Leveraging User Feedback to Create a Better Website

A few weeks ago we published a post about the new beta MBTA’s website with several objectives in mind:

  • Announce beta.mbta.com and inform readers about our process
  • Request users feedback
  • Recruit talented developers to join our team
One of the many versions of the Home page we’ve been testing

Initial Feedback

We started receiving feedback almost immediately after publishing our update and, well, the responses weren’t all too flattering. We understood releasing a beta with very limited functionality would lend itself to all kinds of commentary. Still, we couldn’t help but limp a little after reading what early users had to say.

“The schedules formatting is confusing… People have a certain mental model of how a bus schedule should look and this isn’t it.”
“Personally I didn’t think the current website needed a massive overhaul at all.”
“I don’t like the tacky picture of the MBTA station as the watermark on ever [sic] page. Keep it simple.”

Receiving critique is rarely up there on most people’s list of enjoyable tasks. That being said, we did very much appreciate this amazing opportunity to gain a better understanding of our users’ needs and perspectives this early in our process. We felt that we made the right move having shared our work in progress and not waiting until we have a more developed product. The numerous comments that we received helped us validate some of our early design decisions and reexamine some others.

Summarizing Critique

Most of the folks who took their time to provide their feedback did it to point out some flaws in the beta website.

Site Width and Background Image

A number of commenters felt that the beta site is too focused on mobile design. The site pages are too narrow and are not utilizing all the available space efficiently. All the important content is below the fold, and the site navigation requires too much scrolling.

The site background image didn’t receive any accolades either. Some people told us it was too distracting and confusing.

Schedules

The new way for displaying schedules was another common theme. Several people wrote to us that they did not care much for it.

“Commuter rail schedules are not intuitive and inconvenient to use. The old time-table style schedules are much easier to read.”

The critical comments were that the new schedule pages are confusing. It takes too many clicks to get to the relevant information. The designation for peak hours of service and express trains is missing. Also, the new schedule pages need maps as well as PDF versions of the schedules.

Real-Time Information

Some reviewers pointed out that the new site did not have any realtime information about the upcoming arrivals and vehicle locations.

“Would be nice to have bus route maps to see what buses are available where. Also would be nice to have live trip updates for both buses and trains when a particularly location is selected.”

Alerts

People also had some feedback about the updated way we’re displaying Service Alerts. A few folks reported that the alerts are not shown prominently enough on the home page. Additionally, some users commented that they found alerts that were not specific to their regular route distracting.

Content Organization

A number of commenters wrote to us about the order in which different content sections were organized.

The ‘What’s Happening at the MBTA’ section at the very top of the homepage was a frequent target of complaints as people felt that it pushed down more relevant information. Some people suggested changing the ordering of modes in the Schedule section, putting the Commuter Rail schedules below those for Bus and Subway. Others felt that ‘Logan Airport’ and ‘Fare Information’ links should not be ‘buried at the bottom of the page.’

“I don’t use the commuter rail, why is it the first thing i look at on the site?”

Visual styling

Another area that received some critical attention was the visual styling of the website. Some people wrote to us that the new site seems off-brand from what MBTA users are accustomed to. The pages need more color and pictures.

“the feel of it seems nonofficial. not like the T.”

Words of Encouragement

I certainly don’t want to give the impression that all the feedback we received was negative.

A number of folks wrote to us to point out things that they liked about the beta. The positive feedback is more that just a pat on the back. It helps shed the light on what works well and makes us think on how we can apply this in other areas of the website.

“The site looks a lot less cluttered, and the layout has a nice, clean functional look to it. It’s a lot more intuitive right off the bat.”

Prioritizing Important Information

Some of the positive feedback was about the schedules that are now prominently displayed on the home page. People wrote to us that it makes the site easier to navigate and it’s quicker to get to important information.

“I really like how the schedule is front and center, and easy to navigate.”

Quicker and More Responsive

A few commenters wrote to us that the new site is perceivably faster to load and navigate. A lot of positive feedback mentioned that the website looks significantly better on a smartphone.

The performance of the site is impressive and loads new pages quickly. It looks great on mobile and tablet.

Back to the Lab

Thank you to those who have taken the time out of your busy days to share your thoughts with us. Our goal is to work with our riders to create the best website for them and provide transparency in our process. Our small team is releasing changes daily —please stick with us and keep on providing your feedback on our beta site.

Continue to challenge us. We’re listening.