What the ‘L’ Taught Me About Design

On a recent sunny summer afternoon I hopped off the Chicago ‘L’ and found myself in front of what appeared to be the station exit under a big bold sign labeled “Out”. But I hesitated. As clearly as it was marked, I didn’t see so much an exit but a human death trap: a giant carnivorous plant with rusty iron teeth. Add the deafening rumbling of the train above and the high-pitched squeal of the aging turnstile and it was a less-than-inviting gateway into urban America.

This man took his chances.

This man took his chances.

Call me melodramatic, but this was my instinctual response to encountering the exit , my emotional response. I had consciously realized it was an exit of course, but it was my survival instincts – all processed in a fraction of a second after digesting my environment – that held me back. And in this case it was my hesitation that declared the victor in the clashing of my logical and instinctual halves.

So I waited and held my breath and let someone else brave the path before me.  I finally stepped out, free at last, but not without a chilling reminder of another important design guideline. Functional clarity (what something does), and emotional design, (the feelings a design evokes, usually based on aesthetics) should both be taken into account when designing, systems, gadgets, environments — everything. Simple enough, right? And no, I’m sure next time I won’t hesitate before leaving the station.

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2 Responses to What the ‘L’ Taught Me About Design

  1. […] wouldn’t build a car with a hidden door, a website with a cryptic URL, or a train station with no entrance. Yet take a look at this CVS in Porter Square in Boston. The store-front curve on […]

  2. […] next to the door, actually controlling the door. Obviously, as I’m sure you guessed) it’s a trap… as this one seems to say “Press to Exit (while letting us record how tall you are)”. Note […]

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