Category Archives: transportation

delhi train station

Standby affordance

A change in the plan of the fieldwork trip – we decided to take the train from Delhi to Bareilly. My suitcase was obviously a wrong form of luggage in the jam-packed Delhi train station on Sunday. We could not even dare to find the platform through the wall of people. A ‘coolie’ was found and I knew it from the moment I saw him that he was our savier for the journey: He not only carried our bags in 40+ degree temperature, but also made space for us to move forward, and guided us to find the platform and the right compartment. I could barely keep up the pace with him to follow. Without him, I am sure our 30-min spare time till the departure would have been a futile struggle.

Delhi train station

delhi train station

delhi train station

delhi train station

When we got near the train, it was even more difficult to move. There was a long queue of people waiting indefinitely to get into the 2nd class compartments. It was first-come, first-serve basis, so they had no idea whether they could possibly get in or not. When the train finally started to move my mind was racing through the indecisive emotion wave of relief, discomfort and pity – looking at the solid human line of those who were waiting patiently in standstill without the success of getting in.

delhi train station

delhi train station

indian train

delhi train station

indian train

What I found out later was that even for 1st class where passengers are given pre-assigned seats, if you are on waiting list, you have to wait at the station. Because there is no way for anyone or any online system to know which seats would actually be available in the train until the physical train arrives. The reserved seat passenger names are listed on a printout outside each compartment. The fact that you could make reservation online didn’t mean much unless you get the confirmed seats at the time of reservation. As there is no obligation to buy the ticket before the train leaves, people have the mentality of just booking the train first anyway. Cancellation fee is too small to make people cancel the reservation they no longer need. So everyone has to wait at the station if you want to travel. If the train gets late, the station officers would tell you ‘its coming in 5 minutes’. After hearing the ‘5 minutes’ answer for about 10 times and the actual waiting time of 2 hours, your romantic image associated with the train journey starts to diminish dramatically. ‘In 5 min’ in India is highly metaphorical. It is a lip service of the person who is in the position to answer you despite the uncertainty of the situation, or the lack of information source available to that person. Alternatively ‘In 5 min’ is an answer simply used by the person who has no sense of time or empathy to understand the urgency you are faced with. I often feel that I am silently mocked by those who watch me get frustrated with delays: “What’s the hurry? You can just watch the world goes by, like me.” I am learning to live with IST (Indian Standard Time) for my mental health.

indian train

What I also found out furthermore was that there is an exception to this reservation system. Our ‘luxury’ 1st class compartment had four full passengers to begin with. After a few stations, a family of 6 turned up, guided by a gunned guard in the train. According to the translation, the man heading the group told us in Hindi: “Make space for us”. He or any of his companions obviously did not say ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ for accommodating his family and himself, making the 4-person compartment a 10-person discomfort zone. All Indian passengers fell silent after they got on board. The compartment was only filled with two men’s loud voices of phone calls and conversations. When the baby of the family started to cry, the same guard came over, took the baby in his available arm that was not holding the gun and left.

Implications of dysfunctional infrastructure are multifold. The important question is whether the society and those who are in power both have shared motivations to improve it. Habits and everyday behaviors that people have become used to and take for granted are most difficult to change.

sharing resources: street car

I don’t and can’t drive a car. And I do not wish to change that ever. But the concept of Streetcar: self-service pay-as-you-go-car is still intriguing. I don’t know how successful they are, but it does sound like they found a niche market for city dwellers that need a car just occasionally for those unavoidable ikea trips, or big grocery shopping days – considering most regular car rental companies have their pick-up and drop-off locations for out-of-city travelers or foreign visitors. It is a business model that is made possible because of the substantial percentage of their customers booking their cars through internet and mobile phone calls, micro-managing their rental duration, location, reservation changes, and post-payment with credit cards. Streetcar states that it takes just 60 seconds for the booking information to reach the specific car, and charges are made by the hour.


Having witnessed all the failed examples of free city bikes where bikes ended up miserably valdalized, I was surprised to see that the condition of the streetcars was really good, without any sign of coercion present in the car itself like cctv, or sensor monitoring any damage to the car.

This business model does have the potential to increase the inherent value of the resource, provided that it is helped by tools for effectively managing and negotiating its utility and the supply-demand is on balance. What other commodities could we expect to adopt this model? Chain saw? People’s excess leisure time and skills? Storage space?

Streetcar membership card is indeed another near field communication device. As people’s wallets are getting populated with more than one of these cards now, I wonder how the industry will cope with the presence of multiple NFC-enabled devices at the point of input.


Better pictures and videos of UK’s streetcar are found on the company’s website:

gradual dissemination: the usefulness of touch

going through some of my old photos, i noticed how SUICA system, initially rolled out as a public transportation card replacing paper tickets using nfc (near field communication) technology has been gradually introduced in japan.

the copy on the ad above is translated something in the line of “fun transformation of your mobile phone” (photo taken in april 2008).

around march 2006 when this picture was taken, i saw lots of advertisements and posters featuring this penguin character representing suica. all focused on the concept of how suica can be used to pay for the tickets, make small payments at shops instead of cash, and touch interface. for instance, this little penguin character would appear in the tv commercials accompanying a lady traveling alone passing through ticket gates with her, and drinking beer with her at a bar. it was going everywhere with the owner. the penguin also enjoyed the stardom through lots of character goods produced around it – flush toys, key chains, hats, whatever you can imagine.

suica is one of the brand names in japan that does more or less the same thing or using the same technology (like UK’s Oyster card)- which is essentially a cash top-up card. with japan rail behind it, suica had the power to educate the mass about the new interaction method as the benefits were quite clear: no need for queuing to get tickets, less hassle in passing through the crowded ticket gates, fewer reasons to carry coins. the clear benefit primarily as transportation tickets supported the mass adoption as well – though we are still talking about several years. the maturity of adoption brought a few variants as well: registration is now possible so that you can get your money back even though the card is lost; you can link it to your credit card so that it can be automatically charged once the balance goes below a certain point; commuter-pass registration is possible, as most japanese employers reimburse the commuting transportation cost based on the price of the monthly pass.

of course suica and its sister systems have become available on mobile phone for some time (under the name ‘mobile suica’). it seems about 60% of mobile phones in the market supports the function already. my tokyo colleague, Fumiko Ichikawa has a brief report on the current state of adoption in her blog. what is pleasing to observe is the gradual expansion of its use for other purposes than micro cash payments.

ana (all nippon airways) supports several methods for check-in. obviously mobile phone enabled with nfc like mobile suica is one of them.

suipo (suica poster) is launched last summer – it is an advertising platform using mobile suica as interface. people can touch the indicated spot on the advertisement to get the ad on the mobile. or you can use the normal suica card to get the 2-d bar code displayed, a technology that has been around longer in the market. if the boss canned coffee ad does not tempt you as a smart usage of nfc, you can also read about navita, the public maps using the same information distribution system as suipo. as with 2-d bar code, i am not sure how widely this is used at the moment.

from penguins to mobile micro payment to touch-based information distribution: it is a nice example of how a new technology is disseminated in incremental steps, which was a long journey.

i had a chance to probe how chinese people think about touch or near-touch interface a couple of weeks ago. while the metro ticket system in shanghai is same as oyster or suica, most people could not think of any other use of a similar system beyond that. on the other hand, their understanding of bluetooth wireless technology seemed to confuse many people about possibilities and benefits of near field interaction. a remote indication to think about the adoption curve and mass-market education of new technology – with or without a cute penguin’s involvement.

video calls: intrusion potential

i read a short korean newspaper article today about sexual harassment through video calls. illustration below & the original article from

sexual harrassment through video call

according to the article, the reported callers disabled the caller identification so the receiver could not judge who the call was from before deciding to take the video call. one of the victims captured the video call with a camera and reported to the police. the victims said that the received video calls showed either masturbating scenes or exposed genitals. another sexual harassment case was also reported on a man who repeatedly made video calls of sexual nature to his (ex)girlfriend. the article urges a solution to prevent harassment attempts through video calls as their impact on the victims can be more substantial than text based messages or voice calls. particularly, in these cases, police failed to identify the callers through the mobile phone operators because of the caller id protection, which did not seem to have been designed for cases like this. if you can read korean, the original article is found here.

i pick on this as it is a good example of abusing a useful tool: can there be a smart design solution that could prevent or reduces the impact of the abuse without compromising the regular, normal usage (including the phone, calls, and the caller id function itself)? or a solution that would discourage people from attempting so to begin with, like advertising the existence of the surveillance cameras? the intrusion potential does become higher as the bandwidth of information transmitted through each communication session increases as with the potential benefits. furthermore as mobile communication channels diversify, it is important that people can be still in full control: how do i want to be connected and disconnected? this question has so many facets that relevant answers may (have to) come from – device user interface design, communication infrastructural design, legal enforcement, transformation of social norms, personal lifestyles and preferences, competence in using the device. people have incredible ability to adapt to or reject changes and the trade-offs between the cost and the effect will be always assessed before it is fully integrated as a behavioral change.

perhaps my past project called ‘defined delivery‘ may be a slightly related example of a design work on the topic of increasing mobile communication modality and therefore the social sensibility. the zest of the concept was that text messages can be delivered to the recipient in the desirable / desired context as the sender intends to, as this is our natural communication behavior. for voice calls, it is not rare that we ask upfront to the recipient whether it is good time for a call, implying that the caller does not want to interrupt the recipient and/or the call needs to take place in certain contexts – be it the recipient’s physical state or attention level, or the noises from the environment. translating the same principle into text messaging context, we designed and built a new messaging prototype application on Nokia 7650s that enabled the sender to define the context in which the message should be delivered (in fact notified) to the recipient. the prototypes were tested with a group of high school students and the result of this work was presented at CHI 2005, and the presentation can be available upon request to jung at younghee dot com. the official conference paper can be downloaded here (but beware of the boring language if you are not familiar with CHI paper format).

without going further on speculating the specific design solutions to relieve the mishaps of the intrusion potentials of the video calls, i would like to jump onto a simple example on how japanese people came up with solutions against sexual harassments in crowded commuter trains. have you have been to one of those super crowded trains which designated personnel to push people into, wearing white gloves? all illustrations are from other websites – click on the image to go to the webpage where it is originally posted from.
beware of chikan

it is difficult to identify the owner of the hands in an extremely crowded, confined space. and even if you do, it is not easy to deal with the situation when most passengers are under time pressure without being able to move freely. one solution is to designate women-only metro cars during peak hours.
women only metro car

another is to raise the public awareness of the fact that being ‘chikan’ is a criminal act through posters and signs. photo below is from jan’s weblog.
chikan is crime

there are a number of personal mobile accessories designed to prevent ‘chikan’, like a pen-sized stun gun or an alarm buzzer.
alarm pin

the legal system has also developed to promote victims to report cases. but it seems that the side effect is also substantial as once accused, it is difficult for men to get away with it. read these humorous tips for men below about avoiding false accusations of being chikan, with the original article in japanese found here.

[ excerpt from mari’s diary ]
No.1 Don’t stand behind women. especially you should skip beautiful woman.
No.2 If she misunderstands and glares at you, never look away. You should glare at her back. There was a precedent case that the testimony “he looked away, so I was convinced he was the molester” was accepted in the court.
No.3 Unfortunately when you are misunderstood as a molester, you should never go to staff room in the train station with her, even though she insists. The law of criminal procedure permits the immediate arrest by a private individual. If you follow her, it means you are arrested by her and she can turn you in the police. To take the best chance of clearing yourself, you should leave the place after giving your contact address to her.
My friends say they try to read a book using both hands, or one hand in the bag and the other holding on a strap.

the invisible tag


the underground / metro ticket in lisbon was surprisingly made out of paper.
i made a mistake of inserting the ticket into the card slot, which was obviously for something else. despite the language barrier, a local guy tried to explain to me how to make the ticket work – i had no clue that it was in fact a RFID based ticket till then. a closer inspection revealed a really tiny bulge on the card – without the support of the graphics printed on the paper. the reader part also lacked the visual cue. perhaps there is a different approach in educating the public about the new technology – or this has matured in lisbon so long that the phase for the public education has long passed. in japan – there have been very elaborate efforts to make people understand the concept of, or at least learn how to use the touchless public transportation cards, like the easily memorable character, life-sized advertisements, and widely distributed instruction manuals.

Empathetic Service Mindset

I rarely have a chance to travel with Korean Air except when I visit my family in Korea. However – whenever I travel with them, I can’t help smiling at their one unique service:
Stickers for the passenger sleeping or away from the seat during the inflight service.

If you had experienced waking up in the middle of the flight hungry, or even worse – woken up by a persistent flight attendant who wants to fulfill his/her duty by distributing the goods to you, you will appreciate this little attention to detail. There were two different kinds of stickers I have seen in Korean Air flights.

This simple sticker was used during the domestic flight from Busan to Seoul, of which the flight time is just 45 minutes. It was put on by the flight attendant during the complimentary drink service.

guy sleeping

real grey

This set of stickers were in the seat on the 2-hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo, so that the passenger can choose appropriate ones to put on the seat before going to sleep or any type of ‘rest’ mode. A suitable variation of the same service intent when there were more types of services offered.

grey sticker

The definition of a good service may be inherently subjective. We probably all have our own opinions on it, as we surely know the feeling of being served properly. Restaurants are probably a good place to discover the meaning of a good service mindset that suits you. Personally, I started to distinguish services in general in two criteria:

1. Ones that are motivated by the server wanting to be recognized
e.g., In a very posh Indian hotel restaurant, the waiters came to our table every other minute to ask ‘Is everything alright?’, interrupting our conversation every time.
e.g., In a busy restaurant in Tokyo, the waiter cleared the plates away from the table immediately when I was eyeing on my last bit of the remaining sauce.

2. Ones that are motivated by the server’s empathy to the served
e.g., In a restaurant in California, the waitress brought a new fork as soon as she noticed me dropping mine on the floor.
e.g., In a restaurant in Seoul, the waitresses roams around the restaurant and refills the kimchi plate constantly till your meal is almost over, which allows adjusting the amount of kimchi served to each customer, without the customers always having to ask for more portions.
e.g., On a rainy day in Osaka, a cafe owner offered me an umbrella as I was paying the bill. She must have noticed that I didn’t bring one despite the weather, and discreetly offered it to me at the right time.

I draw a parallel between the real world services and the interaction design solutions in computer software or mobile phone service. Both take a great deal of understanding of the individual clienteles’ preferences and recognizing the intentions of the situations that are not explicitly communicated. And it is becoming more and more complex to do this as many design solutions are done to serve a large group of individuals with extremely diverse cultural backgrounds. Given the complexity I find my two simple criteria for distinguishing the restaurant services helpful in deciding features in service design that should be done invisibly or automatically, from the ones that you should prompt for the user’s decision based on contextual observations. Something that our old friendly office clip understood well – but executed rather poorly.

Most my references come from my restaurant experiences, but increasingly from inflight services. So far, my worst bit of inflight service experiences was the BA flight attendant refusing to help me with loading my luggage because she was not insured to the injury incurred by helping me”. Services are a tight interaction between the server and the served. Sometimes external constraints like BA’s policy on its employees prevent the server from providing a good service. It was nice of her to explain the reason for not helping me at least – as I could use some sympathy towards her rather than feeling angry. A nice gentleman helped me with the luggage anyway.