Ambient Signifiers

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“Although subtle, this technique has a noticeable impact on assisting passengers to their destinations and so increases efficiencies in the rail network.”

One task we face on a day-to-day basis is how to effectively communicate ever-increasing amounts of information within increasingly richer and more complex web contexts. While living in Japan, I discovered an approach used as part of the way-finding system of Tokyo’s rail network that has a number of interesting implications for user interface design.

Tokyo’s rail system is famous for being the most complicated and bewildering in the world. With over 1,000 stations, even locals get lost and disoriented. As a designer, I try to be aware of attempts at systems and methods of communication. While traveling the Tokyo rail lines, I quickly realized that apart from the obvious use of real-time electronic signage, colored trains, and audio announcements, there were also other techniques being used to assist travelers in knowing where they were, and where they were going. These techniques were subtler, and bordered on subliminal; this was what really interested me. Continue reading Ambient Signifiers