Monday, 7 August 2000
The world is complex enough as it is. Suppose, you would like to travel by train from Gouda to Amsterdam Sloterdijk station. There is no direct train. All connections make a detour, clockwise or counterclockwise around the Randstad.

What is het most pleasant option, which journey is the easiest?

Journey Travel Criteria

My personal criteria:
  1. Travel Time
    I don't care much about a few minutes, but mostly it's the shorter the better. Unless I travel for fun, during off peak hours, when there is no time to hurry.
  2. Comfort
    What is it going to be? A packed, noisy slow train, or the pleasant mostly quiet first class business compartment? The longer the journey, the more important comfort is.
  3. Number of transfers
    The less the better. During rush hour every transfer is yet another annoying interruption, searching for a new place to sit. During off peak hours I like to turn every transfer into a little party, preferably in a pleasant environment. I would prefer a cup of coffee in Haarlem's antique station restaurant to be blown away at the long, windy station of Leiden.
Sign, what a mountain of information to base a decision on. Fortunately Dutch railways offer all relevant information, for fee on the internet. Unfortunately the journey planner (...ns.nl/...). violates the Keep-it-simpel E-commerce commandment. It is unnecessary difficult and complex.

Room for improvement

The journey survey can be improved on a number of points:
  1. The travel time is somewhere in the header, in a kind of summary. But it moves out of sight when I scroll down to the details. 3 possible train journeys from Gouda to Amsterdam Sloterdijk station: via Alphen and Leiden, via Den Haag, or via Utrecht and Amsterdam central station
  2. The columns are poly interpretable.
    • What is a station? Is that origin, point of transfer or destination?
    • What is time? Is it travel time? No, as that showed up in the header. And what are those V & A? Is it some Dutch abbreviation? Which one is arrival and which is departure? Grr, I strongly dislike this kind of cryptic codes. If, and only if, that V&A are meaningful I would have to do a mental IF-V-THEN-ELSE-IF-A for every line.
    • Why don't arriving trains arrive at a platform? Could it be that this column only bears meaning for departing trains, and is just a waste of valuable screen space for arrivals?
    • What is so good about train 2833? Those four digits are completely irrelevant to me, won't change my descision. Get rid of them. The difference between a slow train (Dutch stoptrein) and fast train (Dutch sneltrein) is relevant. Yet it's hard to see the difference as these two Dutch words are too much alike.
    • What is Richting/eindbestemming (Direction/Destination)? When is this a direction, and when will this be a destination? And would that be my destination? It would make sense, but it's probably the end point of the train's ride.
  3. Every journey ends with Reisdetails (travel details). You can click on those travel details. Yes, it's a need-to-know as it doesn't look like a link. And then again, didn't I scroll down to the detail level already? Or should I have interpreted the triangle in the circle as an incentive to click?
  4. The summary tires the eye, requires a lot of eye movements. Related information is far apart.
    • While in transfer, I look at a printed copy, looking for the platform. The station is in the first column, the related platform is in the third.
    • And, I would like to be sure to board the right train. Just a quick check, comparing my schedule with the display on the platform. Too bad again, the departure time is in column two. The end point of the same train ride is in column four.
    • Why distinct between departing and arriving trains? Why split one train ride into two lines? It just doubles the complexity. The lines between the various options are not a big help either, just clutter the screen.
Grumble, the whole survey is an unnecessary complex puzzle for my travelling mind. Yes, I can hear you say "It's easy to criticise." Yes, yes, I know. All right, enough grumbling. Don't be a Mr know-it-all, just show me a better alternative.

Alternative design

Ok, here you go. See a free alternative from this designer, with the same information in a new layout.
From Platform Departure Train Arrival
Gouda 9 09:18   direction Alphen a/d Rijn 09:37 Alphen a/d Rijn
Alphen a/d Rijn 2 09:39   direction Leiden Central 09:52 Leiden Central
Leiden Central 4b 10:01 Fast train direction Haarlem/Hoorn 10:20 Haarlem
Haarlem 1 10:25   direction Amsterdam Central 10:36 Amsterdam Sloterdijk
  Travel time: 01:18 Journey details
Gouda 10 09:29   direction Den Haag Central 09:52 Den Haag Central
Den Haag Central 11 09:59 Fast train direction Leiden Centraal/ Amsterdam Central 10:42 Amsterdam Sloterdijk
  Travel time: 01:13 Journey details
Gouda 3 09:36 Fast train direction Utrecht Central 09:55 Utrecht Central
Utrecht Central 7a/b 10:02 IC direction Amsterdam Central/Haarlem 10:34 Amsterdam Central
Amsterdam Central 1 10:41 Fast train direction Haarlem/Dordrecht 10:46 Amsterdam Sloterdijk
  Travel time: 01:10 Journey details
  1. Every column has one, and only one meaning. See all departure times in one glance, top to bottom.
  2. Every ride with one train is at one line. Every line easily reads left to ride, from departure station, via train to point of arrival. Minor details are deemphasised, are not screaming for attention. Yet, the fast trains and intercities are easy to recognise.
  3. Related lines are in one colour. The travel time is below every possibility, in a line that is almost completely blank, as a visual separation between the various possibilities. Links are easy to spot, thanks to the standard link colours.
Well, I go and catch a train, no hurry as it's due to depart tomorrow, and during off peak hours too. Yummy. So, the slow train from platform number 10 is good enough, and an easy transfer after that, getting a coffee in Den Haag. Finally at 09:59 this Buddha will sit down and smile for three quarters of an hour in the fast train. How easy life can be.

Till next week!