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UX in the City: Research on tourist’s experience in Warsaw

Lost in translation


City of Warsaw


To learn about foreign tourists’ experience of Warsaw.


A set of solutions designed to improve tourist’s experience of Warsaw.

Polish language? Stranger than fiction

Anyone who comes to Warsaw and wants to explore it on their own, well... they won’t find it easy! Finding a tourist information center is a challenge to start with. Searching for directions requires being able to comprehend the Polish language; Warsaw’s signage is exclusively in Polish, renowned to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. And just should it happen that a visitor decides to buy a public transport ticket, Warsaw will awash them with an array of various ticket-vending machines. Too confusing! For those arriving in Warsaw for the first time ever a hard time solving riddles is guaranteed!

Getting a tourist's POV

Together with Warsaw Tourist Office, we decided that understanding Warsaw shouldn’t be so hard and that city services need to be more accessible. To do so, we invited people who’d come to Warsaw shortly before the research with an intent to stay longer.

The research group consisted of 10 people from 6 different countries, including the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, and Spain.

Two different routes were designed stopping off at 10 major tourist attractions, each route covered 5 sites in under 5 hours.

10 major tourist attractions

In order to collect the data, we conducted research through Self-Documentation based on Human-Centered Design. The participants were equipped with notepads and smiley and sad emoticons which they could use in their photographs of what they experienced along the way.

9 experts were invited to join the study, representing both design and business - specialists in UX, Branding, Place Marketing, Strategy, or Digital Media.

What did we set out our tourists to check for us? Literally everything!

  • How easy was it to find a tourist attraction?
  • Could they understand the signage or use public transport?
  • Was it easy for them to buy tickets?
  • Were the buildings accessible to people in wheelchairs?
  • Were they able to connect to the wifi? Was there wifi at all?
  • Did they know how to navigate around the city, etc?

We left no stone unturned… Lifts, parking meters, bus stops, ticket machines, buses, trams, metro, mobile apps, electronic payment systems, ticket offices, signs, benches, doors, toilets, information points, and tourists shops. All of these we wanted to hear about.

Paths trodden, lessons learned

We were amazed to learn the outcome of the study. What modern tourists are after isn’t a glossed up version of the city they are visiting. They are far more likely to search for what they describe as the local experience. They want to get to know new places, unique to the city. Curiously, the greatest interest wasn’t created by the biggest attractions; tourist would rather go to a milk bar, a gastro-remnant of the Soviet days, rather than see the monuments.

Our research has shown us the modern way of sightseeing. Tourists these days have various interests, behaviors, age- and family-based needs, which the city should be able to meet.

However, they all have one thing in common, which is being able to access the internet and charge their smartphones in order to better understand and navigate the city and the language.

Clarity is key, and the biggest harm a city can make to the tourists is to confuse them with a complicated navigation system in the local language.

Many of the interviewees were describing problems they encountered which could have been avoided if only English language was used more. Last, but not least, the things we take for granted, which are hugely important to tourists: places to rest, toilets, phone charging points.

A look to the smarter future

As a result of the study, we created 10 ideas for Warsaw and a detailed report on suggested improvements.

Some of them are already being implemented by the city. The simplest and the most important one was the idea for themed maps, mixing both the well known and unknown places. Themed routes should be designed accordingly to the length of a tourist’s visit - a day, a few, a week…

We developed this concept in the project UX Warsaw #2.