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Point of View

Czech Cops, ‘The Sound of Music,’ and Simplicity in Design

John Van Horn

If you have been following my Parking Today Blog, you will know that I recently spent a couple of weeks in Europe, attending the Parkex conference in the UK and then visiting four PARCS manufacturers in Germany, Austria and Italy. An article describing my professional adventures appears elsewhere in this month’s PT.

The trip wasn’t all work. I took a short side trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. It’s a beautiful, ancient city, with buildings dating to the 1200s. Good food, too. They also have observant police.

I went for a drive, and my GPS directions were “interfered with” by about 2,000 bicyclists who were riding for charity. I went down side streets and around corners, trying to get the infernal machine to take me another way.

 I came to the center of town, and I thought a cop directed me down an avenue.  I realized – too late – that it was a pedestrian-only area, and I was driving right through folks out for a Sunday walk. As I slowly drove around the giant horseshoe-shaped street, people were looking at me in horror and diving out of the way. That wasn’t much of a problem for them, since I was going all of 5 miles per hour.

The cop was waiting for me on the end of the street. He took my passport and driver’s license, and asked if I had any money. Thank heavens I had gotten some money – they don’t use the euro in the Czech Republic. I handed him all the money I had. 

About five minutes later, he returned with my license and passport, my change and a receipt for the 1,000 crowns (about $50), and gave me a stern lecture, in Czech, about obeying police officers and signs, and being an idiot. Surprisingly, I understood every word. Cops say the same thing no matter what language.

In Prague, the police are allowed to fine you on the spot. I guess they have to; how are they going to collect if you are in America or China when you get the citation in the mail?

It’s actually a good system – and by giving a receipt, they are cross-checked and have to turn the money in.  I had wondered whether it was graft, until I got the receipt. Of course, he could have given me a receipt for 1,000 crowns and kept 2,000. What was I going to do?

So much for innocent until proven guilty. I meekly drove off, after asking if it was OK to go that direction. He nodded, and I think there was a slight smile.

Much of “The Sound of Music” was filmed in Salzburg, Austria. I took a tour of the area, and the guide pointed out different locations where memorable scenes were shot. “That’s where the children sang ‘Do-Re-Mi.’” Or “Here’s where ‘Maria’ ran down the lane.” Sheesh – now I have to rent the movie so I can figure out what he was talking about. After all, it’s been nearly half a century since Julie Andrews taught those kids to sing and dance.

Seth Godin is a marketing guru and blogger, who is usually on the cutting-edge of all things good. In his post “Three Rules for Public

Interfaces” (April 9, 2013), Seth uses hotel showers as an example of the need for simplicity in design (for the other two rules, go to his blog).

... Rule 1: The more often a device is used by first-time users, the more standardized the interface should be.

For example, the shower in a hotel. Some of the most elegant, clever design ever created by man exists in the dials and wheels in the hotel shower. All of it is worse than a waste – it’s dangerous and time-consuming. Guests don’t want to learn a new way to turn on the shower, they don’t want to burn themselves; they just want the water to come out, at the right temperature, in the right direction, with the right quantity. The first time. ...

This is one of my biggest complaints about hotel showers. Why not a couple of simple knobs, hot on the left, cold on the right?

Correspondent John, who pointed me to Seth’s blog, adds the following: I’ve always thought that parking should be an activity that people don’t think twice about … almost invisible. It should be the result of great public design in all phases of the parking experience.

Why does our interface with the parker need to be complex? We want to simply get their money and send them on their way. I suggest that if revenue control manufacturers had their great-aunts or grandmothers come in and test their pay-on-foot or lane equipment, they would have a very different design.

At a trade show a few years ago, I went to each pay-and-display manufacturer and walked up to the machine. I told them to tell me nothing, and I tried to use it by simply looking at it and trying to follow the instructions.

Now I know a lot about parking and equipment. In every case, I was stumped. It seemed like it was their goal to make it more complicated than it had to be.

A friend once said to me, “Why is it that the parking industry is the only one where the mag stripe on your card can go on any which way on different machines? Go to the ATM or to the gas pump or to the supermarket, and the mag stripe is either down and to the left, or on the left side and up if you swipe vertically.”

If you had walked through the 2013 IPI Expo last month, you would have seen how many different ways there are to put your card in a machine.

Seth and John are right. We need to be transparent, easy

and forgotten.

P.S. By the way, I got some flak after I posted Seth’s comments about showers in hotels (PT Blog, April 9). One wag told me that I was simply wrong, that hotels standardized showers and they all worked the same.

I don’t know what planet this fellow was from, but I have been scalded in a dozen hotels in the past six months. Not one has similar controls for their showers. So there …

Article Abstract from June, 2013




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