The casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere famously don’t have clocks on the walls. The owners don’t want you to track how much time you’ve spent there and it’s much easier to glance up casually and see a clock on the wall than it is even to look at the watch on your wrist or the phone in your pocket. It’s something you might even do accidentally or subconsciously, suddenly rudely aware you’ve lost an entire afternoon on the slots.

As I was standing in the waiting area at the train station recently I began wondering what time it is and looked around. Surely in a public space like this, especially one managed by a municipal transportation agency, there would be at least an $11.99 wall clock from Target.


Apparently the local suburban commuter rail system has the same philosophy as a Vegas casino, not wanting anyone to really know what time it is. The reasons might be different – they don’t want you to know how late your train is going to be, because it’s *going* to be late – but the execution is the same.

When we talk about user experience, which we’re doing a lot of recently in light of the recent “incident” where Hawaii thought it was about to be hit by a ballistic missile, we often about what the user or customer is able to do.

There’s just as much thought put into what the user or customer is *not* able to do. In this case there’s a very clear action the agency does not want you to take and so has designed a user experience including that restriction.

In Steve Jobs from a couple years ago there was a scene that spoke to this idea. Faced with a problem that could significantly impact the effectiveness of a product demonstration that’s just moments from starting, there’s no way for the Apple team to actually diagnose what’s wrong. The reason is that Jobs insisted the housing to the computer use screws that required a special tool to loosen, meaning people couldn’t open it up themselves at home using a common screwdriver.

The next time you’re using software, driving your car, standing in a building or anything else, take a moment to consider both what kinds of activities the space or system have been designed to facilitate as well as what kinds of activities are clearly restricted. Only by accounting for elements falling into both categories will you have a more full appreciation for how the complete user experience has been designed.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.