Highway 101

User Experience Newsletter #15, November 2006

Dear User Experience Forum,

it has been quite some time since the last newsletter in April. Please take it as a friendly reminder to visit our forum from time to time and share your questions and thoughts on user experience.

Today I have some stories to tell from the domain of street design – as you will see, quite literarily.

The Setting

  1. I have a reasonable ability to navigate my car on the streets -- allthough, a French friend once said, “you drive like a Frenchman”. I still don't know how to take this.
  2. I am used to the way how streets are build in Germany. (And all examples presented here are from countries with right traffic conventions.)

The Tasks

Task 1) Kamener Kreuz / Intersection Kamen, Germany

Two German Autobahnen crossing each other. Please choose a way from South to West.

Fairly easy. I go to the right extra lane and take the second exit that takes me with a loop to the Autobahn facing West. This behavior is pretty robust as all intersections are designed according to this pattern; e.g.:

Intersection in Maschen, South of Hamburg

Task 2) On the Autobahn between Hamburg and Bremen in Germany

Please take the exit in Dibbersen.

Ja, I take the exit off the Autobahn, follow a gentle curve, and arrive at a decision point with lots of traffic signs and very low speed to decide whether I want to turn right or left.
This is also a pretty stable pattern if the 2 streets are of different order. e.g. autobahn vs. country road.

Task 3) Exit Freeway 101 in Santa Clara

In the image I come from San Francisco North/West and want to get off the freeway to Montague Express Way.

Yap. I can do that. Take the exit lane according to my exit pattern (2) and... Hey, wait a second. Where are the traffic lights? Where are the traffic signs? It seems that they sent me to SanTomas South! That is not fair! A freeway is something else than an express way (whatever that is!)

Task 4) Freeway 101 in Santa Barbara

Do not exit to Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara.

Ha! This time they do not trick me. I stay on the left lane to continue my drive on 101. This is in accord with my intersection pattern 1 and 2 above. And even the bloody experience from Santa Clara does not apply here.

Oops. The haze in the image is also creeping in my mind. At this exit the left lane is the exit lane! Get me the designer of this roads. Where can I file a bug? Unbelievable. The next map shows the situation with streets highlighted:

Santa Barbara, California

But what's my point? The user has already formed some assumptions when she approaches a user interface. The expectations are derived from all previous instances with (obviously) similar examples. Things can go terribly wrong whenever the situation at hand is not recognized as being different from the former ones.

Task 5) Near Orange Bowl in Miami, FL

Miami, Florida

Sorry guys. I do not comment on this one.

Have fun and join the dicussion.


User Experience Forum on Xing

User Experience Forum



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  17. In Memoriam: Jef Raskin
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