it has within interactive systems. As interactive systems should not be only focused on from the technological point of view but rather be thought of with a phenomenological approach, by deeply looking at the experience and the environment how individuals interact and perceive the system.

Picture 1

As an example I would like to discuss airline ticketing; mobile tickets, which are used with smart phones and have been introduced during the past years, and compare these to traditional paper tickets. Still many passengers tend to prefer the traditional paper tickets when traveling, and this is what I would like to focus on from a physical perspective, and try to think are there aspects that mobile tickets lack from an embodied interaction focus? This passage looks at some physical differences between paper and mobile boarding passes. Markings on paper boarding passes are often made by check-in staff with a pen, they circle gate numbers or boarding times, as seen in picture 1, which cannot be done on mobile tickets. Markings like this and communication with staff, who tell where to go next and at what specific time, can give insurance and comfort to passengers. Also a passenger, older of age or not a frequent flyer for example, might not be familiar in what or where information is presented on the boarding pass; the time or gate number. Additionally, often markings are done onto boarding passes by passport control staff before entering security control, this again cannot be done on mobile tickets.

Picture 2Another physical aspect when comparing the two is that often paper boarding passes are placed in between the passport, and especially in between the personal information page, which makes it easier for a passenger to be able to carry both together (see picture 2). Also when showing both documents to an officer it is easy for them to open the passport to the correct page since usually the boarding pass is in between the correct page. Mobile phones on the other hand, have to always be placed in pockets or bags as well as passports, which both then have to be retrieved when needed, possibly from different pockets or locations.

Picture 3When entering the security check, often boarding passes need to be shown to the security controllers, either the paper one or the mobile pass. If the boarding pass is shown through a mobile, the mobile phone then has to be still placed into the tray which goes through the security scan. If the paper ticket is used the passenger can simply walk through the security gates, because the paper boarding pass will not affect the beeping of the system. Holding onto the boarding pass all the time and not placing it into the tray, can create a sense of reliability and safety for a passenger in making sure that the most important documents are close to them and not lost.

Often after the security check passengers find their gate, if the passenger already has their boarding pass in hand it is easy for them to find the gate number, which might be even circled. Otherwise they have to find their phone and investigate the gate number. Note that often mobile boarding passes do not provide gate information, because it is often updated with relative short notice, which means passengers have to find a departure flight information board, locate their flight and the gate number (see picture 3, where no gate information is provided on the mobile boarding pass). Finding a gate number might be difficult in larger airports where there are several departing flights to the same destination and also if a passenger is in a hurry.

By comparing the two tickets through a physical perspective, it can be seen that there are several differences in usage and how a passenger experiences the travel depending on the ticket type. Using a phenomenological approach to look at the problem to find out the reasons why using one or the other, makes us concentrate on several small aspects that influence the complete passenger experience. This example tries to illustrate that not only a new design solution or enhancement might solve the problem of engaging passengers in using a mobile boarding pass, but rather that the whole environment, social construction and experience should we looked into as a whole. This is what phenomenology is and how it affects embodied interaction.

Dourish defines embodied interaction as engaging with the world and allowing it to make it meaningful, and as the creation, manipulation and sharing of meaning through engaged interaction with artifacts (Dourish, 2011). Therefore saying that there is a relation between an action and the meaning. Considering the previous mobile ticketing example, if this would be ‘embodied’ by passengers, it would mean that they would not even consider doing anything else because it is habitual and a norm for them to use a mobile ticket rather than a traditional paper one. It is important for designers and developers to realise the concepts of embodied interaction, as illustrated before through the example, that interaction does not only limit to the technological devices but rather the whole environment, experience and social construction. As technology develops further and as there are more and more devices available it is even more crucial as a designer to realize what embodied interaction is, and if understood correctly how it can be potentially used in innovative designs.


Dourish, Paul., 2011. Where the action is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, MIT press

Stanford dictionary,

Picture 1.

Picture 2.

Picture 3.


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