There’s a tag put on many Museum 2.0 posts called “Unusual Projects and Influences.” Posts under that tag tend to analyze non-museum things, from department stores to games to ad promotions, and draw some design lessons for museums from their foreignness. Today, we look at a familiar thing: metropolitan mass transit.

Specifically, we evaluate the relative sociable behavior of people on buses versus those on trains, to check out clues as to what design elements contribute to different kinds of participatory behavior. In my own highly anecdotal research, the bus is a more public 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 up bicycle. One guy sings. It’s on the cusp of personal–any moment the folks reading and chatting might originate into action, to make a change for someone getting on, offer first aid, or follow someone 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 cultural than trains? What areas of that socialness are desired in museums (and exactly how might we mirror buses or trains to market them)? Why do people feel empowered to express themselves and engage strangers on the bus? Small size, do it again visits. You might take the same train every day, but chances are that teaching is eight cars long.

This has its advantages and disadvantages. I’m cheered to see the woman who likes to talk walking, less therefore the man who flips through mail-order bride catalogs. The better you know the other people, the more the flavor is defined by them of the experience. This sounds risky to institutions like museums, where we want to design the knowledge through architecture and exhibits, not interpersonal exchanges. But in situations where there is interest in promoting more dialog, it’s worthy of thinking about the power and problem of the cumulative community to make the feel of the area.

How does the repeat experience in a museum became progressively (and positively) communal? The driver provides live facilitation. Bus drivers are welcome, info-desks, manuals, gates, and protectors all rolled into one. I had not been surprised that the majority of the images I came across on Flickr related to buses demonstrated an open door and a smiling driver.

What Design Elements Make Buses More Social Than Trains?
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