Seattle has gone out for a test so I can replace its existing Pay and Display system. Fair enough. A local online news source “Crosscut.com” happened to have its offices on the street where the test took place and jumped at the chance to see what all the fuss was about.
They went downstairs and through the eyes of reporter Eva Conner, who also happens to be a member of Tactile, a product and design firm located in Seattle. Who better to review our best efforts. The article is here:
I have some excerpts that you might find interesting:
On first glance, it was clear that SDOT was attempting to offer drivers more options, but we felt that most of the seven prototypes missed the mark in terms of usability for the following reasons:
- Feature creep. By adding a QWERTY keyboard, more time options and shortcuts, all of the pay stations wound up feeling cluttered. As a result, the machines’ primary function (paying for parking) got lost and users ended up feeling overwhelmed.
- Inconsistent visual language. Most pay stations had a mess of colors, button shapes and stickers, all of which created confusion. Icons seemed arbitrary, with no symbols in common with other Seattle signage.
- Weak information architecture. Aside from hard-to-read type both on-screen and on the buttons (forget trying to read them at night), one of the biggest challenges we saw was a lack of visual organization. None of the pay stations presented a bold, simple set of 1-2-3 instructions for selecting time and payment that felt intuitive. There were extraneous buttons in strange places, or arrows pointing to other buttons that suggested reading more instructions on-screen — not exactly a clear and quick directive.
- Poor haptics. It might seem like a minor detail, but more responsive buttons would help assure the user that their selections have registered correctly. A solid button feel and tactile feedback could mean the difference between an error-free ticket purchase and accidental overpayment.
Unfortunately, SDOT didn’t establish any specific usability criteria or define an optimal pay parking experience, which would be the first step for a user experience designer. That’s partially the result of budget cuts, which forced the city to eliminate the centralized design office that might have overseen a cohesive visual system or user experience mandate.
If you read the article, you will find that Seattle also has PaybyPhone and this author greatly prefers it to any of the choices given. However she admits that only 3% of the transactions in the Emerald City are a result of pay by phone. However she points out that that is most likely to the lack of general knowledge about the program.
This line is telling:
But for smartphone-carrying, tech-loving, efficiency-craving drivers — particularly those who park in South Lake Union, downtown and Capitol Hill — PayByPhone is a boon.
Get that — Tech Loving, Efficiency Craving, —
Pay by Phone aside, the problem as I see it is exactly as described above. They machines are hard to understand, virtually impossible to read, and well,.,,you know the rest.
Our industry has done a poor job in this area. Maybe they need to hire Eva
By the way — I have gone to booths of suppliers and tried various P and D solutions, finding most of them exactly as described above. I am happy to eat those words if someone can offer a solution that actually works. I”ll be in Dallas and you know how to find me.