I’m a huge concert goer; more than 20 concerts in this past year. I’ve taken up volunteer ushering at venues to see my favorite musicians. My job requires me to check tickets and usher people to their seats—a manageable task, but after checking hundreds of Ticketmaster tickets, it’s very clear that these tickets were designed more than three decades ago without a serious look into how people interact with it.

N. American Ticketmaster tickets from 1979–2013. Notice that in more recent years, the ticket stubs are still attached.

So why redesign Ticketmaster tickets?

After reading Boarding Pass/Fail and Boarding Pass Redesign, that talk about redesigning confusing airplane boarding passes, I decided to use the same idea and apply it to Ticketmaster for a much needed redesign.

  1. It’s difficult to read, especially when the lights are darkened in a concert venue. The monospaced and capitalized type make it difficult to distinguish the different information on the card.
  2. The ticket design is as old as the cassette tape. Only cosmetic improvements have been introduced, but never a thoughtfully remastered design. If Ticketmaster is supposed to be the best service to buy tickets, maybe its design should live up to their name.
  3. It’s the only major ticket service that still prints tickets. Print-At-Home tickets and mobile tickets are popular options, and startup companies are on a crusade to beat Ticketmaster in the competitive digital ticketing market. Ticketmaster is the only major company with the real power and capital to make their tickets into beautiful pieces of ephemera that become mementos of an experience—something a PDF just can’t do.
  4. Its tickets are lacking anti-counterfeiting measures. It’s no fun when shady ticket sellers make convincingly fake tickets to naive buyers. If tickets cost $50+, shouldn’t it have the same anti-counterfeiting tactics as a $20 dollar bill?
Could a redesign help solve all of these problems?

Alright, but why would Ticketmaster care?

Ticketmaster is the world’s leading ticket distributor, selling 25 million tickets in 2010 alone. Startup companies like TicketFly, Eventbrite, and Brown Paper Tickets are the tortoises trying to drive a wedge into Ticketmaster’s client base. Ticketmaster should not be the lazy hare when it comes to competitiveness. With “convenience” fees stacked on a ticket’s face value already, it would seem that Ticketmaster provides a premium service—yet barely proves to customers that they deserve them.

Many buyers feel Ticketmaster and StubHub have become bloated and complacent. “If I were running ship at these companies, one urgent task would be to address the image, remind people there’s a human element. Both have probably become a little bit faceless to the general population.”
— Brett Goldberg, founder of TickPick

There’s hope though—Ticketmaster can change. In 2011, they finally introduced the option to choose your own seats with an interactive map, due to pressure from outside competition. However, it would be great to see Ticketmaster take the first step in reestablishing its standard in the ticket market: a redesign worthy enough to keep paper tickets in circulation.

I forgot to take out my print-at-home ticket from my back pocket. Oh well, why would I want to keep something so frail?

Why bother with paper tickets when we can just download it to our phone or print it out at home?

There’s still something special about the traditional paper ticket. An inkjet print of your favorite band or the World Series ticket from your favorite baseball team will not outlast the durability of a wash-proof-thermal-based-paper ticket. Not everyone has a smartphone and paper tickets don’t run out of batteries.

I. Research

Information Overload

Listen to the ticket—It’s a broken record.

I’ve now seen Passion Pit four times in one year. Obsessive? What’s obsessive is that there’s too much damn info.

Seat information is repeated three times, however it is only necessary once because one barcode scan will validate entry.

Less is more. All the info is cut to the essentials. Tickets should only be identified though the barcode.

It’s too long to fit in your pants.

Folding is uncomfortable.

The ticket is two inches wide and can fit into a credit card slot. But it’s too long to fit in a wallet.

Due to its 5.5" length, the ticket overhangs out of your wallet or purse, requiring you to fold or bend the ticket. However, reducing the size to a business card (3.5"x 2") would allow it to fit universally.

The seating information is at the top for quick access.

Printing Limitations and Typography

It would be great to just simply redesign the ticket in Illustrator and call it a day, but that wouldn’t work since Ticketmaster uses on-demand thermal printing.

Colorless dye is embedded in the paper and renders black when heated.

Direct Thermal Printing is used in commercial products, like barcodes, receipts, and tickets. The paper is embedded with colorless ink, which will appear black when heat is applied. It’s more economical, it doesn’t require ink, and is faster to print.

This ticket uses proportionally spaced fonts; no horrible kerning that you get from monospaced fonts. This was my first concert ticket, set in Helvetica.

DEATH TO CAPS: Ticketmaster only uses an all-caps, monospaced typeface—a classic and cheap way to make tickets harder to read due to old printing technology. However, these days, tickets can be thermally printed using proportional spacing and lowercase letters, improving legibility.

S-Bahn Train Ticket from Berlin. It has a hologram at the top to prevent counterfeiting.

Security

Scalping tickets is something that can’t be avoided in the ticket world, and Ticketmaster’s anti-scalping Paperless Ticketing has already pissed people off to create laws against it (Hint hint, we are going to be stuck to paper tickets for a long time).

Currently, consumers can only identify a real Ticketmaster ticket under a UV blacklight. This doesn’t help. Consumers should be able to verify a ticket in visible light. A hologram strip would allow immediate validation. If my €2,40 (Euro) metro ticket has a hologram, there should not be any reason why my $50 ticket is without one.

II. Redesign

Using all of my research considerations, here is my result; a vertical business-card-sized ticket.

The ticket is downsized to a credit card to fit in any wallet. All extraneous information is removed.
Event details can change depending on the promoter.

Here’s a breakdown of each section of the ticket.

1. Seat Info: Make it big.

The top uses large numerals that easily remind the patron.

Section, row, seat, and admission information should be at the top; it’s the whole point of the ticket really.

2. Red Stripe: Embed a hologram.

The original logo was huge; so integrating the logo with the iconic red stripe will retain its design legacy.

The iconic red stripe can stay on the ticket, but to save space, the logo can be embedded into the holographic strip, enhancing security.

3a. Body: Put a face on it.

It gives the ticket a human touch because people are attracted to faces, not coded numbers. It makes each ticket more distinct from each other. Could you imagine if paper money didn’t have a portrait on it?

3b. No more center-aligned text.

This is not a wedding invite or a gravestone, this is live entertainment! Left aligning the content will give it the structure it so desperately needs.

Background image is Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons.

4. Barcode: One ticket, one number.

No more crazy control numbers running around the ticket. Just one number is good enough.

Barcodes don’t display a number for no reason.

III. Making It Work

Printing in Color is Manageable

As we’ve seen, it is possible to print a color background on thermal paper giving each ticket a separate identity. Printing in color requires more steps, but because Ticketmaster produces their tickets in two centralized printing fulfillment factories, the cost of production is much cheaper.

Steps 1–3 are stock tickets until steps 4–6 which are printed on-demand in their fulfillment centers.
Ticketmaster tickets come from two printing houses; one in Charleston, West Virginia and Pharr, Texas. Their headquarters are in Beverly Hills, California.

IV. Show Cool Tickets To The World

This is what you wanted right?

Imagine Dragons
Passion Pit
Bill Maher
Treasure Island Music Festival 2012
San Jose Sharks
Back side of the ticket

Question for you: If you go to concerts, do you opt for paper, print-out, or electronic tickets? If not paper, do you think paper tickets should be retired out?

Any comments or suggestions are welcomed.

Follow me @mattjlew // Portfolio: mattjlew.com