Walk signal upgrade

A small design tweak to remap reality to our brains

Tokyo is filled with walk signals that countdown using bars, not numbers. This is great! Numbered countdowns feel busy and neurotic; like watching a bomb timer tick down. The bars strike a comfortable balance — you get a sense of when the light is going to change in or out of your favor, but you don’t feel obligated to count along in your head.

The bars, however, have one fatal design flaw: Each interval is the same. Depending on the light, the distance in time between the bars is five or six or seven seconds. The problem comes in perception. The closer the bars are to finishing (one or two left) the more antsy we get, the more eagar we are to start moving across the street. The perception of time itself slows down. Those last two bars take forever to flip their bits.

My proposal is simple and should be obvious: Shorten the distance (speed up) between bars the closer they get to zero. Maybe even as much as 20% a bar. Make those last few fly by. I bet most people wouldn’t notice the interval discrepancy. But that updated velocity curve would more accurately match the elasticated perception of time of those of us, umbrellas or bags in hand, anxious to get across the street.

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