Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Brake Lights: A Usability Study

Have you ever been navigating through the front end menus of a PS2 game and gone off to get a cup of tea only to come back and think, "Which menu item did I have selected?"


That's because console developers have to adhere to strict standards, know as TCRs and TRCs, that describe in precise detail how a front end menu should behave.

For example, Sony state that the selected menu option - which could be an icon or a word - must be coloured differently to the rest of the menu. But if there are only two menu items on the first menu you encounter, how do you know which colour is the selected colour and which is the unselected?

So a colour change alone isn't enough. Because Sony et al know this they also state that there must have some sort of animation of the selected item - some sort of distinguishing feature.

So what has this got to do with car brake lights?

On old cars, the brake lights sometimes share the same housing as the rear lights. The problem with this is the rear lights just look a bit brighter when the brakes are applied. If you happen to look away just before the brakes are applied, then when you look back again it's often difficult to tell that the car is slowing.

Or, to put it another way, there is no distinguishing feature to show that the brakes are applied.

So, in 1998 the EU stated that all cars must have a centre brake light. A distinguishing feature that allows other drivers to instantly see that the brakes are applied. (Incidentally, the EU took a whole 12 years to catch up with the America!)

Make your distinguishing features blatantly obvious and your users will thank you for it.