An inspirational journey commuting in Japan. (Part 1)

How design can save parents lives.

Like a new born

Traveling with an 11 months old baby can really change your usual recklessness into anxiety.

With a baby stroller, more suitcases, you really need to think differently while moving. The jobs you’re trying to achieve are completely different than before. You now look after elevators for the stroller, you need diapers changing stations, you pray to find your direction more quickly to avoid unnecessary stress…

All these can look a bit frightening. But traveling with your little one can also show you your environment with bright new eyes.

“The jobs you’re trying to achieve are completely different than before.”

After ten years and seven trips, I knew visiting Japan with my baby would be a safe bet. Why ? Well, for many reasons. One of them is the high level of service you can experience while visiting Japan and I must admit it has impressed me for the past ten years, but I never have thought I’ll have the chance to witness it as if it was my first time again.

Wayfinding

I was on Tokyo’s subway on my way to meet my friends that day, and I was already being late. By chance, they were too. So we started communicating with text. In order to inform them my approximative time of arrival, I would habitually have followed this path :

  • Find out where I was on the map, by looking outside when stopping at a station.
  • Find out how many stations were left too.
  • And finally, guess & count the approximal time required.

Then, I could finally send them a message to inform them of the time we’ll finally meet. Looks familiar?

But that’s not what happened.

In Japanese trains, just above the doors, you’ll often spot screens. Inside these, you can watch quick interactions guiding you along your crossing of Tokyo. Let’s look at some of them.

This one below let me know :

  • Where I was
  • Where I was heading to
  • The estimated time required from my position
Gif made form Musashino Channel (Youtube)

My friends were able to be quickly notified of my new arrival time, thanks to the help of this screen.


I could also find the right exit easily at our meeting station. Because when you’re about to reach the next station, this other screen allowed me to quickly figure out :

  • Which car I was in.
  • Where to find the elevators(escalators, and stairs too).
  • The transfer lines available.
  • Where to go on each transfer journey

And of course, the stopping station’s name.

Gif made form Musashino Channel (Youtube)

I also used to wonder on which side the doors would open, but again, not this time. It was evident.

Gif made form Musashino Channel (Youtube)
Gif made form Musashino Channel (Youtube)

I just had to follow the flow of commuters to join my Japanese friends.

I remember how I felt on that day. I felt relieved. Travelling with a baby in a big city like Tokyo wasn’t so complicated after all. Everything is well thought to let you enjoy your commuting experience with your baby.

Jobs, time & delight

All of these examples are just a tiny part of all the services provided for commuters in Japan. Sounds also play an amazing role in informing the travelers for example.

The point here is that everything was made visible to me just before I even need it or I can question me about it. They anticipated my needs and focused on them.

As a designer, I can’t stop analyzing these screens. For me, they set a standard in transmitting usefull information to your users in a busy environment.

The lesson I draw is :

  1. Focus on the job your users are seeking to achieve.
  2. Anticipate by showing them the answer, just before they even think about the question.
  3. Delight them with subtle and purposeful animation.
They anticipated my needs and focused on them.

Conclusion

All these tiny pieces of information, subtly united, made my travel journey with my baby a breeze. They helped me in the jobs I was pursuing. They prevented me from being in stressful situations. They inspire me to do better work and I really hope they will inspire you too in your next designs.

While I took all these train screens videos during my trip, I found that someone already gathered them all in perfect quality. So I made Gifs from those videos to illustrate my article. It’s the awesome Musashino Channel on Youtube. I greatly encourage you to take a look! It’s a goldmine.