Usability and user centered design on I90

In my last post I mentioned that we had driven back and forth to Minnesota from upstate New York. The vast majority of the drive takes place on I90. It is one. Long. Road.

Those miles gave me lots of time to think and make comparisons. Somewhere in Indiana my thoughts turned to usability…

I don't know if you've visited Indiana lately but their roads are the absolute worst. The highways are bumpy, poorly signed and the majority of the rest areas have been torn down. The few rest areas that exist feature third rate food options and poorly designed parking lots. But never fear, their billboards proudly exclaim that they've had a balanced state budget for years. Of course you can hardly focus on the words because the road is so bumpy, narrow and full of construction cones you dare not take your eyes off the road. Clearly they are not spending money on the highway system.

As a visitor it really reflected poorly on the state. Honestly, I hope to never drive through it again.

Here are a few other usability observations:

Why do most service areas feature restaurants that are on the downswing? Hardees? Arby's? At one point we were hungry and ready to eat. The next service areas included restaurants I would never eat at by choice. Finally we came upon a service area with a Starbucks and we stopped—as did most every car on the highway. The parking lot was absolutely jammed and the line out the door. 

If you serve your food on plates make sure the garbage can openings are large enough to accommodate the plate dimensions. We noticed this several places we stopped. And while I'm on the subject of trash, if you serve food in recyclable containers make sure you offer the proper receptacles for them.

Good signage makes the driver more comfortable. I'm proud to say that New York really has its signage game down. If you drive from Erie to Albany I guarantee you know when the next rest area is and what the available services will be. It makes the user feel in control and allows them to make good decisions.

EZ Pass is a godsend. And Illinois does it best. Some states (cough, cough, Indiana) that have EZ Pass booths, have have arms that come down between each car forcing you to come to a complete stop. A complete and total stop that bogs down traffic and creates congestion points. We know we can go through EZ Pass at 5, 15 and even 65 miles per hour. Why require the driver to stop completely on the open highway?

Four lane highways can work. Several states have only four lane highways. A lot has been written lately about how one slow drive in the left lane can bog down traffic. Of course this is true but I have to say in the midwest it worked. Signs indicated that you must pull over for traffic to pass you. And it worked! Wisconsin has trucks stay in the right lane and requires them to travel at a lower speed and that made a huge difference.

Posted speed limits do not change driver habits.  While in some areas the speed limit was 55, and in others 65, the posted speed made no difference. The only variables that effected speed were road conditions (cough, cough, Indiana) and weather. There are always errant idiots that drive recklessly but in general traffic moved at safe speeds.

And not to let hotels off the hook... if you run a hotel and you have a set minimum temperature that the guest can not move below, you must give bedding options that do not include super heavy down comforters. Every study indicates that people sleep better if they are a little bit cool. If you give me a down comforter designed for sub arctic weather you are going to need a lot of air conditioning to keep me comfortable!

And finally, my totally subjective best of:
Best drivers Minnesota
Best rest area system Ohio
Best individual rest area Illinois (mile marker 2 I think. But don't quote me on it.)
Best signage New York
Best scenery New York east of Syracuse