The UX Critic: SoundTransit – Exit on your right. No, your other right.

In the mid 90’s, I spent a lot of time using all forms of mass transit in Europe. I can’t tell you how many times in Germany I heard the phrase telling passengers to be careful while boarding, the doors close automatically. The choice few words varied by country and for some reason the phrases have always interested me. It’s somewhat like a call to action on a website – you’ve got just a sentence or two where people are going to pay attention, so you choose your words with great care.

I don’t ride light rail in the US very often. In the Seattle area, it’s fairly new. Recently I was on the SoundTransit light rail system and was comparing it to my experiences in Europe.

The first issue was pointed out by visitors who were confused as to what stop they needed. I didn’t notice this at first, and then a local pointed out to them the sign listing the stops was backwards. The train travels North and South. The graphic they used on the West side of the train was the same as the one on the East side of the train. This is the first time I’ve ever run across a train or light rail map on a car that was not reversed based on which side of the train car it’s on.

Tip #1: Light rail station maps should have correct left & right orientation. For example, if the train is going to the right as the user is looking on the map, then the next stop on the map should be the one to the right of the previous stop.

That one is so painfully obvious, I’m disappointed I have to mention it. SoundTransit does show stops in different order on their website, depending on the direction of the route.

map_clink_nbound map_clink_sbound

Noticing how that was missed, I realized the messaging played over the speakers said to exit the car on the right side. Looking around at the signage, I noticed reader boards on both the North and South ends of the train. They both said to exit on the right side. You probably understand the mistake here, but I’ll explain. If you’re facing South, West is to your right. If you’re facing North, East is to your right. Which doors are passengers supposed to exit from, the East or West doors?

I managed to snap a picture of the reader board on the south end of the train. This is at the Westlake station, so if you know it, you know one exits on the East side of the train – thus this sign is wrong. Now I’m not as brazen as some, so the pic isn’t the best as I couldn’t find a good way to get a pic without someone thinking I was taking a shot of them. But this gives you the idea.


And zooming in on the reader board in the back of the car:


The issue here is pretty clear. They placed reader boards facing two directions, but the messaging is clearly meant to be read from one direction.

Tip #2: Make sure your directional messaging accounts for all directions it may be shown. This may mean creating different messaging for signs that have different positions.

Do you have more examples of transit or traffic signs leading people in the wrong direction? Post them in the comments below or mention me on Twitter and I’ll add them.


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