User Interface Design Fails From Everyday Life #13rd of Feb 2011 - Samuli Hakoniemi

Today while traveling with a bus, I came across a bit unexpected behavior when I tried to stop the bus.

Expected Interaction

Briefly, while interacting with something it should at least produce information that a) it can be interacted with, b) it reacts on interaction and c) it confirms the result of an action was like intended. In my case this means that a) there are red stop buttons labeled “stop”, “push”, “press” etc. , b) these buttons reacts physically while pressed and c) I receive a sound and / or visual notification that my action had a reaction.

What I Experienced

This is what actually happened: there was a digital display, which would show a word “stop” when stop button is pressed. This display was empty at the moment, so I pressed one of the stop buttons which reacted normally. But nothing happened. No “stop” on display, no sound. Nothing. It’s quite obvious that either the button is broken or both the display and the sound speaker is broken. But since I remembered hearing a sound notification earlier on the trip, I was convinced that this very button was broken. Since my bus stand was already close I dived onto next button and pressed it. Same resolution: nothing happened. Well, tough luck.. until I suddenly noticed that the display has word “stop” on it. Hooray! Someone else had actually succeeded to perform the simple task I was unable to do. Then again, the “stop” disappeared from the screen. It took about four seconds and the word “stop” was there again. A blinking stop sign? A blinking stop sign with about four second intervals? And the sound notification only on first press (apparently someone else had pressed the button before me). I was just unlucky not to watch the display just while it was actually displaying the text. Practically that meant 15-20 seconds of uncertainty will the bus stop or not.


But the actual question I had in my mind was: what was the added value by having a very slowly blinking stop button? What was the person behind design actually trying to achieve?

5 thoughts on “User Interface Design Fails From Everyday Life #1

  1. Make 'Maxx' Olli on said:

    Maybe they wanted to avoid the possibility, that kids repeatedly push the button for having fun. Anyway the solution sounds really failed, was this the intent or not.

  2. AV on said:

    Yeah, I’ve wondered several times about that, trying to think of even a single reason why it works like that. Maybe because they have to show the route number on the same display? But whatever the reason is, that’s pretty much the worst way of making a bus stop sign.

  3. Ville Hirvonen on said:

    First we need to be clear that there wasn’t any malfunction and the blinking interval and the whole blinking behavior were working as intended. If that was the case, then i can imagine that the blinking was added to emphasize the display but the perceived blinking interval was tested only in stable lab environment and not in real-life situation.

  4. Samuli Hakoniemi on said:

    I think I managed to figure out what was the reason behind this behavior.

    On lunch break, while traveling by bus I saw a similar display, but with one clear exception. That long pause was meant for displaying the name of next bus stand. Since the display described in this post didn’t provide the name information, it just appeared as a long pause.

    However, in this case the best practice would be that the text “stop” would be explicitly displayed on the screen every time when stop button is pressed.

  5. jukka on said:

    So that result was because of missing information. There is always missing information in everywhere – that can’t be avoided. So the failing was that designer didn’t care for test that “expection”