Good design serves people, while people are forced to serve a bad design. I think many of us can name examples of poorly designed objects or systems that make us work harder than is necessary (cable company phone abyss anyone?). However, we embrace, indeed, we go out of our way to produce poor designs. By poor design, I refer to any configuration that puts the trackplan ahead of people. Questionable examples abound of trackplans that ignore the needs or comfort of the people who are supposed to use the thing.

I ask this question in all seriousness, what are we doing?

What are we doing when we design layouts that force us to climb, crawl, bend, stand on our tippy toes, or reach uncomfortably just so a model train can take an extra ten seconds to go from here to there? What are we doing and why do people think it’s fun?



  1. Simon

    I discovered very quickly why duck-unders are a bad idea. I think it was maybe the third time (in two days) that I picked myself up from the floor… …and that was the end of the planned simple, circular layout idea five and a half years ago!


  2. mike

    I once visited a layout where I had to crawl on hands and knees to clear the lowest track of several across the opening to a section in a separate room. I guess if that’s what the owner was willing to put up with, it’s his call but it was ridiculous none the less.


  3. Marz

    I found the the source of most of my design problems were self induced. By that I mean, my poor lack of design led me to miserable failures of complete railroad projects or simply the lack of understanding of what I wanted.

    How does one go about making those decision without prior knowledge. We acquire this knowledge by doing. By definition, “learning” is a change or modification of behavior through experience. Thus, this lack of knowledge prevents any modeller from getting it right the first time, no matter how well read you might be..

    By way of illustration, I have built multiple deck layouts in the past, they failed completely. Why? they contained far more hidden track than I would have liked and unfortunately I ended up listening to the sound of trains running in hidden trackage than I could actually see. How could I have not seen this oversight before construction? Because I was focused on the actually operational advantages that the multi deck offered or promised. However I was incapable of perceiving the actual limitations. Once I had the bench work in place, track laid, before scenery, the stark realization of this short coming could not be ignored. The layout never even got to a resonance level of completion.
    Answer; Scrap the whole layout and redesign.

    Other layout ideas suffered the same fate. Too many switching “puzzles” to garner more operation… Baloney, this became far to overwhelming to become satisfying. Staging yards, too large and complex, boring operational achievements and unsatisfying switching duties. Boredom sets in, in such a short time, projects never get completed.

    Poor design I would guess is inexperience. The quest to maximize layout size over aesthetics and good design and people centric design leads us down that wrong path. But it is the very lack of design knowledge that prevents us from being more effective in its process.

    One final example, a young man the other day was talking to me about his layout design. As he waxed lyrically about his goals and plans, I was shaking my head (to myself) about all the errors he was about to make (I know because I have made them before). What I realized was he lacked the experience to be able to recognize that whilst his planning of the ultimate layout would be his nemesis, quicker than he could even imagine. I gently tried to point out that some of the elements would yield unfavorable results and compromise his enjoyment. He looked them over but was unable to comprehend the facts. He had eyes only for the trains. I guess he will make the same mistakes we all have, but I am sure that we will discuss his folly at a later date when he matures in his “craft”

    So where am I now, well like you have mentioned so many times before Mike, a closer more focused attempt at something more manageable and “craft worthy” One turnout layout ideas that offer far more operational potential than do large yards, it may seem counter intuative, but as the saying goes “less is more”

  4. mike

    Hi Marz,

    Lord knows I’ve made my share of poor choices from inexperience. We’re so focused on a certain outcome, that we ignore other possibilities to our determent. With the exception of multi-deck, I’ve designed many of the same things you mentioned. Like you I had to learn the hard way, often over several expensive lessons in terms of time and materials used and, I was just a blind to the obvious. I think failure is a friend if we can see it as such.