I swear I won’t keep ranting about user-oriented design, but examples seem to stare me in the face these days.
I was in Cleveland for a few days (don’t ask why), and looked at the fare machines on the Healthline express bus platforms. A few interesting discoveries ensued. The user interface consists of a screen, which is not tactile, and a few buttons placed on the side of the screen, similar to the last generation of ATMs. The first screen you see asks you to choose what you want to buy. The screen is not graphical, but character-oriented. It shows two lines of text, one for “Senior/Disabled Tickets”and the other one for regular fares. Next to each designation is the number 0. A blinking cursor appears on the first zero (next to “Senior/Disabled”). The labels next to the buttons say, as far as I can remember, “move cursor to right,” “move cursor to left,” “increase value,” “decrease value,” and “buy.”
In other words, even ignoring for a moment that the text is in small, single-font characters reminiscent of the “green screens” of the 1970s, if you want to buy a single adult ticket, you first have to click on “Move Cursor to the Right” so the blinking zero is now next to the label for regular fares, then click on “Increase value” to change the 0 into a 1, than “Buy.”
Some of the questions one might want to ask the designers of this system are:
- How often do you buy zero tickets from a machine? Don’t you think that the default value could be, say, 1 instead of 0?
- Did you study the demographics of the travelers to conclude that most of the users were senior or disabled?
Clearly, moving a cursor and incrementing values is part of the jargon of the developers, not of the general user population. Now what are the practical consequences, other than annoying me? Well, since you are supposed to purchase a ticket from these machines, board the bus, and have the ticket available in case of a check, let’s say you are struggling with the user interface while the bus arrives. Do you let the bus come and go, so you can legally board the next one, which may not be until ten minutes later? Surely, most people in this case will board without paying, therefore the Rapid Transit Authority is losing money.
Summary: user-oriented design is not a luxury, it has business value.