It hasn't been a great decade for air travel. And while crappily designed boarding passes aren't at the very top of my list of axes to grind with the airline industry, they're more important than you might think. Just take a look at this great version by UK designer Peter Smart for proof.

Smart is better known for his 50 Problems in 50 Days project, which led him across the world on a 14-flight marathon to solve, as the name suggests, 50 every-day problems. "Somewhere between check-in and boarding, I realized something," he writes. "Boarding passes are pretty awful."

Indeed. And though other designers have attempted redesigns, not much has changed:


Smart decided to try his hand, and what resulted is an exceedingly sensible and thoughtful redesign. You can read Smart's own presentation here, but the condensed version is goes like this.

First, Smart gives the pass a new, vertical format that fits perfectly into a passport when folded in half (and can be printed on airlines' current machines). This is designed to prevent the inevitable misplacement or tearing of the current long, horizontal passes:


He then set up a simple information hierarchy, which organizes information chronologically—so terminal, then gate, then seat, then arrival, and so forth. Finally, an overhaul of the type design adds to the legibility and detracts from the sheer visual clutter:

Beyond the sheer practicality of Smart's solution, my reaction—similar to that of many, I'm guessing—was to wonder why even bother, given that mobile boarding passes are getting more and more common?

I emailed Smart to ask, and while he agreed that digital passes are increasing, millions of paper passes are still printed every year—which makes it a problem worth solving. Beyond that, Smart raised another interesting point:

... The solution isn't the most important part of this project. It is the thinking: it is the willingness to question what is otherwise accepted in order to strive for better, more useable and useful. This applies to paper passes, e-tickets, check-in and every part of airline experience. The solution is only a small part of the story. It is the ability to question the status quo—the notion that we can strive to create better experiences for people—that has caught the attention of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

"They are crying out for it," he added. "The question is will airlines listen?" [Peter Smart; Daring Fireball]