Friday, February 18, 2011

The infrastructure chronicles -- Volume 3.5

Back to our occasional series about infrastructure. This one is about a part of infrastructure that, oddly, often tends to be invisible: Signage.

Designing effective signs is important. After all, if there is a need for the sign in the first place -- for safety, convenience, or efficiency -- why not post one that solves the problem? But, we often see the opposite, a sign that actually makes things worse. It is at that moment that a sign becomes invisible.

In a previous post, I presented the dangers of sign congestion in a hospital. In another, I presented an example of one from the Postal Service that provides guidance that is unhelpful because it requires a person to detect the difference between 12 ounces and 13 ounces in a letter s/he is about to mail.

Here's one that demonstrates simple clutter and a bureaucratic point of view. It is posted on the "Fare Array Hut," a small structure at many MBTA transit stops that is not designated as a "Fare Array Hut." So, to start with, you might look at the sign and say, "Where's the Fare Array Hut?"

Then, you wonder, "Do I have to validate my card in the manner set forth?" The answer is no. It does make it easier to enter the train in one of the back doors, but you can also validate upon entering through the front door.

And then, you see things on the poster that simply have no relevance for you, like "Ensure all revenue is properly collected and recorded."

By the way, it turns out I am not the first person to notice this problem. After writing this post, curiously searching Google for the term "Fare Array Hut," I came upon this post by another blogger, who nicely describes the situation.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Did you ever read the directions to help people figure out how to buy a lottery ticket - the kind where you pick your own numbers? Considering the standard is to right instructional items like this at a 4th grade reading level, it is astounding that someone with an advanced degree was stumped and left scratching her head at the car wash while trying to figure this out. Suffice it to say the boys had put the car in the holding area while I finished my executive task. The other interesting experience is to go up to self-service kiosk at the post office, which now readily mails your packages, etc. Standing next to this machine is a postal worker - who is a flurry of help - but isn't the job of these machines to make a person obsolete? It is the machine that is obsolete without its trusty caretaker.....two steps forward, one step back.....