Friday, 30 January 2009

What a waste (1) – Lost in car park

Last night I visited a friend who lived in Edgefield Plains. I had a rather frustrating experience trying to park my car in the multi-storey car park at Block 107.

When I first turned into the car park, I proceeded to drive to the upper floors to look for the visitors’ lots. The car park was very long, and when I finally reached the end of the 4th level, I discovered that there was no ramp to go up to the next level; and thus far all the parking lots were marked red, meaning they were reserved for residents. Thinking that I must have overshot the ramp, I went down to the 3rd level (it was a ‘one-way street’ type car park), and then went up to the 4th level again. As it turned out, the 4th level was the uppermost level. But still I did not see any white parking lots.

By that time, I was getting quite agitated and panicky as I was going to be late. Thinking that perhaps the visitors’ car park was in another building, or in some open area, I impatiently descended; round and round, floor after floor – did I mention that it was a very long car park?

I went out to the main road, drove around the block and found another entrance with a sign pointing to a multi-storey car park. When I finally found the car park, I realized that it was the same car park, but this was different entrance. Not knowing what else to do, I drove in and then I finally saw it - a sign saying that the visitors’ car park is in Level B1 in the basement. When I finally arrived at my friend’s home, I found out that practically every other visitor had the same frustrating encounter; and to my relief that, several guests arrived even later than me.

This is a classic example of poor design which did not take into consideration the basic principle of population stereotypes. In brief, Population Stereotype is “A seemingly arbitrary choice, or particular option, that is chosen by a large proportion of a given population” (full definition here). For example; look at the tap in this photo. In Singapore, when we want to turn the tap off, or reduce the flow, we would push the lever down. However, in Jakarta, I discovered that their taps are designed to work in the opposite direction. On a number of occasions, I wet my shirt when I tried to turn off the tap in a hurry. It took me a few days to get accustomed to their taps; but by then it was time to return to Singapore.

When you design a system that does not conform to the population stereotype of your intended users, the chance of human errors and accidents will increase.

Coming back to our car park; in Singapore, the vast majority of multi-storey car parks in HDB estates are designed with the visitors’ lots in the upper levels and painted with white paint, whereas the residents’ lots are in the lower levels and painted red in colour. In this particular case, the situation was made worse by the poor signage. My friends and I all did not see the sign telling us to go to Level B1.

This brings me to a subject related to 5S which is Visual Control. Visual controls have a few basic functions; such as:

1) To provide information (e.g. Male/Female toilet signs, warning signs etc)
2) To give instructions especially operating instructions
3) To simplify the task
4) To alert the user to an abnormal situation; e.g. the Empty warning light in your car’s fuel gauge.

Still on the subject of car parks, have you ever been in a car park where you had to go round and round to look for an empty lot? Often you, the driver, would ask your passengers to help you to look out for them. Sometimes, after going 1 full round, you realize that that level is full and you had to go to the next level and repeat the whole exercise. This, you will recall from my previous post, is called Muda or waste.

The good news is that, many car parks in Singapore have introduced a very user-friendly system of visual control. I have seen it in operation at Vivocity and Funan Centre. At the entrance to the car park, there is a prominent sign board indicating how many lots are available on each level. It helps you to decide immediately which level you should go to. At the car park itself, there are green and red lights to indicate if the parking lot is empty or taken. This is really helpful and saves time. In fact the relevant authorities have gone one step further. At strategic locations in the city, they have displays telling motorists the number of parking lots available in the major buildings.

I hope this article has helped you to appreciate the importance of 5S visual control systems. If you think of, or come across good examples of the creative use of visual controls, do share them with readers of this blog. Here’s another example from my friend Mr Peh’s blog.

Thank you.