Critique #1: Brown Swipe Card Systems

Video 1: Attempt to use the swipe system

The purpose of the swipe system is to provide a way to keep buildings secure while not impeding their accessibility for those who do need to enter. By requiring its community to swipe their identification card before entering a building, Brown helps ensure that only people with the permission to be in a specific area are allowed in.

The system involves a user swiping their identification card (in the expected orientation) and then immediately entering the building within a limited time period. The box was probably designed with the intent to emphasize affordability, since Brown has to install them all across campus, and for simplicity to allow for easy use by a multitude of people without any complicated, time-extensive tutorial. However, the lack of helpful diagrams, protection from the elements and handicap-accessible accommodations significantly affect its usability as described below.

First, as shown in Video 1 above, the box itself doesn’t clearly indicate which way an identification card should be oriented in order for the swipe to be successful. Although there is an arrow (>) pointing towards the right, it is easy to mistake what the arrow means since it has no real indication of whether the front profile or the black strip on the back should be facing the arrow. While I acknowledge that these boxes are intended to be used frequently by the same inhabitants, who will probably learn through practice, since there is no clear reminder it can still be easy to forget how to easily swipe in. A simple solution for this problem would be to show a simple diagram indicating which side the back of an identification card should face, therefore making clear to users how to interact with the box.

On a separate note, the device doesn’t clearly indicate what went wrong when swiping in, further impeding users’ ability to understand how to modify the interaction so they can successfully enter a building. Although I was not able to document it, during the winter, the boxes, which are fully exposed to the elements, often end up covered in ice or snow. During these periods, it can be difficult to determine if the reason a swipe didn’t work was due to incorrect orientation, ice having affected the scanner’s ability to read the identification card (requiring a repeat of the swipe in the same direction) or some alternate issue causing a loss in functionality. This problem could be fixed by either having some kind of screen that could display what the problem was. Also, the ice/snow would not affect the functionality if the box had some kind of protection from the elements.

Another element the designers of the system failed to consider was whether or not the user might be handicapped in some way that makes it difficult to utilize the motion of swiping an identification card. For instance, a student with some kind of physical disability preventing them from making the swiping motion would have difficulty entering a building without assistance. Students who are carrying a multitude of objects might also struggle with entering buildings, a problem which becomes abundantly clear when students are trying to carry in heavy suitcases and boxes during move in. A solution to this problem would be an access method that either does not require students to physically interact with it–including replacing the swipe motion with one that merely requires pressing a key against it or through a system based on visual/audio recognition. However, these options might be considerably more expensive than the current box, explaining the current design choice.

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