Presenting numbers to:
train drivers and
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?
Logo: IIID

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.
  • These professionals use the same eyes for perceiving written numbers and they write these numbers in the same way.

  • They all evaluate these numbers as good or bad using the same brains and more or less take the same type of decisions, for instance: increase or decrease learning speed, walking speed or train speed.

  • Even on an emotional level they act similar when it is clear that the numbers are far too low.

  • 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:
  • Learning, train, walking speed yellow: teacher, train driver or passenger no action yet but take care, you might get off target.

  • Learning, train, walking speed changing: change towards target.

  • Learning, train, walking speed measurement shaded: shaded area uncertain measurement.

  • To top.

    Task analysis

    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:

  • Perceive the current value.

  • Determine the target value.

  • Calculate the difference.

  • Make adjustments based on the reliability of the values.

  • Take into account the trend.


    Human activities:


    train driver’s 

    traveller’s activities.

    Obtain information



    Perceive actual value:

    student’s performance now;

    train speed now;

    time now.


    Target value:


    performance level planned;


    train speed below safe speed and above scheduled speed;


    time of departure.


    <target; =target; >target.




    Focus attention if:

    student is below target;

    speed is above safety target;

    traveller might miss his train.

    Trend, e.g.:

    mostly student catches up;

    mostly at next station driver can gain 2 minutes;

    mostly this departure is delayed.


    good or bad test

    speedometer error +/-5km/h

    clock incorrect.




    If >0:

    next subject to learn;

    now: slow down to save energy (next time delay departure);

    get coffee next time: stay in bed longer.

    If =0:

    next subject to learn;

    maintain speed;

    continue walking.

    If <0:

    remedial action;

    increase speed/ brake shortly

    walk faster .

    If <<0:

    call student; next time test in an earlier phase;

    brake now!;

    decide now: run fast for coffee.

    If  too much <0:

    remove student from course;

    safety system brakes;

    train missed, appointment missed.


    More on attention and teachers.

    More on attention and train drivers (.pdf 14 mb)

    More on attention and passengers

    To top.

    Obtain information

    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.

    Train driver
    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).

    ETCS speed indicator
    Interface for train speed and safety, ETCS, 1995
    for instance, suggest the passengers should calculate time to departure. So does Netherlands Railways on this indicator immediate below.

    Keuning and Roding (2008)

    Metro and bus indicator Amsterdam Arena
    Indicator for trains and busses, Amsterdam Arena, 2008
    Time to departure for metro's, no calculation for passengers.

    Obtain information, presentation using graphics

    The 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.
    Train driver
    etcs ermts mmi experimental design
    Experimental graphical design for high speed and safety information. Rookmaaker et al. 1994
    To top.

    EvaluationThe 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. A more detailed analysis of control of attention can be found in Verhoef (2006).

    Evaluation: no attention

    The variable is within limits. No attention required, no unexpected information, user can consult information whenever he wants.


    Performance learning aim: counting





    to 5




    to 10




    to 15




    to 20




    to 100




    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).

    Train driver
    ETCS, indication: braking will be needed shortly.
    No problem, current speed below braking curve.
    Public transport indicator, board shortly.
    No hurry, you will catch your train.

    Evaluation: attention shortly!

    The variable has reached a level at which attention is required within a short period of time.


    Performance learning aim: counting






    to 5




    to 10




    to 15




    to 20




    to 100



    Pupil George's performance not ok (yellow background), yet, but acceptable.

    ETCS, indication trainspeed ok.
    Train speed OK now, but braking required within a few moments.
    Public transport indicator, board shortly.
    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!



    Performance learning aim: counting







     to 5




     to 10




     to 15




     to 20




     to 100


    Pupil John's performance insufficient (yellow background), remedial action is needed immediately before proceeding.
    Train driver
    ETCS, indication: braking will be needed shortly.
    Train speed is too high, train might pass next signal at danger, brake now!
    Public transport indicator, board 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.

    Performance learning aim: counting








    to 5




    to 10




    to 15




    to 20




    to 100

    Pupil Mary will not finish this course (red backgrounds). She has to start again or abort this course.

    Train driver
    ETCS, indication: braking will be needed shortly.
    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.
    Public transport indicator, sufficient time for boarding.
    Train departed 1 minute ago without the passenger.
    To top.

    Next step

    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

    Psychological basis for control of attention
    To top.


    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.

    Verhoef, L.W.M. (2006). GUI, webontwerp, psychologie en human efficiency. Utrecht: Human Efficiency. book in Dutch: course in English:

    Verhoef, L.W.M. (2009). Why designers cant understand their users; developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology. Utrecht, Human Efficiency.

    To top.

    More applied psychology for GUI and webdesign

    More psychology for:

      ERMTS hoge snelheidstrein hsl ATB experimenteel interface voor machinist ERMTS high speed train control driver mmi ERMTS hoge snelheidstrein hsl ATB experimenteel interface voor achinist ERMTS hoge snelheidstrein hsl ATB experimenteel interface voor achinist 


    x Invoer Morsesleutel Toekomst        multidimensionaal graphic   

    icon design

      3-d, perspectief,drie-dimensionaal verkeersbord toekomst parkeerverbod verkeersbord toekomst verboden inhalen verkeersbord toekomst maximum snelheid bepaalde 


    helderheid voor betrouwbaarheid hersenen limgisch systeem en cortex aandacht trekken en aandacht sturen gebruik van de kleuren rood oranje en geel gevoeligheid van het oog voor kleuren humunculus mensmetafoor een mens in de zaadcel 


     NS treinkaart automaat b100 betalen openbaar vervoer NS treinkaart automaat b8060 betalen openbaar vervoer  IMO international maritime organisation muster station sign plattegrond IKEA water vaar verkeersbord maximaal hoogte water vaar verkeersbord maximaal drie dik aanleggen water vaar verkeersbord maximale doorvaart hoogte 3 meter experimenteel vertrektijden bord openbaar vervoer structuur openbare ruimten experimenteel vertrektijden bord openbaar vervoer atb etcs snelheidsbeheersing aandacht trekken water vaar verkeersbord verboden aanleggen water vaar verkeersbord maximale hoogte water vaar verkeersbord verboden 3 dik aanleggen met meer schepen trein vertrektijd perron NS CTA OV openbaar vervoer betalen ov-chipkaart toekomst grafische bestemmingen lijst metro ondergrondse lijn  structuur hoefijzer winkelcentrum 






    leren rekenen basisschool MAB rekenblokken toekomst onderwijs leren lezen leren rekenen supermarkt leren rekenen basisschool tellen op de vingers aftellen leren rekenen vleksom puntsom rekenonderwijs basisschool tientallig stelsel tellen op de vingers rekenonderwijs basisschool computer diagnostiek remedial teaching graphics for quantitative data next generation 

    To top.

    Search in


    cognitive psychology,  interface design, mmi,  usability, web page design

    +31 (653) 739 750
    Parkstraat 19
    3581 PB Utrecht
    Chamber of commerce number: 39057871, Utrecht.
    To top.