Redesigning Melbourne’s Myki System: A better way to top up & manage cards

Disclaimer: Unsolicited redesigns are not always useful. They are created in an environment free from many of the constraints and limitations that a real-world redesign would need to navigate.

This is especially true of a system like Myki, where you have all the complexity of a public-private partnership, dependencies on clunky legacy systems and any number of other limiting factors which I can’t imagine from the outside.

That said, I have approached this project with those limitations in mind, and I’ve only considered processes and technologies which already exist in the current system or would be simple to integrate.

Obviously, I’m not trying to solve all the problems of Melbourne’s public transit system here. I’ve just identified some of the low-hanging fruit — improvements which are achievable, impactful, relatively cheap, and quick to implement.

Most of the people, most of the time.

Last year, the best that Victoria’s public transport minister, Jacinta Allen, could say about the Myki system was that “for most of the people, it works most of the time”. Not exactly glowing praise for the world’s most liveable city’s public transit system.

It’s not really fair to blame the current government though – they inherited the system, and to their credit, have openly acknowledged some of the system’s failures and are exploring a range of solutions, including allowing users to pay via NFC with their credit/debit cards.

However, any changes of that scale will take years to reach rollout phase and in the meantime, this is what the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) webpage for Myki top-ups looks like on a mobile device:

Hope you’ve got great eyes and tiny, tiny fingers.

When Melbourne’s Tractor Design School conducted user research into the site, their test subject took 150 seconds to top up a Myki card. That’s in a controlled environment — not with one hand while walking through a city street toward a tram stop.

I read a few weeks ago that from 2017, online top-ups will take a maximum of 90 minutes to process, down from the insanely inconvenient processing time of 24 hours. This means that topping-up online will soon be actually worth considering — and this led me to start thinking about how a Myki top up and card management app might work.


My weekend project

I decided to spend a weekend researching, writing and sketching out ideas to see if I could improve the current system. I also spoke to as many Myki users as I could to uncover the pain points they experienced with the current system.

What came up over and over were the same few problems:

  1. Until you ‘touch on’, you have no idea if you have enough credit on your card for a trip. By that point, you’re already travelling.
  2. Top-up machines only exist in a few places (at train stations, and dotted around the the CBD). 7-elevens and Newsagents are not always nearby. (The top up problem is most evident with tram users. Train stations have machines — when they’re working — and bus drivers can do top-ups, but only with cash.)
  3. Topping up online or by phone is difficult, and needs to be done 24 hours before you travel. Most users I interviewed had tried this once, then never returned.

So I settled into my desk and spent Saturday sketching and plotting out user paths through the system. In the end I decided to focus on a few main functions for the app:

  1. Logging in / signing up to Myki online.
  2. Adding a Myki card to the app and giving it a name.
  3. Displaying Myki Money and Myki Pass balance, and clearly alerting the user to a low or negative balance.
  4. Adding a credit or debit card to the user’s account.
  5. Topping up cards with Myki Money or Myki Pass (and explaining the difference between the two types of credit).
  6. Notifying the user of low balance via push notifications.

So after a few hours of sketching out user journeys, I jumped into Sketch and started fleshing out the UI.

The fun part.
Left to right: My cards (home), Top-up selection, Top-up confirmation.

One interesting little discovery I came across is that because Myki cards work via NFC, users could add a new card (or identify which of your dozen Myki cards has credit on it) simply by tapping it to your phone.

It’s a minor thing, but it’s these kind of small, thoughtful touches that accumulate into a thoughful design that delights users.

Anyway, There’s a long list of other features I’d love to include (like testing some workarounds for the 90 minute delay), but it’ll have to wait for another rainy weekend.

Sunday was spent refining, testing, refining, testing… and because I’d been meaning to learn Principle for a while, I decided to hack together a working prototype. Here’s where I got to:

Topping up a card with Myki Money.

Apps are not a silver bullet. They don’t solve all user problems and in some cases they can create a pile of new ones. Sometimes, companies can be too hasty to decide that they need an app, when what they actually need is a simpler user experience. In this scenario, it seems clear that a well-designed mobile site and companion app could go a long way to decreasing the frustrations many experience when using Myki.

There’s still a lot to do, but this is a work in progress and I’ll be adding more posts here on Medium as I go.

Thanks for reading!


✨ I’m a graphic designer based in Melbourne. I work with my clients to craft compelling designs for screens and print.

If you have an interesting project you’d like to discuss, drop me a line at hello@jackhoward.co ✨