For those of us who work in the NY office, riding a subway train is a common thing without much to consider. However, I come from the New Jersey suburbs and it was something I had to get used to. If you'd asked me a few years ago to imagine riding a subway train, I'd probably picture a train parked in the station with its doors open. But now that I ride them every day, I see them from a different perspective.
The majority of time spent on a subway train is inside a tunnel. There isn't much to look at - you can clearly see lots of conduits and other functional "behind the scenes" stuff. Mostly what you see is dust and dirt from a lack of upkeep. Surely no one is assigned to clean a subway tunnel and they certainly aren't anything for a Transit Authority to be particularly proud of.
So I was thinking - why do subway trains have windows? Wouldn't it be a better user experience if we didn't have to look at a dirty tunnel? Trains could use the extra wall space for advertising and other revenue generating opportunities. These MUST be nicer to look at than a tunnel.
Once you arrive at a station, the doors open - so the rider would be able to see outside ONLY when they needed to. This is such a win-win - why do subway trains have windows?
The answer is that this entire concept is in direct conflict to one of my personal rules of user experience - NEVER hide answers from users just to shield them from the truth. Users are curious human-beings. They want to know about their surroundings. If you take away their awareness they will not be pleased (not to mention a bit motion sick).
This is quite similar to a request made to me many years ago. A Web site I designed allowed users to find locations worldwide. For the most part, services were available in every country, but there were some countries without. I was asked to remove those countries from the drop-down list - the justification being user experience. Why let a user tell you they want service in a particular country if you are only going to tell them you don't have it? Isn't it better customer service to show them a list with only positive results?
It is the same issue as windows on a subway train. Without a full list, users become disoriented. They don't see the country they are looking for and wonder if there's been a mistake. Perhaps it is listed somewhere else? Maybe it's spelled wrong?
The answer was to leave the full list and tell users that we didn't offer service in those countries. In other words - full disclosure.
The best experience is, at least, an honest one.