Swimming in information

September 30, 2008

I will soon be writing more on ‘lean intranets’ and ‘content value analysis’ but now for something completely different…..

I’ve become intrigued at all of the designed information that surrounds us in the built environment. Information design that informs us, a lot of the time almost subliminally. So I carried out a little experiment. I walk from work every evening to the nearest underground (subway) station. I decided to note everything that I could see that might fit into this category.

Here it is –

– Leaving the building I see granite benches. These have yellow strips at each end to ensure that people don’t trip over them at night or if they are partially sighted

– The paving is made up of two shades, light and dark grey. There are two buidings on either side. The main path leading between the buildings is light grey while the dark grey paths cross at right angles. The dark grey paths lead to entrances into the buldings and access to seating areas. I can see all the dark grey paths from a distance so I can make my choice as to which intersection I need well before I get there

– Lighting columns line the main path giving another clue as to which is the primary route

 -Restaurants and shops appear on my right as I walk along. Their names and what they do (mostly eateries with a hairdresser and beauty parlour thrown in) are very clear and most have a-frames on the pavement giving further information on special offers and extolling their virtues. Strangely one eatery informs us of the main categories of their food by something that resembles a horizontal navigation bar. At the end of the row of shops there is a Post Office and a Starbucks. Oh the power of the logo! Even though I couldn’t read what the signs said I could recognise their distinctive logos from some way off

– There are works going on on part of the path. The work site is surrounded by an opaque barrier that is around seven feet tall. Its clear message is ‘keep out’ although on the barrier the builder apologises nicely for any inconvenience and also informs us that they were voted ‘contractor of the year’. Almost like saying ‘keep out’ politely

– Ahead of me an asphalt path clearly informs me that this is the way I should walk as to the left is a grassy area

– Many grassy areas outside buildings are for show only and most people would not walk on them unless there was a clear message that this was allowed. In this area picnic tables are strewn across the whole expanse of grass giving permission for people to use the amenity

– I am now walking towards the public pavement. High hedges define the private space from the public space and the pavement has a paving scheme used in most public areas. I now know that I am in a public area

– I need to cross the road and there is a plethora of information here;

Most importantly the kerb separates the safe public space from the dangerous public space i.e. the pedestrian areas from the areas where cars have priority

Double yellow lines inform me that parking is not allowed

Traffic lights show red informing me that I do not yet have priority on the road space in front of me

Lettering on the road informs me to ‘Look Right’ . This is the direction that the traffic is coming from

Studs in the road form a path across the road guiding where I should walk

The traffic lights turn green informing me I now have priority for a short time. Cars pull up at a white line painted on the road

I cross the road and behind me I can hear a electronic beeping noise informing me that priority will soon revert to the cars

– At the corner of the street there is a street name. This is really interesting. From it I can deduce that I am in London, in the  Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, in the section of the city called W 12 and on a street called Wood Lane. Going even more granular I can clearly see the numbers of the houses from where I stand. From a whole city to the location of a single house in one glance. Thats granularity!

– The houses have small gardens and paved areas defined as private spaces by fences

– Ahead of me news vendors are giving out free papers. They are holding them folded so that the headlines of the lead story are clearly visible

– I cross the road by another pedestrian crossing and see the familiar logo of the London Underground and I am at the entrance of the station.

This walk takes 2-3 minutes! I was amazed at the amount of designed information I had found.  It also got me wondering if any of the thinking behind some of these designs have parallels with what we do on the web (for instance the A-frames reminded of teasers giving users that bit more information). Or indeed is there any design patterns from the physical world that might be innovative in a web context . 

I’m going to keep my eyes more open in future!

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