Jon Phillips writes about how the user experience of restaurant flow can be redesigned by illustrating the flow in a cafeteria-style space from entry, order and pickup to seating and exit. In his great diagrams he shows how the orginal flow frustrated diners (users) and could be easily re-designed to consider a flow that was immediately understandable--the design he experienced made him feel stupid. Sound familiar?
I think about interior spaces like lines at Whole Foods, where sometimes it makes absolutely no sense (I'm looking at you Columbus Circle) and where other lines seem to have considered this (Union Square sometimes feels efficient). Whole Foods has the problem of not having enough real estate to manage their volume unfortunately.
I remember experiences from my childhood, however, in places like Disney World, where the wait didn't always seem so incredibly grueling because lines are split off to feel shorter, and because distractions make the line feel like part of the experience. Ugh, I take that back. That now makes me think about creative "Loading..." dialogs in Flash. Actually, come to think of it, there are some pretty cool loading experiences in games that give you something fun to do. I also experienced the same with the credits when we recently finished Super Mario Wii.
Jon's article is a must read, if only to think about the problem solving we do and how it is applicable in physical contexts. There's so much opportunity, but I think how unfortunate it is that we don't have UX designers in important places. I think of all the time following the "hanging chad" Florida elections and how poorly designed the polling place in my district in Brooklyn remains, for instance. There's no shortage of UX design need out there.