My design life has been altered by three really good books:
- Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things
- Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations
- Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think
After reading them, I can’t help but regularly see how I might go about fixing broken designs or simply improving ones that already work.
Last night was no exception.
Exhibit A: The Unusable Trash Can
While looking for a place to discard the remains of my dinner, I passed a row of recycling bins twice. Patrick, being a more intelligent individual, actually read the print on the recycling bins and noticed that one was really a trash can:
I’m all for reading and intelligent thinking, but whoever designed this fleet of waste bins could have done two things to aid their usability:
- Use a different color. Gestalt psychology teaches us that our brains tend to be holistic. When we see things that look the same, we at first believe they actually are the same–or at worst highly similar. I saw three blue bins and assumed all three were for recycling. I was wrong.
- Remove the conflicting text. I don’t know about yours, but my mind juxtaposes recycling and waste. (I think it’s because of all the positive “marketing” I’ve heard over the years about the benefits of recycling over simply throwing things in the trash.) I read “recycling” and stopped reading because I wasn’t looking for a recycling bin; I was looking for a trash can. It was right there in front of me.
Exhibit B: The Red Line
Patrick and I had two options as to which Metro station we wanted to start our trip from. He picked Grosvener-Strathmore over White Flint because he knew that more trains visited Grosvener and that we would be on our way quicker if it was our starting point.
Both stations are on the Red Line and no other lines intersect Grosvener. So why and how can more trains visit it? Naturally, demand for the Metro increases the closer you get to the heart of DC, and they can handle this demand by allowing for trains to reverse direction at this particular station.
How are ignorant people like me supposed to know this helpful information? As I was asking myself this question, my mind subconsciously jumped to Minard’s Napoleon’s March and thought it would be nice if the thickness of the Metro lines on signs and printed material was relative to the frequency of train visits. In short, a thin line would mean few train visits and a thick one would mean more.
Obviously, this idea breaks down if the train schedule is dynamic (which it isn’t) or if a train breaks down on the tracks blocking traffic, which, unfortunately, my sister can attest to. However, under normal conditions, it reflects reality and would probably prove useful as people plan their trips without having to inspect a daunting, six-page train schedule table.
Although neither thoughts are mind-blowing, they struck me as nice ones to reflect on and share.
(See Patrick’s post on Subway Maps and Scope Creep.)