Mis-Interventions • Daniel Clarke

July 19, 2015

What are your thoughts when you look at this image? Frustration? bemusement? For me it was both, along with a feeling of panic.

This ticket machine is located at my local bus station. I arrived slightly late for my bus one morning and found myself running across the car park to reach the main station, hoping to collect my ticket, sprint back to the car to display it on my windscreen and then get on my bus. However, upon my arrival at the ticket machine things were not as simple as they seemed.

I’ll just grab my ticket

I paused, assessing what I needed to do. First thing, enter my car registration, “no problem” I thought. I began diligently entering my details. The keyboard however, although laid out alphabetically was arranged in a 4x10 grid, I’d never seen anything like it before. It took me a few moments to find all my letters.

After entering the registration details, I heard the woman at the next machine along grumbling, she was older than I, and looked quite confused. If I’d had the time I would have run a usability test there and then, but I had a bus to catch!

Next up, payment, I looked at where I could insert my coins. This seemed fairly obvious, the coin slot included a plastic cover, presumably to keep rain water out. I lifted the cover but realised it would not hold in place alone, with one hand I held the cover up and with the other hand I rifled through the change in my palm. Carefully I inserted the required coins, without dropping the others on the floor, if you’ve ever done this you’ll know it isn’t the most comfortable of tasks! I dread to think what someone suffering from arthritis or a similar condition would have felt.

Finally the coins were in, expecting a ticket to emerge I then realised that I needed to press a button for the ticket to appear. A fairly non-specific arrow pointed me to 8 buttons, I took my luck with the green one and to my relief my ticket appeared. I rushed to place it in my car windscreen and made it on to my bus in the nick of time….

If there wasn’t enough to think about

This was not a quick and easy activity. Perhaps I should have arrived earlier, but somehow I feel that people rushing for busses is a regular occurrence.

I was totally bemused by what was presented to me. I had one clear task, to pay my parking fee. But the layout and requirements of the ticket machine bamboozled me, the zig zag direction of the various touch points seem to go completely against my westernised left-to-right understanding.

Additionally, the ergonomics of the coin slot made it a physically demanding task, whilst an unfamiliar keyboard layout took time to assess based on previous experience. All this would suggest that this could be a modified ODM product, with instructions printed on as an afterthought.

A little understanding

Alan Dix states that design is about intervention and change. Introducing new technology can cause an unexpected change in users behaviour if the designer does not understand the users environment and the impact that the change will have. Consider supermarket self service machines, have they really improved the shoppers experience?

Paying for car parking is an accepted and understood process. But this car park is large, it makes us ask “why are the ticket machines all gathered at one central point” rather than placed 1 per 4 ranks of spaces. Better still, “why can I not just pay for my parking ticket when I pay my bus fare?”.

The funny thing is, carrying out this process with another human would have been far simpler:

  • Me: “Hello, here to pay my parking”
  • Attendant: “Certainly, what’s your registration number and how long would you like to park for”
  • Me: “the number is R566 D6B, I’d like to park for 2 hours”
  • Attendant: “Thank you, that will be £2”
  • Me: “Thanks”

A simple, succinct conversation. Perhaps use of the Gestalt principle of Good Continuation would improve the experience slightly, helping the user to understand the steps they need to go through, not too dissimilar from the linear conversation above.

As you may have gathered, this has become a mild obsession of mine. After discussing this with colleagues I have seen a more examples of poor parking ticket machines appear in the office, it seems they are a regular occurrence and present one small, but painful roadblock in our daily lives.

The UK Government states that as of March 2014 there were 5.2 billion bus journeys for the previous year, 9.7 million of which were concessionary. Of course not all of these involved the ticket machine experience that I had, but that still encompasses a high number of people in contact with such experiences.

Many of us in the UX field are focussed on Web and Mobile, but when I see examples of design like this in the world, I realise how much more there is to do.

Further Reading

If you’re feeling the same as I am, then David Travis has previously commented on the same issue, raising some interesting points, I recommend it for further reading!

Originally published at danclarkeux.svbtle.com.