Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Virgin Trains improvements #1

October 22, 2007

Anybody who has ever used Virgin Train’s West Coast knows that there are a range of little problems that plague what would otherwise be a perfectly adequate service. So I thought I’d have a moan about them. Then I thought I might actually try and do something about them.

The first is the all-time classic – the confusing toilet door controls.

If you’ve been on one of their Pendolinos, you can’t fail to have heard the ‘Doo Da, Doo Da, Doo Da’ alert, perhaps several times throughout their journey, and wondered what it is and why it goes off so much.

Well what it is is the alarm button in the toilet being pressed. But surely people can’t be alarmed that often (even though it does often smell quite bad!). Instead, I think it’s caused by poor usability. The whole scheme for operating the toilet door is poor.

The toilets have a motorised sliding door. There’s one button to open the door from outside. Inside there is a panel with three buttons – one to shut the door, one to lock the door, and a third to unlock-and-open the door. Next to it is another panel with an emergency alarm button.


The problem seems to be that lots of people mistake the ’emergency call for aid’ button for the ‘door unlock and open’ button. Perhaps they can’t read, or can’t be bothered. Perhaps it’s because it’s big and nearest the door. So I think they press this button, and then the alarm sounds until the train manager turns it off, which  is annoying for other passengers. I imagine it also has a ‘little boy who cried wolf’ effects, lessening the impact when somebody really needs to use the alarm.

The usability issues would seem to be:

  • Inconsistency. Why separate buttons to close and lock, but only one button to unlock-and-open? Why not a open/shut button and a lock/unlock button?
  • Usefulness: Why would anyone want to close the door but not lock it?

These issue also lead to a secondary, and more embarrassing problem. A couple of times I’ve approached a toilet where the ‘occupied’ sign was not illuminated and nobody waiting, pushed the ‘door open’ button, and found a woman sat on the toilet. The speed with which the door opens and then shuts again seems excruciatingly slow in that circumstance!

So those are the moans, but what’s the solution? I’m quite sure Virgin Trains think they’ve got bigger problems. The ultimate solution is an engineering one – replacing the control system with a more intuitive one – which they’ll never make a business case for. (I suspect the problem was an engineering one too – I bet Alstom who build the Pendalino had an engineer design the toilet door control system without the involvement of a designer.)

In the meantime, I’m thinking of taking some direct action, making these stickers to try and help people out.


I know this is probably a bit extreme, but I get Virgin Trains from Manchester to London at least twice a week, and these little things become very important. I bet if I did do it, they’d track me down from this post and find the time to prosecute me for criminal damage…


E bay gum!

May 30, 2007

 eBay UK logo

Apologies in advance for the self-congratulatory post, but I’m totally over the moon. The crew of the good ship Albion have been working really hard for weeks on a pitch for eBay UK‘s advertising. And we found out today we won it!

What’s remarkable is that, firstly, it’s eBay. EBAY!

Secondly is that we beat Saatchi’s, WCRS and Mother to win it. They’re all proper big grown-up advertising agencies.

Thirdly is that we beat them fair and square. Brand Republic are already hinting at nepotism, because we work for Skype and Joost. But I was there, and can tell you that we beat them fair and square, with hard work and commitment and listening. Of course our relationship with Skype didn’t hinder us, but it was just the icing on the cake.

There may be drinking this evening.

A right pagga on Adliterate

January 23, 2007

If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a debate about The Future of Planning (dah, dah, dahhhh) going on at the Adliterate blog.

It worth a read if you’re interested in that kind of thing (that kind of thing being having a job as a planner in a communications agency, I suppose). Here are my thoughts:

  • What a silly, self-important bunch we are. All we do is ‘come up with ideas for adverts’. Surely that should be fun eh?
  • I’m driven by self-doubt (and hence self-improvement), but some planners seem to have rock star levels of self-confidence in their views of the right way to do things.
  • For a job where I’m sure two of the required traits are good observations skills and understanding of nuance, some contributors seem to miss crucial earlier parries in the debate.
  • Aspiring young planners probably won’t make it beyond aspiration if they interrupt such an intense discussion with irrelevant ‘hey this is great what should I do to be like you’ type posts.

Sorry if this feels a bit snipey, I’m feeling a bit dark today – see my Moodjam for evidence.

Web 2.0 backlash

March 15, 2006

Pretty funny for geeks: Isolatr beta (via Skype Journal)