The information street, article
European Sign Magazine, no 5, 1989, pag. 67-70
Last editorial changes: December 2009.
Dr. Leonard Verhoef,
applied cognitive psychologist.
For designing complex things.
Not a designer.
Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental cognitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
With click to: CV.
|In the old days each public transport vehicle left from its own platform. Nowadays several vehicles use the same halt, platform, pier or gate. There is, for instance, less space needed for platforms. Another advantage is that more lines can be given a favourable position, which shortens the journey time and possibly means that the passengers have to walk less.||A disadvantage of this flexibility is the increasing complexity of the information for the passengers. How to make complexity manageable for the passenger.|
Centralized versus decentralized strategy
|There are two information presentation strategies in large spaces. Which one is the best?|
|In the centralized strategy all information is on one panel (See the two Figures at the right). This is the most common one. From a technical and organisational point of view this is the easiest strategy.|
Figure 1. Centralized presentation
An information panel in a station hall. All information pertaining to the departing trains has been placed on one panel.
Source: Amsterdam Central station, 1990.
Figure 2. Centralized presentation
All information pertaining to the departing trains (top) top and underground lines (bottom) on one panel.
Source: Amsterdam Arena, 2008.
|In the decentralized strategy the information is spread out over several panels. This decentralized presentation is the less common one. The passenger is not given all the information on one panel but stepwise.||Thus a passenger has to choose from very broad indicators such as continental/intercontinental, inland/foreign, arrivals/departures and express trains/local trains (See three Figures below).|
Figure 3, It is impossible, NOT to notice the sign posts.
Source: London Liverpool Street station, approx.1990.
Figure 4. Also, impossible, not to notice indicators.
Source: Amsterdam Central station 1991.
Figure 5. Decentralized, stepwise presentation of inforation|
This is the entrance of a train station hall. Same hall as figure 6, psychologist’s impression. This is the entrance point of most passengers in this station. It is almost impossible not to notice the information.
Source: Author, 1985.
Which one is the best from the user’s point of view?
Architecture versus usershtmh
|In a centralized architecture all passengers have to pass the same point and that point can be used for the identity of the station and, of course, the architect. This strategy is compatible with the old days single function buildings such as station and post office. Today buildings are multi functional and a station is a post office, shopping mall and restaurant area as well. Consequently, the shortest route of all passengers may not cross one central point and a central strategy is less applicable.||
A practical disadvantage of a centralized architecture and presentation is that passengers reading information can hinder the passage of other travelers (
Canter, 1984).Reading this information takes much time because all information for all passengers is on one position. Research has shown that finding a train on a central panel takes approximately 20 seconds
Canter, D. 1984 Way-finding and signposting: penance or prosthesis? Pag. 245-275. In: Easterby, R., & Zwaga, H. 1984 Information Design The design and evaluation of signs and printed material Chichester etc. Wiley and Sons Ltd.
In a decentralized presentation these problems are less serious. On the one hand there is little information being presented so that the reading time is short and the information may be read whilst walking. On the other hand the number of passengers is reduced by sorting them out on previous information points.|
As far as passenger routing is concerned decentralized systems score more favourable.
|For the passenger the information should be projected in the centre of his visual field. The more peripheral the position of the information the less conspicuous it is.|
|Centralized panels have a large format because all information should be presented on one panel. Their size reduces the number of options for their placement.||Decentralized panels are smaller than centralized panels. That makes it easier to find a position in the line of sight of the passenger. See figure 5.|
|For visibility decentralized systems score more favourable.|
|Centralized panels present all information at once. This increases crowdedness, increases complexity and reduces conspicuity of important information such as changes in time of departure and platform number. Presenting a lot of information requires some kind of arrangement of information.||In decentralized systems the information is presented stepwise. In general this strategy is better for passengers unfamiliar with the system and passengers under stress.|
Centralized systems are more crowded than decentralized systems.|
|The working memory of passengers is heavily loaded with travel information (time of departure, platform number, ’don’t forget to validate your ticket’). In addition to non-travel related information such as posting a letter and buying a present. For frequent travelers there might be time pressure and for the infrequent traveler unfamiliarity imposes a mental load.|
Unfortunately for central systems one of the behavioural tendencies
Best (1967)found was that details relating to successive choices of routes displayed at one location were often forgotten at later stages.
Best, G.A. 1967 Direction-finding in large buildings Manchester University of Manchester, Inst. of Science and Technology.
Decentralized systems impose less load on human working memory. They can present information when a decision has to be made.
An architect can, for architectural reasons, decide for a central passenger flow. With one large entrance the architect can better design a typical, unique and prize winning building than with various small entrances in different places.||
An important technical disadvantage of a decentralized system operated by remote control, is that more hardware for cabling needed. In addition, the compatibility between the structure
of a decentralized system and the schedule database might be less and require more software programming work. Centralized systems are more convenient for technology.|
|One specific form of a decentralized system is the ’info-street’. In this ’street’ panels are positioned one behind the other in such a way that one sees one row of panels. See figures 2. An info-street has the following characteristics:|
Technically and physically decentralized
|There is, in a physical sense, a decentralized system. From a visual point of view, the whole system is seen by the passenger at a glance.||
The visual attention is caught when entering the space|
In large open spaces, it is difficult to control the line of sight of the users because there is no physical guidance of walls and corridors. Whenever the passenger enters such an area, then his walking direction is still known as is his viewing direction. At this particular moment it is still possible to catch the eye and to control the attention of the user. If the designer fails to do this, then the lines of sight of passengers are spread out and the designer has lost the attention of passengers. With an info-street the designer catches the initiative when the passenger enters the hall and his line of view still is known. The attention is captured and directed. An info-street is a visual frame where a physical frame is missing.
Decision information centralized|
A summary of the information necessary to decide in which direction to go, can be read from the beginning. In the info-street shown in figure 2, that summary is the final destination of the train. Such a summary is what passengers are looking for.
|In airports halls there is much distance between the entrance hall en locations of planes. In that case a central presentation of information might be the best solution. Airports started using centralized panels. Marketing and management hope having centralized, airport like systems will give the impression of modern information presentation. Passengers might get that impression but at the same time might get lost in the information.||An other disadvantage of a decentralized system, is that such a system does not have a ’high tech’ image. The ’high psy’ the system is based on, will only be notices by expert familiar with the field.|
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