Can Natural Interfaces Improve the Experience of Socially Distant Queues?


Ensuring social distance in a single-line, serpentine queue becomes a necessity in a post-pandemic scenario. A Single-serpentine queue ensures fairness, having its principle lie in the ‘first come first served’ rule. Designing better experiences in queues go on to deal with delay times, expectation management and entertainment.

In these newer times, it is necessary to tackle, along with impatience, the rational fear of public spaces and crowds that emerges from concerns on sanitation. The question that arises now is, how can we make the queuing experience unobtrusive, distance-friendly and less overwhelming due to their lengths.

To evaluate the role of ‘natural interfaces’ in queue management in suburban Paris, I chose a town square with high activity, because it had a supermarket, a bakery, a pharmacy and the butcher’s in proximity to one another.


Human Traffic

Place du Stalingrad, Meudon 929190

11am Saturday

Saturday mornings happen to be that time of the week that sees a significant increase in the number of people at "Place Stalingrad". During the confinement, the roundabout would be dotted with people as a result of shops restricting entry to only five people at any point of time. 

I noticed that people would be easily agitated if a co-queuer would step even an inch closer to them than their mental perception of 6 feet.


Upon further observation, I found that in this part of town, which was otherwise tranquil, conflicts would often arise amongst people when queues got too long and  the distance between people decreased. The mismatch of people’s perceptions of a safe distance can raise anxiety even while doing simple chores.

The issue of having ambiguous assumptions of a safe distance is often tackled by enterprises by placing temporary solutions to mark it.


This intervention has certain effects on the minds of people and also on the aesthetics of the environment.


1. Non Intuitive: These measures don't last long enough to make sense in non-pandemic contexts. Proxemic theory suggests the need to maintain social distance to feel comfortable around strangers in any scenario.


2. Temporary: The use of plastic tapes and temporary decals visually pollute the area and can easily become obsolete. Wear and tear due to sunlight, rains, temperature demand constant maintenance in order for it to remain discernible.


3. Defensive: Symbolically, using red tapes or 'black and yellow' tapes generate a feeling of caution by playing a defensive role. These negative connotations might supersede the purpose of maintaining a safe, agreeable distance that relieves the cognitive stress that it takes to place oneself at an acceptable position at all times.

Scope for Intervention

How might I

Ensure a comfortable and pleasant waiting experience using values of natural interfaces, and establish efficient circulation at a busy square. 


The goal was to make the experience positive by eliminating defensive architecture. Showing a sign that tells you what to do instead of restricting behaviour could make this experience positive. I decided to introduce a natural interface to prevent anxiety and discomfort in queueing. 2


On visualising natural interfaces.

Representing Nature and Humans as symbols

Road Verges and Garden Trails

City and suburb dwellers are familiar with roadside strips of grass. There are as many names for those slim semi-public “verge” spaces (typically between streets and sidewalks) as there are everyday safety, aesthetic and ecological uses for them. 3


They guide a pedestrian by providing right of way, by acting as a barrier between sidewalks and traffic as well as reducing the risk of vehicular puddle spray. 

Japanese Stepping Stones

To enable positioning instead of restriction, I borrowed the mental model of Japanese stepping stones. These stones are meant to be stepped on and the rest of the ground is avoided out of respect for nature.

What if verges were intervened by patches of grass. Would people avoid the patches of grass because they feel they must do so? All  while adding aesthetic value to a path?


Effects of Natural Interfaces on Human Behavior

Queue outside Carrefour, Meudon



Queue Theory and Design↗︎