This sign – PLEASE HOOT – made me almost laugh out loud in delight!
No Hooting. We see signs like that everywhere here in South Africa:
After thinking about it, I realised the clever usability issue this way of announcing yourself at gates solves: it removes the interface that can cause usability issues and simplifies it.
Intercoms at gates
With our high walls and crime rate in South Africa, intercoms at gates are ubiquitous in our suburbs.
An intercom solves the problem of who is allowed access to your property. With an intercom, the owner also has the opportunity of not letting in unsavoury characters looking for work or people trying to sell them something or a religion. (Pranksters can have a field day, randomly pushing intercom buzzers and running away!)
Intercoms can cause frustrations
Gaining access to properties using intercoms can be one of those awkward usability moments like opening doors (It’s not you. Bad doors are everywhere - external link).
My experience is that many gate intercoms aren’t user-friendly: often you can’t reach the intercom control panel because you’ve not parked close enough or it is designed so that it can’t be reached easily from an open car window; forcing you to step out of your car to push the buzzer. (That moment can leave you vulnerable to being hijacked - external link in this country.) Often there’s no feedback - external link (did it work? make a call to the house?), a fundamental principle for good usability;
any mark or sound, any perceivable indicator that communicates appropriate behavior to a person, professor and author Don Norman explains - external link.
What if you removed the intercom?
What if you removed the infrastructure (intercoms, cables, remotes, batteries etc.) and made it simpler to signal you’re at someone’s gate?
By displacing some parts of the announce-I’m-at-the-gate task – moving the responsibility from the owner (providing an intercom interface) to the visitor (honk their horns) – you could help solve the sometimes awkward usability problem of how to signal you’re at a gate.
Encouraging a new hooting practice
I could imagine a world where hooting to signal that you’re at a gate could become the norm. We’d contrive a honk-honk that means “I’m at the gate”, like the deliberate beeping or missed calls - external link between mobile phone users in some parts of the developing world to communicate something.
Who’s at the gate?
Granted, with such a simple solution, just a friendly sign, owners would not know who they are letting in.
Room for innovation
In the future, I’m sure innovators will come up with new ways to solve the announce-I’m-at-the-gate task: a mobile App, RFID tag or the like. Also, cars will be driverless - external link.