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Editor's Note: Mobility, Usability, and Transportation: Design a Go-Go

By Aaron Marcus

TRANSPORTATION, OUR ISSUE’S THEME, builds upon the “Usability in Transportation” theme of World Usability Day (WUD) 2008. The WUD 2008 website explains that transportation “means moving products and people in its broadest sense.” The WUD events seek to explore how transportation impacts culture and society and to examine how people interact with vehicles, infrastructure, technologies, security, and finding their way through the environment. There is much to discover, and our issue delves deep into designing for transportation.

Rachel Abrams reflects on the urban taxi in New York City based on the Taxi07: Roads Forward, The Design Trust for Public Space report to New York City on the future of yellow cabs, on which she was an editor. She examines all of the stakeholders in this complex system of people, vehicles, roads, signs, commerce, buildings, and the urban environment. She lays out the touch-points for the experience from the passenger’s perspective (seeking, defining, enjoying, and paying for rides) and the driver’s (seeking riders, picking them up, navigating, getting paid, and keeping records). From these elements, she points to the report as a basis for planning and prototyping the next generation of “taxi tech.”

Half a world away, Daniel Szuc reflects on the Octopus card that enables Hong Kong passengers to pay for safe, comfortable, and ecologically friendly travel. The Octopus smart card is a key component of Hong Kong’s successful transportation system—so much so that it has migrated to stores, car parks, clothing outlets, and pharmacies. It has become, in other words, a currency of its own.

Our issue also explores the general concept of wayfinding, not only for us professionals as we seek the best path to bringing multiple disciplines together, but for the people in transportation who must help us find paths through buildings, signage, roads, seascapes, and landscapes.

Ferne Friedman-Berg, Kenneth Allendoerfer, Carolina Zingale, and Todd Truitt of the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) explain how air traffic control systems challenge teams to find optimal paths through a three- or four-dimensional space populated with airplanes, alerts, and weather. These extreme circumstances challenge them to help people make smarter decisions faster. The authors detail their own approach to providing information-visualization services in high-technology, high-alert, high-emotion, and high-stakes situations.

Down on the ground, so to speak, Christopher Kueh describes wayfinding design for public spaces. Signs and maps are the means of traditional guidance, but he emphasizes that buildings, landmarks, and roads themselves—about which Kevin Lynch originally wrote forty years ago in Image of the City—can act as signposts. These spatial structures are fundamental to travelers finding their optimal path.

On the high seas, Thomas Porathe explains how an exocentric map (oriented to the north) led to the collision of the Cosco Busan with a bridge mooring in San Francisco Bay. An egocentric map, which shows the terrain according to where the pilot is facing, might have prevented the accident.

One of the key usability issues of vehicle navigation is safety, and one of the key challenges to drivers is paying attention to driving. David G. Kidd, David M. Cades, Don J. Horvath, Stephen M. Jones, Matthew J. Pitone, and Christopher A. Monk examine voice recognition systems. Do they help or hinder? This is not an academic but a real-world challenge demanding clear solutions. The authors look carefully at Microsoft and Ford’s new infotainment device, Sync, which allows drivers to interact with mobile devices using voice commands.

"There is much to discover, and our issue delves deep into designing for transportation."

Most theme issues contain at least one unrelated article. Potent in its implications is the article by Rolf Molich, Kasper Hornbæk, Steve Krug, Josephine Scott, and Jeff Johnson about designing usable usability recommendations. Shouldn’t they be? The authors suggest how to write recommendations to facilitate their adoption.

Our theme authors’ contributions highlight the productive intersection of user-experience design on the one hand and wayfinding on the other.

Susan Fowler and Alice Preston, our guest editors for this issue, have constructed a fascinating pathway through the theme of transportation. Join us on the trip, learning how to make travel a more satisfying, but also humane and memorable, experience.UX

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User Experience Magazine is by and about usability professionals, featuring significant and unique articles dealing with the broad field of usability and the user experience.
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This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 4, 2008.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/past_issues/2008-4.html.

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