Assessment item 2 Observation task

A day in the life of a bus commuter

commuters waiting for buses

© Hyacinth Steele 2016

Developing empathy

Part of my daily routine involves catching two buses each way to get to work and back home. At QUT Kelvin Grove there is a busway station on campus where I catch a bus to the Brisbane Cultural Centre bus station where I can my connection to go home.



The long platform has four stops for buses to pull into.

As I wait on the platform my first impression is of how busy the platform is. The entrance and exit to each platform (inbound and out bound) is via the same set of stairs or lift situated at the far end of each platform. There is a bottle neck as commuters exit and enter the platform area.


As buses pull in and people get off there is a rush and some shoving as commuters jostle each other on the narrow platform to get off or onto the same bus. I notice a bus that fails to pull in parallel to the platform. This means commuters are jumping off or having to pull themselves onto the bus straddling the gap between the platform and the bus step.

The busway where the buses travel has two lanes on each side of the station. The buses pull into the platform and then pull out into the far lane. This far lane is also sometimes used by buses to overtake buses that are idling too long at the platform. I notice a bus is stuck as the bus it was trying to overtake suddenly pulls out. Brakes are slammed on and the commuters inside lurch back and forth.

As I watch the commuters waiting on the platform I notice two main preoccupations. Firstly, checking the electronic boards which display the times and buses that are due to pull in. The second is looking down the platform watching for their bus to arrive. There is also a large timetable poster at the back of the platform. People push through the crowd to get to the timetable and this seems to be further complicated as they are also trying to check the electronic board, watch for the bus and check the large poster timetable at the same time. The platforms are busy with buses pulling in and out very quickly. There is no way of knowing which stop your bus will pull into. It is a balance between watching the board and keeping an eye on the buses pulling in.


As the buses pull in and out their brakes squeal there is an overall sense of noise, fumes and crowding. While people don’t complain there is not a sense of relaxation here. I notice to young students checking their phone and looking quizzically at the electronic board. This is not a place where you would remain longer than you have to. The only happy commuters seem to be the school students who chat to each other as they wait for their bus.

Hand drawing of busway

© Hyacinth Steele 2016


There is a mix of people pushing through the crowded platform from the elderly walking slowly with their canes, the disabled in wheelchairs or using walking frames or crutches, office workers and school children who throw their school bags over their shoulder often narrowly missing connecting with someone’s head or shoulder.

I notice a lady who is looking very worried. I ask her if she is okay. She says that she is not sure which bus to catch to Salisbury. Having spent such a long time as a bus commuter I have become familiar with many of the route numbers and I am able to tell her the numbers she should watch out for on the electronic board and as the buses come in. She says that it is very confusing as the electronic board and the bus timetable on the back wall don’t seem to match.


I normally wait for at least 30 minutes for my bus to arrive each day. It is usually late and the other evening it didn’t turn up at all and I had to wait nearly an hour for the next one to arrive. As a fellow commuter my feelings vary from frustration to resignation. I am acutely aware of the same people who are often at the platform at the same time as I am each day. There is the man who always wears a light brown suit and smells of cigarettes. There is the disabled older man in a yellow safety vest who calls out all the bus numbers until his bus arrives. He also has an unfortunate habit of eating the wax out of his ears. Then there is the man with a limp who always catches the same bus as I do. If he leaps up from bench he sits on each day, I can be assured my bus is somewhere in the long queue of buses coming across the bridge from the Queen Street mall. There is also an older lady who wears a sarong and an old blanket and thongs. She is there every day and sits and stares ahead.

I find the experience of waiting on the platform unpleasant. I have to push through the commuters, try to stay on the right side of the painted yellow line and rush to get on my bus before it pulls away. There is also the standard announcement which is very loud and warns everyone to be weary of any suspicious packages. If we spot them, we need to contact Crime Stoppers. It adds to the sense of noise and confusion. I wonder what would happen if there was an emergency and we all had to try and exit the platform at once via the single exit/entrance to the platform.

I begin to start asking myself “What if …?”


Beckman, S.L. & Barry, M. (2007). Innovation as a learning process: Embedding design thinking. California Management Review, 50(1), 25-56.

Brown, T. (2012, November 27). One design thinking tip you can use right now. Designing Thinking: Thoughts by Tim Brown [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Cross, N. (2011). Design thinking. Oxford: Berg.

Petroski, H. (2009). Success and failure in design. In H. Clark and D. Brody (Eds.) Design studies: A reader (pp. 89-95). London: Bloomsbury.

Razzouk, R. & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and Why is it important? Review of Educational Research, 82(3), 330-348.

Blogs I have posted comments on

From Ideation to Observation: Sea Cliff Bridge and Lawrence Hargrave Drive

Observation: Blog Task 2



INF536 – Designing Spaces for Learning



5 comments on “Assessment item 2 Observation task
  1. Hi Hyacinth,

    Your description of the bus station was so engaging, it took me there. I could see the commotion in my mind’s eye, particularly in the immerse paragraph.

    I was immersed in the experience as you described your fellow commuters and the unpleasantness of waiting on the bus platform after a hard day at work.

    From your description, the bus platform has not been designed with the user in mind in terms of comfort, safety or usability (understanding the bus timetables or knowing where the buses are going to stop). It sounds like a lot of public transport systems in Australia, I’m thinking of the railway system where I live, which seemed to have just grown and taken on a life of their own without rhyme or reason or any hint of design thinking anywhere to be seen.

    So, how would design thinking improve public transport? Buchanan (1996, p.10) discusses how design thinking can be used for “design of complex systems or environments for living, working, playing and learning.” Designer thinkers would immerse themselves in the experience of the bus station as Paul Bennett’s consultants did when they videotaped the hospital roof for five minutes or so, for a hospital in Minnesota, when they were asked the question: What is our patient experience? This immersion led to a lot of changes in the hospital. This might lead to changes in the design of the bus station.

    Bennett, P. (2007) Design is in the Details retrieved from

    Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2)5-21.

  2. Hi Hyacinth, great descriptive writing. I have never been dependent on public transit for a commute, but your analysis really brought the user experience home for me.

    It is striking to me that the public investment in this shared public good is so poorly designed from a user perspective. Surely there are a few easy fixes with regards to bus arrival and platform announcement. Some new parking garages (with guidance to open spots via lights) have more ability to meet user needs than this and probably most public transit stations. We can ask “what purpose was this designed for?” And why is the public spending so much money on bad design?

    The note you end on is quite harrowing but also necessary. They have thought through a public service announcement, but have not gone the further step of thinking through the emergency exit design. One should lead logically to the other, you would think…

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