The story of a warning sign at Farringdon station

I noticed a big yellow sign warning at Farringdon Station, giving drivers an important message to do something. When there’s a message added after the fact, whether it’s hand written on a dashboard, a post-it note on a computer monitor or a big poster at a train station, it’s a usually sign there’s a design problem.
farringdon_station_warning_full
After some research on Wikipedia, the Pantograph is pretty important element of the train as it provides power. In this case, it provides power to the train outside of central London where there’s not a third rail powering the tracks.
pantograph (or “pan“) is an apparatus mounted on the roof of an electric traintram or electric bus[1] to collect power through contact with an overhead catenary wire.
So why is there a warning telling drivers to lower it? What happens if they forget to lower it? After a quick google search, I found an incident at Blackfriars in January 2014 which caused major delays after the holidays and guess which station they were coming from… yep, Farringdon!
‘Today at 10am a Sevenoaks-bound service broke down at Blackfriars railway station after one of the pantographs, used to collect power from overhead lines north of Farringdon, hit the ceiling.
Interesting that a simple warning sign at a station has a much bigger story.
With thoughts of designing experiences and users not reading anything, I question the effectiveness of a sign and trusting that the train driver will read and respond to it every time. It may provide a short term fix but ultimately this needs to be incorporated into the design of the trains and the platform to prevent the train from continuing when the pantograph needs to be lowered.
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Hey Siri, OK Google, Is my train on time?

Emma and I were running late the other morning, the clock ticking nearer 7:41 and causing a bit of rush with the morning commute. We took separate cars since we were coming home at different times. As I drove towards the station, the question I really wanted to know was “is the train on time?”. If there were two people in the car, one person could look it up but that wasn’t the case.

With current voice activated features I would need to say something very descriptive like “is the 741 from Hackbridge station to City Thameslink on time?”*. This is not the language I speak, it’s computer-speak not human language. Thinking human would be answering a question I would ask to the person next to me in the car.
*Train times command not available yet but it would be something like this so the computer could interpret it more easily.

This is a perfect scenario for an Intelligent Personal Assistant and it already has access to the data points it needs to answer my question:

  • The current time
  • My location using GPS
  • Train times using the National Rail’s API

The data that is currently difficult for a Siri-like assistant to get is my habits like “which train do I normally take, from which station to my normal destination”. This is currently not available in intelligent personal assistants, to my knowledge. However, it could guess based on the frequency of a location I visit at a certain time of day or, less technically, it could be manually provided by me as a setting.

Intelligent personal assistants are becoming standard in mobile devices with the likes of Siri, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon Echo all competing for our voices. A recently added a feature activates the assistant by saying a phrase like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google”.

With this, combined with the knowledge of my daily routine, I expect “Hey Siri, is my train on time?” will not be far away. Apple, let me know when this is ready.

Hidden Helper: Garmin Nuvi’s Junction View

During our week’s holiday in Spain, we had a new guide with the Garmin Nuvi 3597 GPS replacing our old but trusty GPS from 2009. I found the Junction View the most helpful feature of the new version but it wasn’t immediately visible. As I was driving, the hidden helper popped open and helped solve the classic question of navigating: “what lane should I be in?”. Overall, very useful for the driver with a clear view of the road and even the road sign you should look out for.

BusCheckers’ skeumorphic design is very intuitive

I took the bus last week to basketball practice and while I was walking to the stop I wondered when the next bus was. I had a quick scan of the App Store and found BusChecker. I found it incredibly easy and intuitive to use.

Things I liked

  • Skeumorphic design made it intuitive to read e.g. digitally represented a physical bus stop sign
  • Buses that stop there are all listed on the sign
  • See bus arrival times in grid below which mimics the sign at an actual bus stop
  • Touch a bus number to filter arrival times for just that bus

Overall, very simple and easy to use. I’ll be using it again!

Simplicity of Paris’ #5 Metro Train Map

When we were in Paris last week, it was nice to see such a simple and usable map onboard the #5 metro line. It tells you exactly what you need to know and gives good visibility and feedback to the user:

  1. The next stop blinks – in this case it’s “Richard-Lenoir”
  2. Illuminated dots indicate stations coming up
  3. Stations visited are disabled
  4. Closed stations are also disabled like “Oberkampf”
  5. Underneath,  a Circular “M” indicates which Metro lines you can change to or “RER” for other train services

Simple and effective.

More feedback while on the Tube

Although the London tube map is easy to read, it had something to learn in terms of feedback to the user. On the Paris Metro, I found the “blinking light” indicating the next stop an especially useful feature.

Feedback is about sending back information about what action has been done and what has been accomplished, allowing the person to continue with the activity. 

From Don Normans’ Design Principles