My Presto card promises a lot. I’ll be able to travel on the TTC (public transit system in Toronto) using a single card. No more stashes of tokens or piles of change.
The system, as it is currently implemented in Toronto, fulfils the basic technical requirements. I am able to use my card to enter the subway or to pay on a streetcar. However, not much thought seemed to be put in the end to end experience.
When I tap my card at a subway station, the screen lights up green and says accepted. But that’s it. For an infrequent TTC rider, this is a problem.
Let’s look at a sample user journey to see why that might be the case.
I decide that I’m going to head from my house to meet a friend. My friend lives pretty far away, so I’m going to have to take the subway. It’s been a few months since I’ve done this.
I check Google to see what route I should take and what time I need to leave to arrive on time.
I get ready to go and head out the door when it’s time to leave.
I walk to my nearest subway station and tap my Presto card against the machine.
I walk straight into a non-moving turnstile and look down in surprise. My card has been rejected.
Worried that I’m going to be late, I walk away from the gate and attempt to find a Presto card refilling station.
As an infrequent rider, that’s really the problem. I never get a warning from the system when my card is running low. Every time my card runs out, it comes as an annoying surprise. An annoying surprise that makes me late, or worse, leaves me stranded.
This is very different from using my Presto card on the GO trains. Whenever I tap my card at a GO train station, I’m informed about my remaining balance. That way I know when I need to refill.
As the system is currently designed, it’s just supporting the needs of the business, rather than the needs of the users. The system is very good at deducting money from cards and ensuring that the right payment has been collected. These two features are designed so well because they are core to the business being profitable. The system is not as good at keeping the user informed about status, as this isn’t something the business is concerned about.
This is the danger of designing a system without looking at the entire experience. If you just start to come up with a list of things that the system needs to do off the top of your head, you’re going to miss things or put features in places that don’t make sense.
Rather than sitting down and trying to come up with a list of stuff that you think will be useful, you’ll get better results if you stop guessing. Go out and talk to a representative sample of current TTC users and determine how your new system could work into how they currently use the TTC.
I say “representative sample” for a very important reason. There is a tendency I have seen to just grab a few people off a street corner and make them participants. This is a problem because the few people you grab from that particular location, at that particular time all might have similar views. For example, if you found all your participants by standing by a downtown subway exit during morning rush hour.
In this case, there’s a good probability that your sample size consists of daily commuters who work downtown. If you end your research there, then you have only talked to one group of users. You could walk away from those interviews with the misguided notion that all TTC users would find automatic reload on their Presto cards useful, rather than possibly just the daily commuters.
A better method is to create something called a screener. A screener is just a series of questions to ensure that you get a wide sample of participants. In the case of this research, you might try to collect a range of ages, genders, frequency of TTC use, times of TTC use, whether you travel alone or with others, and so on. The goal of doing this, is to avoid only listening to one particular group of people when you are trying to design for many groups.
So Presto, if you’re ever thinking of redesigning how you’ve setup the system on the TTC, make sure you remember these three key things:
Have you ever had a public transit experience that could have been improved by better design? Let us know in the comments below.
Michelle Brown, is an Experience Architect at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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