Wednesday, 30 June 2010

CERN LHC smashes beam collision record

Having worked on the CERN LHC project to design the control room, we somehow feel part of the project (despite the fact that we understand absolutely nothing about the physics!).

So it's great to see the programme advancing and meeting its objectives -


Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Understanding how the train service operates

Much of the human factors work we do in the transport industry is, in the end, about making the train service more passenger and therefore customer focused. Criticising the railways in the UK for being too inward focused on how they operate has often been too easy. One example of this is in how train operating companies explain to the passengers what is happening when things go wrong. All too often this is done using technical "railway" language: they talk about trains as units, they talk about "operational difficulties"...And they don't have an easy way to explain why they take certain decisions to recover the service.

So it was good to see First Capital Connect making an effort to explain some of the background to operational decisions so that the passenger can make more sense of what is going on (see This information is on their website and also on posters on their trains.

Understanding what is happening can remove a major source of stress from the travelling experience.

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

The many uses for iPad

People find amazing ways to use new technology and quickly adapt it for their own use.  We spotted this great example of a doctor in Japan using the iPad to make it easier for him to manipulate the images he uses during surgery.

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Monday, 21 June 2010

Our Top 10 Station Hates

Working on a number of station design projects prompted some lunch-time discussion at CCD on what we hate about stations - remembering we are all commuters as well as designers!  So here is our Top 10 hates about stations.

1. The way the design of stations means that groups of people congregate, with all their luggage, in the same place as the main flow of people moving through the station. A difficult issue to sort!

2. The location of equipment, in particular ticket machines and information boards, that encourage people to stop and gather again blocking some of the flows of people. This is avoidable.

3. The dreadful usability of some ticket machines - they are slow and the touchscreens unresponsive; they use non-QWERTY keyboards making entry of destination information etc harder

4. Why do ticket machines give so little information on things like fare types? Saying "this ticket has restrictions" is no help to anyone.  A simpler fare structure would help too.

5. Queues for ticket machines and windows - more ticket machines are helping but doesn't stop us hating the queues

6. We understand that ticket gates are necessary for revenue protection but their reliability, especially at peak times, is a hate - the frequency with which tickets are not accepted raises the annoyance factor for all and is really embarassing for those stuck with the dud ticket.  A stress we could do without

7. Why is signage so often unhelpful for those not in the know?  For example, signs directing you to either an eastbound or westbound service assumes some knowledge of the local geography

8. Where the revenue from advertising and retail comes before wayfinding - sticking adverts in front of information signs is a biggie; or sticking useless signs telling you to "take care" just where you can trip over them.

9. Toilets that are poor quality AND you have to pay extra to use - the new minimum standards should help this

10. Why is the level of information provided when things are going wrong so poor? Operators try hard but it never seems good enough - and a pre-recorded apology doesn't do much to help. Better ways to disseminate information AND more meaningful information please (no more "operational difficulties")

Now, we'd like to think that we're a bunch of people who want to look positively and get involved in the solution not just rant about problems for others to sort - the discussion suggested we've got some work to do!

What do you think about UK stations and what needs fixing?  Or better still, what do you love that we need to do more of?


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Pedestrian Countdown Trial in London

At CCD, much of our work is on transport systems and we are always interested in designs that help improve the passenger, or in this case, pedestrian experience.

Transport for London are conducting an interesting trial in to the use of countdown indicators on pedestrian crossings.  The countdown signal shows the person crossing how long you have to cross the road after the "green man" light has gone out and before the red man light goes on.

As an intial reaction it seems like a positive step in giving more information to the passenger, removing a source of stress and uncertainty, etc.

Of course the really useful information would be to show how long until the traffic is stopped and you can cross!

Find out more about the trial at

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Monday, 7 June 2010

Controlling crowds with ice-cream van music

We spotted this item on the BBC news site about the Police in Northern Ireland using ice-cream van music to calm troublemakers -

It struck us as interesting on one hand how it appeared to be an effective intervention on this occasion but also how it was also frowned upon by management and the local council.

It has some similarities, although in a more serious setting, to our earlier blog post on the use of music to influence people using stairs

Has anyone any views or experiences on other ways in which the behaviour of crowds or groups of people have been modified like this?