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May 29, 2007

User experience

Once you start thinking about user experience, I find you start evaluating it everywhere. I find myself in airports cursing their poorly deisgned systems, signage, and so on. I use a remote control for a DVD, and I am rethinking how it could be redesigned. Don't even get me started on mobile phones. One thing I have learned is that when people tell you something is wrong, as a designer its probably your fault not theirs.

Now, I am not usually all thaty sympathetic to motorists caught speeding. It has happened to me once in all my years driving, and while mortified, it was my fault. I didn't see a sign on the way into a town while driving up the coast, and so was sticking to what I thought was the limit.

But this one has caught my eye. Thousands of people seem to have been fined, often hugely, with loss of license, while using a new tunnel, only opened a couple of months ago. My guess is the number of infringing drivers is massively higher than would statistically otherwise be. Which should start alarm bells going. Of course the authorities don't want to address it at all, but, hang on. Surely the point of the system is to ensure safety. The system appears to be completely failing in this regard, becasue far more people than you'd expect statistically, are speeding in these zones. So the system, is clearly broken.

You kinda wonder if they do any user testing at all of traffic systems, given some of the intersections I come to.

Anyway, the roundabout point is, user experience design has a place everywhere, and not just in making people's banking more efficient, or mobile phone use more productive. Ant traffic engineers out there care to way in as to whether UX design is part of road building?

May 29, 2007 | Permalink


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Apparently in the UK they have people dedicated just to road signs on the expressway. I think Chris was telling me about it, they make sure that you get 3 notices about your exit and which lane you should be in. Then once you've made the turn-off, they have another sign that says "you've taken the X turnoff and heading to X" so you don't panic that you've taken the wrong exit.

A nice change from Sydney where if there's a sign, there's also usually a tree obscuring it.

Posted by: Cheryl | May 29, 2007 2:34:56 PM

I think the key to the usability bug is this: you might not realise you've been bitten, but your partner sure does ;)

Road signage here in Sydney is incredibly bad (although that does match the road quality). I actually found it really annoying on the drive down from Brisbane that you'd regularly be told "SPEED! CAMERAS! ARE! IN! USE!" but there wouldn't be a speed limit sign for another couple of kilometres. The signs instantly make you doubt yourself - a bit like totally innocent people feeling nervous when police drive past.

Engineers do have a traffic studies stream/discipline, not sure if usability is part of that. Or at least, not by that name.

Posted by: Ben Buchanan | May 29, 2007 3:34:55 PM

I think the biggest thing about usability is - not many people really think about it (in regards to the people that *should* be thinking about it). I think about usability a lot as well - probably too much. Just this past week I have looked at things and thought 'How could somebody think this is usable or professional?'.

The sad truth is, people who design things would rather blame the user than take responsibility for poor UI/Design. They think that if people are having problems, it must be the users fault and now theirs. The users, in turn, feel as though they MUST be doing something wrong - when in reality it isn't their fault.

Posted by: Nate Klaiber | May 29, 2007 11:44:28 PM