A sign there is a problem

A sign there is a problem

Recently I helped a friend to move house, and they hired a van.

It was a very lovely Ford Transit 350 Trend.
The day was going well, until my daughter phoned and I grabbed my phone from inside the cab, took the call, and then replaced it in a pocket in the drivers door (the nearest thing to me as I stood outside talking).
Stock photo of a van that looks like the one we had.
Stock photo of a van that looks like the one we had.

Nothing to see here... Looks normal to me...

Yup, nothing special about this van... looks like many other vans. (I'm in the UK so it's a right hand drive, but I'm sure you can imagine if the steering wheel was over on the other side).
I want you to imagine you are stood just outside the van, near where the man in the photo is, but totally outside the cab of the van on the road just taking a call.
You've got the wind in your hair, the sun is shining and you still have a whole lot of boxes to move. You finish your call and need to rush on to help with the move - so you need to put your phone somewhere safe.
 

Quick - I need to stash my phone somewhere safe - but where!?

Plonking it on the drivers seat seems a silly idea, and I can't easily reach the pocket that this man has chosen to use as I'm a short and involves climbing in to the van - so I pop it in one of the door pockets for safe keeping.
I spot what I can see is a handy mobile phone pocket! Hurrah!
 
Can you see what is coming next? aghhhh.....
Can you see what is coming next? aghhhh.....
 
Here are a couple of less elegant photos of the door panel that shows you the same pocket:
Grubby old door, but nice clear pic of the phone sized slot.
Grubby old door, but nice clear pic of the phone sized slot.
I drew a helpful red circle so you can see this nice phone holder, in case you weren't sure of the location.
I drew a helpful red circle so you can see this nice phone holder, in case you weren't sure of the location.
It's a really nice size for a phone! 😍
My Google Pixel 3XL fit in just nicely, the top of the phone just poked up enough to retrieve it, and I could see it was safe from where I was just a few meters away.
 

Perfecto! A phone sized slot!

I slid the Pixel in to place, and as I did I spotted a little sticker inside the door, my phone is kinda large and covered up the icon - but don't fear, I saw it as I dropped the phone in! Hmmmm 🤔
 
This was the icon (or very similar)
This was the icon (or very similar)

Hang on, what's this? No phones?

I won't pretend I didn't see it because I did, but that kind of makes it worse - I remember seeing the icon as I dropped my phone in, and my brain registered that it meant "no mobile phones" and something about this seemed okay. Maybe because it was in a van, and it's illegal to use your phone when driving, and because I was busy, and the pocket was oh such a perfect size, and I just didn't think much, and I was distracted.... Or something like that.

Erm, so what does this sign mean then?

Some of the better signage here (instead of just letting you play Pictionary and work out what is going on) actually states the purpose of the icon and sign.
Some of the better signage here (instead of just letting you play Pictionary and work out what is going on) actually states the purpose of the icon and sign.
According to Google it means anything you want it to mean with the main focus being on "no mobile phones" - like most signs, it depends on the environment it is placed, but for the most part it means you aren't allowed your phone, or you aren't allowed to use your phone.

There are two main variations of the sign:

  1. The icon in a red circle with a line through it, plus some really nice explaining text.
  1. The icon icon in a red circle with a line through it on its own.
notion image

Hindsight is a wonderful thing...

Ok, so in hindsight it seems reasonable that the sticker being place directly IN the pocket would mean "don't put your phone in here" but just the icon alone was so ambiguous and I didn't properly process it that I made a big mistake.
It wasn't until my friend walked past the door and slammed the door shut that I truly realised what that icon meant.
This isn't me, but it is pretty much how I felt, so hey, it'll do.
This isn't me, but it is pretty much how I felt, so hey, it'll do.
 

Suddenly, in a flash moment of clarity, I knew what the sign meant! Yay!

(booooo!)
It appears that when the door shuts, that little pocket is no longer a pocket, but a cut-out so that the dashboard can extend out and fit snug against the door! What a great design feature! *ahem - sarcasm*
I'm being generous with red circles today - just in case you forgot where the door/pocket was
I'm being generous with red circles today - just in case you forgot where the door/pocket was
I'm not going to take credit for the next photos, I found them whilst trying to find pictures of Transit Van doors, but it kinda shows exactly how the way my phone relocated itself once the door was shut...
 

OH... OOOpppsss!

See if you can find where the phone ends up... (note, this is not my phone, credit: mirror.co.uk)
See if you can find where the phone ends up... (note, this is not my phone, credit: mirror.co.uk)
Again, this is not my phone, but you get the point. You can see the full story of the person whose phone this is in this article here 😩
Not a banana for scale, just a banana shaped phone (note, this is not my phone, credit: mirror.co.uk)
Not a banana for scale, just a banana shaped phone (note, this is not my phone, credit: mirror.co.uk)

RIP Pixel 🪦

I couldn't take a photo of the actual incident, because my lovely Pixel phone was massacred by a Ford Transit dashboard 😭😭😭
Once I get a new phone to take a picture of my old phone I'll upload my poor dead Google Pixel 😔 (Rest In Pieces) to here.
 

The Moral(s) of the Story

  • THE 'POCKET' IS A BAD DESIGN! If you have to have a sign to explain to someone they shouldn't do something. The sticker was added by the rental company, so it is clear that it wasn't the first time this has happened. I wasn't the first person to assume this pocket was to put a mobile phone in so someone had to add this sticker. Early user testing of a prototype is the perfect way of finding these mistakes before you mass produce a £33k van that turns in to a phone killing machine....
 
  • THE STICKER WASN'T HELPFUL If you are going to use a sign to alert people of a danger, you should make sure that they have no chance of misunderstanding the meaning. Maybe I was being a bit daft, but it only takes 1 person who is being daft to create a massive problem.
    • It usually doesn't cost any more to add text to the sign, but it gives a lot of clarity and helps the user know EXACTLY what you mean.
      Icons on their own can be easily misinterpreted so always always add labels to icons where you can, especially if there is any element of ambiguity around what the sign means.
       
notion image
Take these icons you may find in your car, and their slightly tongue in cheek labels - do you know what they are really meant to be for?
And finally - my favourite "ambiguous" car sign/icon is this one. What does this button do?
 
notion image
  1. Launch the octopus
  1. Activate the showerhead
  1. Turn on the grow light
 
(source: @DougCollinsUX on Twitter 🐥 (link to tweet))
 
I've ordered a cheap handset to get my by, but this was really rather an expensive lesson in thinking carefully before I do something. I never truly thought this pocket was as lethal as it was, thankfully it was "just a phone" that got broken, but for products that contain life threatening situations (allergens, fire, poisons etc) things may not be quite as banana shaped in the future.
Take extra care when you direct your users with icons, and where possible back up your message with text to give them a better chance of knowing what you mean.
 
Thanks for reading
Rachel

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