New SMRT displays have serious design flaws, says visual designer

New SMRT displays have serious design flaws, says visual designer
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[Headline photo: Straits Times]

“[The] actual execution of the display was so bad it makes for a perfect case study of how bad design can destroy a great idea,” says Visual Designer Teo Yu Siang of the new SMRT LCD displays in its new trains.

Writing on the website, TechInAsia, Teo says the SMRT Active Route Map Information System 2.0 (Staris) display is “horribly designed.”

In April, SMRT rolled out its new trains which have “a real-time multi-purpose displays that features landmarks in the vicinity of a station when the train arrives at a station, station layout of the upcoming station for easy navigation and train route information.”

“The new system will display information such as the location of escalators or lifts in stations, as well as point out landmarks in the vicinity and provide passenger service updates,” the SMRT also said.

While the intentions may have been good, the execution has been less than impressive. At least according to Teo, who went on to detail each of the “numerous” flaws with the display.

“The first thing you’ll notice about the new Staris is its horrible visual design,” he says, not mincing his words. “The screens look like they were designed by an engineer on PowerPoint. With liberal use of glossy textures and reflection effects, you’d think this screen was designed a decade ago when the first iPhone was announced.”

He also took issue with the screen itself – that when the train is travelling in between stops, the left half of the display shows an overview of only five train stations. Each train line actually has 26 stations.

“The old display, which showed the map of two train lines, contained more than 50 stations in total,” he says.

“Instead of a train network map, commuters are left with a relatively useless overview of the five nearest train stations.

“When commuters can’t see the full train network, they won’t be able to determine if they’re riding on the right line or in the right direction. And if their destination is more than four stops away, they can’t get a good overview of their remaining journey.”

The display also uses a map with “curly lines and all”, making it hard for commuters to ascertain the stations and their locations on a route.

“From the map, you’re able to tell the starting and ending stations of the train—and that’s all,” Teo says. “You can barely even make out the individual stations on the map.”

Teo goes on to list other flaws such as how the display shows nearby landmarks which are pretty useless to a commuter, how the display doesn’t indicate which carriage you’re on, text labels which animate slowly one at a time which could frustrate commuters, and station maps so detailed it is hard to read.

“If anything, the new trains are symptomatic of a tendency to embrace technology-focused rather than user-centered design,” Teo says.

You can read his full analysis and critique here: “Singapore’s new train displays have serious design issues. Here’s what we can learn”.