What Design Elements Make Buses More Social Than Trains?

There’s a label put on many Museum 2.0 articles called “Unusual Projects and Influences.” Posts under that label tend to examine non-museum things, from department stores to games to ad campaigns, and pull some design lessons for museums off their foreignness. Today, we take a look at a familiar thing: urban mass transit.

Specifically, we analyze the relative sociable behavior of individuals on buses versus those on trains, to check out clues as to what design elements donate to different kinds of participatory behavior. In my highly anecdotal research, the bus is a more social space than the train or subway. The express bus I take most days to get to work feels like a big, uncomfortable family slightly.

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People talk. The bus drivers waves as I bike up. One guy sings. It’s on the cusp of personal–any instant the people reading and chatting might spring into action, to make change for someone getting on, offer first aid, or run after someone along with his forgotten coat. This post is not meant as a pro-bus manifesto.

Instead, I’m interested in the why. What design elements make buses more public than trains? What aspects of that socialness are desired in museums (and exactly how might we mirror buses or trains to promote them)? Why do people feel empowered to express themselves and indulge strangers on the bus? Small size, repeat visits. You may take the same train every day, but it’s likely that that teach is eight cars long.

This has its positives and negatives. I’m cheered to start to see the woman who loves to talk trekking, less so the man who flips through mail-order bride catalogs. The better you know the other folks, the more they established the taste of the knowledge. This sounds risky to institutions like museums, where you want to design the experience through architecture and exhibits, not interpersonal exchanges. But in cases where there is interest to advertise more dialog, it’s worth taking into consideration the power and challenge of the cumulative community to generate the feel of the place.

How will the do it again experience in a museum become steadily (and positively) communal? The drivers provides live facilitation. Bus drivers are welcomers, info-desks, guides, gates, and protectors all rolled into one. I had not been surprised that the majority of the images I found on Flickr related to buses showed an open up door and a smiling drivers.