In April 2017, one of Singapore’s train operators, SMRT Corporation, started rolling out a brand-new fleet of trains.

These shiny new trains have LCD displays inside them-displays that will dynamically update their content to help commuters find their way around the train network.

Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?

But the actual execution of the display was so bad it makes for a perfect case study of how bad design can destroy a great idea. So, buckle up and get ready for a ride (sorry) that is equal parts entertaining, exasperating, and educational.

Staris 1.0: The original design

Before the new LCD displays, SMRT trains used the SMRT Active Route Map Information System or STARiS. Since I don’t approve of the quirky capitalisation used, I’ll refer to it as Staris instead.

Staris 1.0. PHOTO: SGTrains

Staris displays the train route map (well, it’s technically a diagram, not a map-more about that below) of the North-South and East-West train lines. Green LED lights indicate the rest of the journey, and a blinking red light tells you the next stop. Pretty straightforward and elegant.

A major drawback of the original Staris is that, being a physical display, it needs to be changed every time new stations or train lines are added to the network. Unfortunately, that happens regularly enough to be a real pain. (On the photo above, notice the sticker near the left edge of the display, which covers a future line extension.)

SMRT needed a new display-a digital one-so that the train map can be dynamically updated whenever new stations are added.

Staris 2.0: Oh, no. They did not

Staris 2.0, an all-digital iteration of the previous display, makes perfect sense if it weren’t so horribly designed.

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