For those of us not based in London, the Underground is a very strange and alien world that we have never experienced before. Having visited London many times, I am now used to the wonder and excitement of the Underground but for this article I will be casting my mind back to my first experiences and how bewildered I was by how staggeringly difficult the whole experience was. So let me take you on a journey…
Firstly, there are the masses of crowds, pushing you along, forcing you to go at a pace that as a newbie you really shouldn’t be going at. You want to stop before you get lost but you can’t so you slow down slightly, get pushed to the side and finally find a little space to get your map out. Back on your way you go. Now you get to a junction where you have to decide which line you need to take. So, you walk over to the large tube map on the wall looking for something large that shouts ‘YOU ARE HERE’ but there is nothing. You have no idea where the name of the place you are is in London so you don’t even know which vague area of the map you should begin to look for your starting point. You start looking in the centre, but you just cannot find where you are, nevermind where you want to go. So you look around for some help… in the north we are used to men in uniforms hovering about to guide you in the right direction…hmmm no such look here and all the passers by seem so pre-occupied and are rushing past you so quickly that you cannot ask them either.
Back to the map. Suddenly a lady comes over, also looking at the map so you grab the opportunity to beg her to tell you where on the map you are, but unfortunately she is also trying to find her way and begins to complain about the map. All you want at this stage is a list of stations so you can choose where you want to get to and it will helpfully tell you which line and importantly which direction (oh yes we’ve all made that mistake!) you need to go in.
You finally work out which line it is, yes the yellow one (it helps us visitors if you use this terminology rather than saying the name of the line). So you take the escalator, however, everyone strangely seems to know this alien rule to you which is you should stand to the right and if you don’t people will tut and push by you as if you’ve done the most horrid thing in the world. But hang on we’re in the UK, we overtake on the right not the left so where did this odd rule originate?
You make it to the platform and you have never seen so many people in such a small space in all your life!!! You consider turning back but it is impossible, the exit is totally blocked with commuters and the person on the tannoy system is telling you to move further down the platform. There is NO going back. There is an odd musty smell which makes you feel uneasy but how cute! there are rats running around on the tracks! Eventually you make it onto a train after lots of pushing and watching someone get trapped by the doors – what is all that about? What is this weird world where doors open and close on their own within a matter of seconds?
Suddenly, I remember that I was told by some fellow UX Londoners not to touch or look at anyone. But I can’t help watching these people because they are so fascinating. It becomes apparent that they really do not look at each other! I also notice people who get on, read a book for literally 1 minute before getting off – what is the point? How much can you really take in in a minute? But everyone is doing it…
I finally make it to my destination and pop into a cafe to reflect on my experience. I realise I’ve not seen any wheelchairs or pushchairs on my travels. Is the tube accessible for these people? I didn’t notice any lifts at all.
Now that I have been to London many times I have fallen into the trap of behaving in this strange manner myself. It is so easy to slide back into it. But it really is alien to the rest of the UK. The next time you see someone staring at the map or someone stood to the left not the right, just remember that it is your world, not theirs that is odd and you must forgive them until they learn the ways 😉
Please share your thoughts with me. I’d love to hear them!