Are you directing your customers the wrong way?

Here’s what happens when a simple sign replacement job goes needlessly wrong…

Clapham Junction, Europe’s busiest railway station, with over 2000 trains per day stopping or passing through.

New directional signs on the overbridge were introduced and what should really have been a simple job of replacing existing signs went wrong.

Which platform would you head for if you wanted Victoria?

Which platform would you go to if you wanted Victoria?

Perhaps both platforms have trains going to Victoria. It is not entirely clear. Or is it?

If you chose to go to platform 11, bad luck. You’d be heading away from the city and even worse, on the wrong line all together.

If you got on a train at platform 11 it may have taken you all the way to Wimbledon before you could turn around. You’d have to come back to the Junction, change trains and platforms. The whole ‘wrong’ journey could cost you at least half an hour.

How about these two platforms? Which would you choose if you wanted Gatwick Airport?

How about these two platforms? Which would you choose if you wanted Gatwick Airport?

Did you choose platform 14? If you did, that would cost you around 30 minutes in extra time. And what about the added stress when you’re trying to catch a plane? It’s easily done. The design forces that choice.

So these new signs were delivered and installed and the complaints rolled in. Understandably. Customers going the wrong way is the very last thing you want.

We’re generally rushing around at stations and have little time to stop and analyse the signage. In any case, why should we be forced to? Shouldn’t everything be done to make public transport simple, effective and enjoyable?

I am a great fan of lessening the cognitive load – make things simple. Travelling by public transport should not require a Mensa test.

In fact, it is best to design out the cognitive load. That will make for a much better experience for your customers. It will also mean more revenue for you since they will travel more often and recommend to their friends and family. Double, triple win.

How about your signposting? Are you doing everything possible to make the journey simpler, smoother and more enjoyable?

We can only guess what went wrong here since we don’t know the full story. It is a pretty good guess that the designer didn’t test the signs before installation.

Our policy is site visits every time. That way the designer can get first hand knowledge and a feel for the environment and way the signage system should work.

It always surprises me to learn how often other designers never leave the studio.