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Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown

Akendi Alumnus

Designing for the End-to-End Experience

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:

  1. Interview your users about their current experience
    Just find out what it’s currently like for them, a snapshot of how things are at this point in time. Find out the good points, the bad points, and the areas that seem lacking in some way.
  2. Get a wide range of users
    Use a screener to make sure that you’re not just talking to a single user group. Your system is supposed to support “TTC users” and this is a pretty varied bunch.
  3. Design with the knowledge you collect
    This one should be obvious, but surprisingly isn’t. Once you collect all this deep insight, don’t let it go to waste, use it.

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

Michelle Brown

Akendi Alumnus


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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.