Hidden information design

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I’ve stared at UK mainline railway station departure boards at many times over the years, yet there is hidden information design that I just caught on to. I am usually fixated on the platform number and whether it will leave on time. So it was only this week that I picked up on the hidden information design of this little train ideogram as a footnote at the bottom of each destination on London Euston station’s display. I have been staring at this screen on and off for two decades as I travelled to see families or clients.

Once you realise that the ideogram is there, it’s a revelation as it gives you a lot of pertinent information at a glance.  Just look at the picture I took of it below


Ideogram as hidden information design on train departure board.

The diagram flips, this was the dominant image.  It shows:

  • How many carriages are on the train
  • How full of reserved passengers each carriage is ( in this picture carriages A, B, E and J are very full).
  • Which coaches are first class (in this picture the first class coaches are indicated to be K,J,H & G)
  • A cup periodically flashed over coach C to show that was where the shop / takeaway cafe was onboard the train. (It is very rare for UK trains to have proper dining cars on board now. Instead you buy a sandwich and a coffee from a kiosk on board that you can eat at your seat).
  • That the quiet zone had to be indicated in text because they had pushed the limits of the constrained screen space for the ideogram

It would be interesting to see if this data was available in API form for apps or web service usage and what could be done with it. More related content here