Inside the Collection

Pedestrian button – 1980s Australian product design pt2

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Powerhouse Museum photography. © all rights reserved

The next instalment of my favourite Australian designed products from the 1980s continues on with the transport theme. 

The pedestrian button, found at a pedestrian crossing near you, was designed in 1984. But it is really the product of research and development done in the 1970s in response to public pressure on government.

In 1967 a member of the public asked the NSW Department of Main Roads (DMR), now the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), to introduce pedestrian traffic signals he could hear. At a city crossing, the RTA installed some bells and buzzers on both sides. Blind pedestrians were meant to cross when the buzzing sound replaced the ringing. Unfortunately they found that when the bells broke down they sounded like buzzers, which could cause deadly confusion in blind pedestrians.

The next version, installed in 1976, had a two-rhythm buzzer and included a vibrating panel to touch, because many vision-impaired people also have some loss of hearing. This new device was developed by acoustic and vibration engineers Louis A Challis and Associates. It had two different signals for ‘Walk’ and ‘Don’t Walk’, and the sound level was automatically lowered in response to background noise, reducing annoyance to people living near a crossing.

In the early 1980s Sydney consultants Nielsen Design Associates were asked to redesign the device to make it vandal-resistant. The new unit was made from cast aluminium with vandal-proof fixings. The large magnetic button (tested to withstand millions of pushes) is easy to find and push. A Braille arrow on the vibrating plate indicates the direction to cross. Listen to the different ‘Walk’ and ‘Don’t Walk’ sounds here.

More than 25 years later, the pedestrian button is still working well, and has been used in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, South Africa and the USA.

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