Designing queues in services

Jonny Jiang, PhD
5 min readJun 17, 2020
Photo credit @halgatewood

Impacted by covid19, everything is taking longer than expected, whether that’s waiting in line at a retail store or boarding a plane. We’re even having to queue to shop online. Written by intO’s Jonny Jiang, this article explores how service design might try to bridge the gaps that WAITING is introducing to customer experiences in the retail and hospitality sectors.

—Forward by Clare from

Big queues equate to big problems

When countries around the world urged citizens to socially distance in order to flatten the pandemic’s curve, most of us accepted that queues were a necessary consequence. But as we, globally, begin to try to return to a version of life that we recognise, queues and crowds will be bad news for businesses, public spaces — and people. Aside from the on-going health concerns, in many societies we’re simply not used to having to wait for anything! However, while increased periods of waiting during logistics create gaps in experiences, they also forge new opportunities. I’ve been thinking about how service design can establish a new set of experiences that elevate brands and businesses above their competition by providing real value to users and customers.

One obvious approach is to ‘simply’ move as much as possible online and remove the need for a physical presence. This is what we’ve seen in the UK during lock-down, with many people adopting online retail, for example, for the first time. But as non-essential stores began to reopen, this week, the busy highstreets illustrated that there are plenty of people who’d feel reluctant to abandon physical retail experiences altogether. The solution to waiting problems is most likely going to be a hybrid between the offline and online journey. Here, I’ve mapped some potential approaches…

The pre-booking approach

The pre-booking or ‘by appointment’ approach is more aligned with traditional pre-covid booking systems — particularly here in the UK — and demands that customers plan ahead. Generally speaking, this is very common when arranging special gatherings that demand confirmation that the whole party will be hosted (such as birthday parties or Valentine’s dinners). The consequences of this could be very interesting. One possibility is…