A few days ago The Red Dot Design Award Winners were announced. This is always such a great competition because the participants are so varied and different. The sky is the limit, its wonderful! This year there were 12,000 entries from 60 countries. Of the winners, one entry has gained some traction. The particular entry was progress indicating traffic lights.
I like this design! Anyone who knows me, knows that “Wait UI” (ex.- Press and Hold) is the bane of my existence [constant source of irritation]. Making the user wait for any period of time is a bad experience. We should challenge designers to come up with things that are not Wait UI. On the other hand, there are examples like this, where waiting ISthe UI. The users have to wait, now its time to make it more intuitive. Let’s break this down into the psychology of the problem and the Mechanical part of the problem.
Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time or Queuing Psychology 101 (the UX)
“…a day full of waiting, of unsatisfied desire for change, will seem a small eternity.” —William James, 1891
MIT’s Engineering Systems Division has an ace in the hole, so to speak, when talking about Queuing Psychology. Dr. Larson or affectionately referred to as “Dr. Queue” has been studying the effects of queuing for more than twenty years. The team over at ESD came up with a few things that were very interesting and solved a few pain points for Disney and theme parks in general. If you have ever been to Disney and went on any of the rides, the lines are insane. The lines can be anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours per ride. The challenge was to find a way to make this necessary evil more fun. They had a few great ideas that involved a wonderful use for a “touch wall” and other short interactive games.
Progress indicating lights have existed for 100 years (history)
When researching a design, we have to lean on what Bill Buxton always talks about in “new” designs. There rarely are any! They are just recirculations of old designs that we re-purpose for our current needs. This design is no exception. Marshalite Traffic Signals have been around in Australia since 1936 and still exist in a few places.
These lights already exist in the world, so what research can we gather? (current UX research)
So let’s look around and try to find some pain points for the current design. The progress indicator lights already exist in a few countries and obviously people are going to have some thoughts on them. In my very informal search and reading to look at what people think about them now, I found a few quotes.
They already have traffic lights and padestrian crossings in Manila with timers on them. As far as I can tell they don’t really help there.
… Delhi/Mumbai. … the last 5 seconds before the light turns green resemble the start of a NASCAR race. -both via Neatorama
So the reference here is that they also resemble Racing Trees and therefore will push the user to anticipate the light and may cause accidents. This is a problem that we should be aware of.
The first thing that comes to mind after seeing what we have seen so far, is that one solution will not solve all the problems. We are going to need a way for it to be configured at installation. We need to let the city engineers do the final stage of the design so they can customize it to fit their needs.
Why do we need to do this? (the greater design tenet with UX in mind)
The problem is that gasoline is getting more expensive and more scarce. If we continue how we are now, we will destroy the environment around us. We need to think green. You should always think low impact in your design solutions because it means they are less expensive in the long run. The more the design saves the company, the more apt they are at instituting it. So let’s look around at some of the current research on Hybrids and gasoline.
Question: Is it better to turn your car off for a 30 second stop or to leave it running?
Answer: Turn it off and it saves gas and its more wear and tear on your vehicle (starter, crank shaft, etc). Leave it on burns more gas and its easier on your vehicle. –(1995) paraphrased from The Car Guys.
How does that compare to what the average is?
How long does the average American spend waiting at a red light?
Answer: 3min. and 18sec. via – WikiAnswers
There seems to be a gap. What about current technology with Hybrids?
So it seems that all manners of Hybrids shut their engines off at stop lights.
Given all that we have learned, what changes would we make? (UX Design)
It seems that really, the only glaring thing we need to take into account is the final 10 seconds. When users would start to rev their engines and get ready for the green light. This revving would then eliminate any of the benefits of the engines being shut off in the first place. The other piece we need to keep in mind is have it configurable at time of installation. This would be very helpful for tuning and further refinement as the time of install progresses.
Here is the current design that won the competition.
and here is a blank slate for you to test out your designs.
You can download this Illustrator CS4 file here. If you happen to be using another type of program, I also uploaded the EPS file, and you can get it here. I created the outer circle in Live Paint, so all you need to do is grab the paint bucket tool and drop whatever color you want in there.
Let’s see your designs! Send me your concoctions and I’ll post them here. Also write a bit about your rationale and reasoning for designing it your way.
“3min. and 18sec” … hardly believable. In EU, you rarely wait longer than 90 secs and it already seems endless. 3mins is just too much – it might be per day, yes.
Otherwise a great design challenge. I have been observing the numeral displays which I ironically comment that they “tell you how much time you save if you cross the red light”.
In Slovenia we had the green blinking when going to red. I suppose EU laws forced us to remove the additional signal.
The pedestrian crossings coint-down signals help, but only if the numbers are less than 20 secs or so. I am prepared to wait certain time, but not more than so much.
I had an idea that those numbers (or anything counting red light down) shouldn’t be linear or easily anticipated. But does keeping secret about the green light make sense? Well, maybe it makes the difference keeping the user distracted off the passing of time. But then again. So the real question is: do we want people to plan the lights or not?
I think the other thing to think about is where they are placed. If the surrounding lights are placed immediately around the red light, does that infer that they are for the cars?
Would we really want a pedestrian to be looking up at the traffic light to see if they can cross? Thereby diverting their eyes from the opposite direction of oncoming traffic?
Example. I am traveling across the street, do I need to look up to my far right and possibly around the “hood” of the light to see if I can cross when traffic will be approaching from my left?
Don’t mean to be rude but you go in the wrong direction (lights design) to solve the problem (gasoline consumption at stop).
the solution is not in the Lights design, it’s in the car design, that’s why nearly every new car has a start-stop system wich cut the engine when the car stops and restart it when needed.
The lights design is still interresting but it is about another problem : circulation and traffic jams etc.
I was myself thinking the other day in a car lane when the light went green i noticed everydriver in the lane starts to move its car only when the preceeding one started to move. It then cause a “domino” or “string” effect. I think all drivers should/could start their car when the light goes green so the whole line of cars will move at the same time.
I don’t know if I’m explaining it right English not my mother language sorry