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.
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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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iPhone keyboards designed for diverse human needs

Whilst taking the train home the other day, I spotted someone making interesting gestures on their iPhone screen. I was intrigued. It looked like they were using a drawing app but in a text message. Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were writing Chinese characters in a blank space at the bottom of the screen which were then auto-recognised by the phone, presenting a number of characters to select. I found this fascinating.

Apple definitely took a “thinking human” approach for their keyboards and designed with a globally diverse human needs in mind. You can choose from keyboard layouts for Chinese and other languages in your settings. They could’ve easily just offered a single keyboard with Chinese characters mapped to it and left it at that but instead they thought (and most likely observed) how people message each other and created a handwriting focused one as well. Great design.

Apple included this early on iOS software, according to this article on MacRumors: “Apple Includes Chinese Handwriting Recognition in iPhone 2.0 Beta”.

Design observation post each Friday

I’ve been struggling to consistently post to Thinking Human, even though I have content and ideas in my head. I tell myself that I want to write more but that hasn’t translated into actually doing it. Distractions, excuses and procrastination follow and then weeks go by without me realising. I just looked back and I’ve
only written ONE post in October which I’m disappointed with.

This blog is about learning design through observing and deconstructing digital and physical experiences. I’m keen to focus on this so I’m setting myself a goal of one post per week, on a Friday.

Time to get busy and finish my iPhone post I start writing over a week ago.

Brushing up on my Spanish with DuoLingo

Ahead of our trip to Seville next weekend, I’m brushing up on my Spanish with DuoLingo. I really like the app, its simple, responsive and gives a nice mix of listening, translating and writing.

There’s one feature that I particularly like which I discovered whilst doing my lesson on a busy train in the morning. There are speaking questions but I don’t want to embarrass myself or annoy others on the train with my poor Spanish. DuoLingo designed for this scenario. For any speaking parts, they have a button at the bottom ” can’t talk right now” which skips the question, mutes the speaking questions for an hour and skips to the next question. Very nice!

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‘Rising Chair’ by Robert van Embricqs at the Geffrye Museum, London

Emma and I went to the Geffrye museum near Shoreditch over the weekend and saw a great exhibit on “useful and beautiful contemporary objects for the home.” There was one chair in particular that caught our attention, the Rising Chair by Robert van Embricqs. We both loved the way it folded up flat for storage and then expanded out into a pretty comfortable and very nice looking wooden chair.

See the rising chair in action on YouTube

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Affordance of Woodside Library’s Card Scanner

Affordance

At a very simple level, to afford means to give a clue (Norman, 1988). When the affordances of a physical object are perceptually obvious it is easy to know how to interact with it.

Don Normans’ Design Principles

The library card scanner in the San Mateo County Library in Woodside, CA where my parents have moved to, is a good example of Don Normans design principle of Affordance. It guides the user on how to operate the scanner by showing an image of the library card and exactly where to hold it so it scans.

Great idea!