Last week I was in Portland Oregon for the Usability Professional’s Association Conference. It’s my second time in Portland, and I was struck again with how comfortable Portland feels. A common phrase I kept hearing on this trip while talking with people from the conference was, “Have you been to Portland before? It seems like such a nice city.” So I’ve been thinking in the last few days about the concept of a usable city. What makes Portland seem so nice? What makes it feel “usable”. Here are some ideas:
1) Manageable scale: Portland is a manageable city and has a “usable scale”. Meaning, it’s not too big and not too small. You can get a handle on it, but there’s still lots to see. There are some nice looking larger buildings to look at, but it’s not overwhelming.
2) Balance of urban and nature: Portland has a good mix of urban life (sidewalks, stores, cafes) and green spaces (parks, places to sit outdoors). I was especially struck with the idea of a small square in the middle of the downtown that had flowers and Adirondack type chairs where people sat reading.
3) Diversity of people: As you walked the streets there were people young, old, hip, square, all different colors.
4) Get to the airport in 30 minutes for $2.40: OK, I was REALLY impressed with the light rail system… I walk out of my downtown hotel. I walk one very short block with my backpack and roller luggage. I get to the corner and buy myself a ticket for the light rail (the machine for purchasing a ticket is NOT very usable, especially early in the morning by a first time user… that they can improve on). I don’t have to go down an escalator or a set of stairs… so it’s easy with luggage. I just get my ticket from a machine on the street. The light rail train arrives even before I’ve gotten my ticket. It says AIRPORT in big letters. I get on (no steps, just roll the luggage right on) and ride the train about 30 minutes to the airport. It’s quiet enough that I talk on my cell phone without any problem. Best of all, when I arrive at the airport and the door opens I’m IN the airport with the ticket counter in front of me. THAT was impressive. A cab to the airport costs $40… light rail $2.40…same amount of time…
5) Cacao liquid chocolate shoppe: I have to admit that Portland seemed most wonderful and usable after we found the Cacao shop across from our hotel. It’s a small place, with only room for 3 people to sit on stools looking out the window. You order a “shot” of liquid chocolate in one of 3 flavors and sip your warm thick chocolate while watching a soft mist fall outside and talk with friends. It changes your perspective on your day.