Finding the right volume

19Sep07

I have been riding the train systems in Chicago and San Francisco quite a bit lately. While neither is perfect, and San Francisco’s probably gets a lot more positive press, Chicago does something that every transit agency should emulate: they make their announcements as loud and clear as possible. When you hear “This is an Orange Line train to downtown” or “State and Lake is next”, you can be confident that you’re on the right train and your stop is coming up next. But in San Francisco, the announcements are quite faint and hard to understand, and the train names aren’t very informative. For instance, the train to downtown San Francisco has no visual or auditory clues that it goes that way, aside from a few signs in the station. And while Chicago’s trains are certainly labeled better, many of them refer to downtown as the “Loop”, which might confuse first-time visitors.

With this in mind, I leave you with a bit of advice. If you have important instructions to convey to your users — whether by audio, video, or just plain text — make sure your messages are easy-to-understand. At the same time, try to use the terminology that customers are most likely to recognize, especially if you want to provide a good experience for those who are new to your product or service.



2 Responses to “Finding the right volume”

  1. I haven’t been to San Francisco, but that’s definitely true about Chicago. The recorded messages that you gave as examples can be clearly heard on the trains, but when a CTA employee uses the intercom to give info on a problem (why the train is stopped between stations), the sound is garbled (diction is in part to blame) and way too low. Someone always says “Did you hear that?” CTA may as well have employees perform charades of the problem in each car.

  2. Oddly, the Chicago trains do seem to have a pre-recorded message for “Attention: We are temporarily stopped waiting for signal clearance”, but they don’t have a message for any of the other reasons the train might be stopped or delayed.


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