Being a statement of design irritation with train tickets…

10/07/2002

Over the weekend I went to visit my younger brother, Peter, in Oundle where he goes to a boarding school. My parents came as well – they picked me up from Peterborough train station and we all went out for an extremely pleasant lunch in a pub called The Pheasant, somewhere between Kettering and St. Neots. But this is not what I want to talk about today.

As I have said, I travelled to Peterborough by train. This involved me buying a set of two train tickets, each one of which was about a quarter of the size of a piece of A4 paper – if that sheet was cut into four horizontal strips. For some reason this shape really reminded me of a piece of design work in Edward Tufte‘s extraordinary book on information design, Envisioning Information. In this book, one of the projects he explores is the creation of train timetables – how to keep them clean and clear and informative. And (you may be ahead of me here), the best example of a well-designed timetable he comes across is approximately the size of one quarter of a sheet of A4 paper – if that sheet was cut into four horizontal strips.

More often than I care to recall, I’ve travelled somewhere with a return ticket, with little or no idea as to when my returning train is likely to depart. Particularly with tickets that are ‘open’ returns, it would be profoundly useful to have that kind of information with you. So why on earth isn’t it printed on the back of the ticket? A bespoke return time-table assembled with all the information about the kind of trains you can travel on, your likely date of return etc. would be a godsend, and presumably not a particularly difficult thing to develop. My question, then, is why doesn’t this exist already?