Presenting numbers to:Having so many similarities in human functions and tasks, for teachers, train drivers and travellers, shouldn't the interfaces for these professionals be similar, not only on a lower perceptual level (readability), but on a higer cognitive level too?
train drivers and
Application of Information Design 2008, Mälardalen University, Eskilstuna and IIID,25-28 June 2008,Last update March 14
Dr. Leonard Verhoef,
applied cognitive psychologist.
For designing complex things.
Not a designer.
After studying educational psychology and applied experimental psychology Dr. Leonard Verhoef did research on human thinking. He applied scientific cognitive psychological knowledge in designs for car drivers, skippers, and high speed train drivers. His designs for public transport passengers and people trying to escape a disaster, reduce reading time, travel time and the number of casualties substantially. This also applies for controlers (train, traffic, process) in normal practice, disturbed situations and when disaster strikes.
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|Once upon a time the interface to control quantities had four options: one, two, three and many. Today we have an infinite number of words for quantities. In addition, the very same numbers are used for very different professions such as: teaching, train driving and travelling. From a psychological point of view there are many similarities in the way professionals perform these different tasks.|
Having so many similarities in human functions and tasks, shouldn't the interfaces for these professionals be more similar, not only on the lower physiological levels (readability), but on higher cognitive levels too?
|Left, one graphical presentation.|
Three professional interpretations:
| A common professional action is comparing current student performance/train speed/walking time against a target performance/speed/time. In all cases the actions of the professionals are:|
| Obtain information, readable numbers|
Perceptual psychology has specified how to present numbers in a readable way. This includes how to use leading zero's, capitals, underline, fonts and digitally presented characters (segment and matrix fonts). With these specifications it is easy to find the best design to present a student’s score, train speed and the time of departure.
For all professionals leading zero's, underlining, non-serif characters and digitally characters, if possible, should not be used.Obtain information, calculate difference
All professionals need to know the difference between current number and target number. Analysis of interfaces shows that it often is not understood that it is the computer who should perform this computing.
Difference between current train speed (white hand, 130 km/h) and maximum train speed (white border, 150 km/h) is indicated in such a way that the high speed train driver does not need to calculate the difference (see figure immediate below).
Interface for train speed and safety, ETCS, 1995
Some experts suggest the passengers should calculate time to departure. So does Netherlands Railways on this indicator immediate belowK and Keuning and Roding (2008)
DRIS: lezen en wegwezen, Verkeerskunde, no 4, 27 mei.
Indicator for trains and busses, Amsterdam Arena, 2008
Time to departure for metro's, no calculation for passengers.
Obtain information, presentation using graphicsThe conclusion of perceptual psychology is clear: human eyes and human brains are not built for processing numbers. For instance, it is easy to survive in nature without being able to notice the difference between the character 9 and the character 9.
Cognitive psychology learns that the visual presentation of a concept should be compatible with the concepts that the user has in mind. Seven is more that one and consequently it is better to present 7 larger. However, the visual difference (form and size) between 1 and 7 is small. Content and visual compatibility can be increased presenting numbers and their relations using graphics. A graphical presentation of speeds is the best way and most commonly used, e.g. a round clock.
Graphical presentation of a complex multi dimensional overview of student performance.
Hurry up (graphics: orange half circle), train will depart in 30 seconds.
Experimental graphical design for high speed and safety information.
Rookmaaker et al. 1994.
Rookmaaker, D.P., Verhoef, L.W.M., Vorderegger, J.R. & Maessen, E.J.M., (1994). The presentation of speed control information of ETCS train drivers, Paris, in: SNCF Dir. de la Recherche, pag. 959-964, in: World Congress on Railway Research.">Rookmaaker et al. 1994.
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|Evaluation||The difference between the current value and the target value has to be evaluated. All professionals do this in the same way.||After the evaluation action might be needed.|
Evaluation: no attentionThe variable is within limits. No attention required, no unexpected information, user can consult information whenever he wants.
Pupil Bill passed the test (green background) and acquired the learning aim counting to 100 (Teacher examples here are simplifications of a more complex Learning Object Control System).
Evaluation: attention shortly!
The variable has reached a level at which attention is required within a short period of time.
Pupil George's performance not ok (yellow background), yet, but acceptable.
Train speed OK now, but braking required within a few moments.
Sufficient time, go to train from this point(30 sec.), but too little time left for buying coffee.
Evaluation: attention now!
The variable has reached a level which is not ok, unacceptable, action now!
Train speed is too high, train might pass next signal at danger, brake now!
Train will depart shortly (10 seconds), run now!
Evaluation: game over
The variable exceeded it's acceptable level. Despite warnings no action has been taken by the professional. Disaster occurs.
Pupil Mary will not finish this course (red backgrounds). She has to start again or abort this course.
| Train driver|
The train will pass the signal at danger. However, probably the train's safety system performs a system safety stop. The system assumes that the driver is incapable of performing his task. The ticket collector checks the driver.
Train departed 1 minute ago without the passenger.
|The examples given were from real live projects and had to take account of traditional practice and available technology. We only could show that the interfaces for these professionals are similar in the way colour was used to control attention.||When designed from a psychological top, to a professional bottom, there would be much more similarities between interfaces for different professionals.||Finding these similarities would reduce interface design effort substantially. However, this will not lead to unemployment of designers. So far the tasks discussed were one dimensional. There is one dimension of learning objects, only a safe train speed is taken into account and the traveller focuses only on catching this train. Tasks are becoming more and more complex and so will the interfaces supporting professionals performing their task.|
Teaching arithmetic is not sufficient anymore. The pupil has to be taught to do it in a creative way and in harmony with other pupils.
|Train driver |
Driving safely is not the only aim of a train driver. There also is a timetable and he should keep energy consumption low.
The number of routes and options for a specific public transport trip increases too as well as the options for payment, price and services.
Control of attention in in daily life
Keuning en Roding, (2008). DRIS: lezen en wegwezen, Verkeerskunde, no 4, 27 mei.
Rookmaaker, D.P., Verhoef, L.W.M., Vorderegger, J.R. & Maessen, E.J.M., (1994). The presentation of speed control information of ETCS train drivers, Paris, in: SNCF Dir. de la Recherche, pag. 959-964, in: World Congress on Railway Research.
ETCS-mmi interface, design and psychological background information, from the mmi design team.
For more, click and go to: ETCS-mmi interface.
Verhoef, L.W.M. (2009). Why designers can’t understand their users; developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology. Utrecht, Human Efficiency.
Why are computers difficult to use? It is so easy to design a userfriendly computer. Don't blame technicians, designers and managers. Blame cognitive psychology. The conclusions are based on experiments with train ticket vending machines and trains indicators. A typical European view on the application of cognitive psychology.
More, click and go to: Why designers can’t understand their users.
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Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental coginitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
More designs based on cognitive psychology, redesigns, psychological background, click and go to: CV.
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