An example of good and bad usability design

After travelling between Oslo and Stockholm several times I started making note of an interesting example of good and bad usability.

When you arrive at the platform where you wait for the airport express train in Oslo you meet the following board:

It clearly states that the next train will leave at 17:45

And, I ask you: is this really the information you want?

If you say “yes, of course I want to know when the train leaves when I am at the station“. Think again.

I don’t think so. This is what you do:
You look at the sign:
Okay, the train leaves at 17:45…

Then you find the nearest watch:
…right, it’s now 17:39..

Then you do some calculations:
…let me see.. the train will leave in 6 minutes… okay, I have time for a coffee!

Is this good usability design? Is this following basic rules like “give the user the right information”, “make it fast and simple for the user to find the answer”?

So, what you want to know when you are at the station is how many minutes you have before the train leaves.

When you plan your trip the day before is something else. At that point you want to know at what time the different trains leave. But, at the station you want to know how many minutes will I have to wait?

An interface that consist of one single line of information and they got it wrong. Usability design is hard.

So, arriving at Stockholm Airport Arlanda I go for the Airport Express train, and meet this sign:

Arlanda 2 minutes left
Yepp, the Swedes got it right…

In addition to this, the Swedes have a sign up in the airport giving some more information. This is because you want more information when you plan in advance, and still being up in the airport is in advance. It’s before you have taken the escalators down to the station. At that point you might want to decide to take the next train. Well down at the station chances are small that you want anything else but the next train.

An example of good and bad usability design

5 thoughts on “An example of good and bad usability design

  1. Christian says:

    As a swede I guess I should shut up and be proud that we done something right for once, but I disagre with you. I don’t want a sign telling me how many minutes it is before the train/airplane/horse wagon or what ever leaves. What I want is WHEN it leaves because I can count out the minutes for myself… but it’s much harder to do it the other way, especially if you went for that coffee break. “Hmm… let see, the sign said 15 minutes when I left for coffee and that was 8 minutes ago? 12? 17? Am I in time? Am I late? Have I missed the train? I don’t now…”

  2. Can’t disagree with that. However, in both Oslo and Stockholm you have big tables with the exact times for the next trains in the arrival hall to look at before you descend to the platform. This is where you want to know when the train leaves.

    You would probably never find yourself down at the platform with more time to spare than the couple of minutes where you wonder “How long do I have to wait?”

    But, I guess the best solution would be to show both. The time of departure and how many minutes to departure.

  3. Sumi says:

    Well I agree with this but still cannot ignore suggestions by Christian as I will really get confused if I see only the counter there. May be a clock and a counter will help. I feel that providing a counter alone would panic me more than showing the time. If I see that there are 5 minutes for the next train to arrive, I can go for a coffee but the same thing depicted through a counter would make me to panic and simply wait (without going for coffee)

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