2015.07.08 Common User Interface

Have you ever rented a car and wondered how to turn on the lights? Or panicked a little when it started to rain while you were on the freeway and the switch for the wipers was not where you thought?

Imagine if car producers couldn't agree that the accelerator is the right pedal and the break is to the left.

Have you tried entering your PIN code at a teller automat where the number sequence doesn't start with 1,2,3 but with 7,8,9?

It was fortunately a day of slow traffic when someone I know crossed the traffic against the light.

No, it wasn't me.

If anything bad had happened, the risk had been mainly on my friend as he was using the pedestrian crossing.

You know these crossings where a red number counts down to zero?

I do. In Cupertino, California, the numbers signal how long you have to cross the street before the light turns green for the intersecting traffic.

But go to Copenhagen, Denmark, and the red numbers indicate for how long you have to wait until your light turns green. Then the green numbers tell you how long until the light turns red again.

Why do they do that? Apparently people in a lot of places have found it useful to know if you can enter the crosswalk and make it to the other side alive. But they haven't talked to each other.

The Danes also want to know how long you have to stand bored at the side of the street.

If you have 5 sec before you can walk, you are readying yourself for walking. If you have 35 sec you will check your phone, meditate, look at store windows, flirt with the person next to you... anything but getting yourself ready. But only if you know that you have all this time.

If you don't know how long you have to wait, the body is in a constant "get ready mode". That is not healthy and you get irritated. People hate waiting for an undisclosed amount of time. (That is why automatic telephone systems may say "Please... hold...There... are... 11... calls... in... front... of... you".)

If you don't know how long you have to wait, you are more likely to cross regardless of the color of the light - particularly if you are in a hurry. If you know the light will change in 5 sec, you will happily wait rather than rush into oncoming traffic - even if you are in a hurry.

The "count down to green" crosswalk lights have reduced the number of jaywalkers considerably.

Watch out if you are used to numbers counting down (or using teller machines). They may all use the same number systems but the user interface may still be different in another country.