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July 14, 2004 12:01 AM

Broken: Ferry terminal sign

P0003864Chris St. Pierre writes:

I took this picture walking into the terminal to the passenger port in Stockholm, Sweden. I was trying to go to Tallinn, Estonia, and I paused there for more than a few minutes trying to figure out which way to go. (Tallinn is listed in both directions.) I eventually guessed right, and was right.


Look closely, Poindexter... One direction is for cars, one is for buses and trucks. The signs are just directing you to different check-in places depending on your mode of transportation.

Posted by: Ex Post Facto at July 14, 2004 01:24 AM

I wouldn't be able to figure this one out. Bad design. Very bad.

Posted by: kwyjibo at July 14, 2004 08:17 AM

clearly the right is for things coming in and the one on the left is for things leaving.

maybe make a title at the top "departure" vs "incoming"

Posted by: araboth at July 14, 2004 11:56 AM

Very clear....Cars to the left, buses and truck to the right.

I don't see any problem.

Posted by: Marcos at July 14, 2004 01:46 PM

That design is absolutely horrible. I couldn't figure it out at all after staring at it for some time. I didn't figured it out until after reading the comments. The design problems are too numerous to mention... but there are issues of proximity, scale, alignment, grouping... etc. The result is that the arrow seems related ONLY to the text "Frihamns-terminalen" (which is the same on both signs) and not to anything else on the sign.

Posted by: David at July 14, 2004 02:33 PM

At least David has some design sense.

Posted by: kwyjibo at July 14, 2004 03:33 PM

First of all, I agree the design is horrible. Even given the amount of time that I have to review the image in the comfort of my chair I still have questions.

Are we sure that the signs indicate 'One direction is for cars, one is for buses and trucks' as suggested above?

I believe that the Car with the 'Check-in' text would indicate this is where you would go if you were bringing your car on-board the ferry with you.

The only hint regarding direction if I was on foot (as Chris states he was) is that it indicates that the Terminal is to the right.

Obviously broken.

Posted by: Drew at July 14, 2004 03:58 PM

Maybe I'm alone here, but I interpret the sign to mean that I can get to the Tallinn ferry by going right _or_ left. For the purposes of getting to the ferry it doesn't matter. After all, it's the same terminal.

I agree, the sign is horribly confusing. Part of that is inherent: "if you want to get to the ferry, go left or right, your choice" is not the way the world usually works.

I'd love to see how a good design would solve the problem. Beyond removing the duplication of the top part of the sign, it's not obvious to me what the best approach is.

By the way, the sign indicates that parking at the terminal is to the right. The "P" on a blue square is a fairly standard ideogram for that in Europe.

Posted by: Christian Murphy at July 14, 2004 04:39 PM

>I don't see any problem.

I find it amusing that people can claim that they don't see a problem with this. Some people quite obviously don't understand it, hence it doesn't matter whether *you* understand it or not - there *is* a problem.

This is the first thing you need to accept when designing for usability. You may not see anything wrong with a sign, but when people don't get it, there *is* a problem, no matter what you think.

Posted by: LKM at July 14, 2004 06:44 PM

hey-- they went to the effort of making the little ferry boat picture point in the same way as the arrow! that has to count for something... right? :)

Posted by: Reed at July 15, 2004 04:00 PM

Here is my (amateur) redesign.

There are three kinds of information to convey:

1. What you can do in which direction

2. With respect to which destinations

3. And in which direction you should go for each combination of (1) and (2).

The confusing thing about this sign is that as a traveler, you are thinking only about your destination, and expect to be directed towards your destination, but may not be aware of the way that the terminal is divided by activity or means of conveyance. The current signs partition the aspects primarily by direction, and then repeats the primary information on each sign, and places it in the same primary location on each sign, asking for viewers to try to make some comparison between the identical things.

My rearrangement makes the thing you already know for sure -- your destination -- primary, then puts the two categories of activity/conveyance secondary, with their directions tertiary. If there were more than two destination groups, then you could swap the first and second levels too.

JPEG image 96KB:

Posted by: Reed at July 15, 2004 04:54 PM

Reed, thanks for putting that redesign up. I like it.

I have only one comment: you added words to many of the signs. I see a big US/European divide on the use of symbols and words. Europeans tend to avoid using words except for very generic ones like "import". If the readers are going to be speakers of Swedish, Finnish, Latvian and Estonian, the vocabulary they are likely to have in common is... small. Of course you could put the words in Swedish. Arguably the extra words leave foreigners no worse off and maybe you can count on many of them to speak a little Swedish if they're driving around Stockholm.

Posted by: Christian Murphy at July 16, 2004 01:21 PM

Well since there were other English words on the sign I figured that I could add a few more. You might know the words and you might not, but the icons are still there and are clearer when lined up-- the "Truck" and "Bus" icons got lost since they were squished together and not easily compared to the others.

Of course Swedish would be a good choice, or use a couple languages (Swedish, Estonian, and Latvian) if it wouldn't crowd the sign too much.

Though I did use "Auto" not "Car" even though I'm from the US and our first meaning for "Auto" on a sign is "Automatic" :)

Posted by: Reed at July 17, 2004 03:23 PM

How about this? Is this any clearer?

Posted by: Yeskin Gallen at July 20, 2004 04:45 AM

I have traveled through that terminal several times both by car and on foot. It simply amazes me that somebody would find that confusing. It has been always quite obvious - if you sit in a passenger car, go the way the sign with the car icon shows. If you are not in the car, go the other way. Simple as that. And yes, BTW you can get to the ferry both ways on foot although it is quite uncomfortable if you take the car route.

Posted by: Martini at January 2, 2005 03:54 PM

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