I bought stamps at the Post office today and saw that they have new terminals for swiping credit cards. It was this one, or one just like it.
The Ingenico iSC 350 Quick: where would you swipe your credit card?
Perhaps because I was looking at the pen, but I tried to swipe the card in the slot just under the pen. But that’s not where the card goes, that’s just a space between two parts of the device. The card goes in the space just above the keypad (which wasn’t lit up when I used it).
The funny thing is that the clerk said that I wasn’t the first person who did that! Maybe a little usability testing would have helped.
Update (7 Aug 2014)
When I bought stamps today, I noticed that the slot at the top of the machine was covered with tape. The clerk said they had to do it because so many people tried swiping their cards there.
The City of Boston recently announced the Boston Meter Card, a prepaid card to use at parking meters. It’s a great idea, but it was impossible for me to figure out because the card doesn’t work the way other cards work. You have to insert the card and keep it in the meter for 10 to 15 seconds.
What would you do when you walked up to a meter with the card? I thought about which way to put the card in, inserted it, took it out, and… nothing.
I was there with someone else, and we couldn’t figure it out. Was the card broken? Was the meter broken? What else could I have done?
Good thing I had quarters.
It doesn’t work the way you’d expect
When you insert the card, you have to hold it in for 10 to 15 seconds and wait while the small display updates a number of times. But you knew that, right?
Problem #1: It doesn’t work like any other card I use. I couldn’t figure it out. Was it user error, or a system-design problem?
Videos of using the Boston Meter Card
Watch video footage of checking in and out of a meter. It’s hard to read the display, but that’s part of the real-life situation.
Now that I know how it works, I understand the transitions in the display:
00:00 – there was no time on the meter when I arrived
25.00 – I have $25.00 left on the card
In – I’m checking in
4:00 – the maximum amount of time to park
The first time I tried the card, it took the full 15 seconds to get a response. It didn’t display “In” that time, but it did display “1111” for some reason.
How long do you have to wait and watch? And how many changes will there be? Not knowing makes it hard to know when it’s complete. Is it clear what each display means?? There was no explanation, and it was impossible to figure out the first time. A brochure came with the card, but didn’t mention any of this.
Problem #2: The displayed information isn’t always the same for the same operation.
Checking out of the space was even more confusing because there were more transitions in the display to figure out:
These were the transitions for checking out:
2:18 – the time left when I got back
1111 – no idea, what do you think?
1:42 – the time I had parked and would pay for now
22.85 – the money I would have left on the card
OUt – I was leaving
00:00 – the meter was reset and now had no time
Problem #3: There’s no way for a first-time user to know how many display transitions there will be, so there’s no way to know how long to wait before removing the card. (I think you have to wait, but I didn’t test that.) And it’s not clear what it all means.
It works like … nothing else
Even if you use an older ATM that holds on to your card, it reacts within a second or two. Most card-reading machines have instructions saying to “swipe” or “dip” the card; this was the only one that would use a word like “wait”. Here’s an example from a hotel I recently stayed at:
This hotel key card responded within a second. All I had to do was "dip" it in and remove it.
Using the card the first time
The first thing was to figure out how to insert it. This photo shows a graphic on the meter that corresponds to the chip on the back of the card. It’s hard to see and it’s not clear what it means.
The arrow points to a graphic that looks like the chip on the back of the card. Is that enough to tell you how to insert the card?
The sticker just below the slot would have been a good place to put some instructions. That would have been easier than trying to decipher that little mark under the slot.
Problem #4: The display is hard to read in bright light, and probably worse at night.
I inserted the card different ways, but it didn’t react (because I didn’t know to hold it in place). I spent a lot of time trying to make it work and a lot of time the next day on the phone finding out how it does work.
The problem: User error?
One person I talked with in the Parking Office said that it was “probably user error” because “that is the problem in 24 out of 25 cases.” I don’t generally believe in user error, so I took a deep breath and said that it’s more likely a system-design problem.
After awhile, I found someone who explained about having to hold the card in the meter for 10 to 15 seconds. I identified myself as a user experience designer, and we talked further.
More than user error, I think it was a failure to understand the users and their expectations.
Should a parking meter card need instructions?
He asked if I’d read the brochure that comes with the cards (PDF). This should be so simple that instructions aren’t needed. I don’t think people would read directions, save them or remember what they’d read. I mentioned that, and said that as a typical user, my copy was already in the recycle pile.
We talked about the instructions on the back of the card, too (ALL IN UPPER CASE) That text doesn’t say anything about holding the card in, it didn’t explain the transitions on the display and it didn’t explain when you’re done with a transaction. The brochure did mention holding the card in, but only for signing out.
The gold seal on the left must be the chip. The instructions at right ARE ALL UPPER CASE and don't mention holding the card in.
Problem #5: This system shouldn’t require documentation and what they provide is incomplete.
How can they fix this now that they’re already selling cards?
If the city doesn’t change something to make the system easier to figure out, I’m afraid that it will just fail.
It’s a system with many parts: the card, the display, the insertion method, the information on the meter and the brochure. Plus user expectations. Some parts are easier to change than others, but something has to change.
When I talked with someone in City Hall, I suggested reprinting the cards with complete instructions. He said that the cards came from the vendor. And that they had 10,000 of them. My card has a number in the 400s, so that won’t work.
Next, I suggested printing stickers with better instructions to cover the old text. Again, even if it were a lot of work, at least people would have the instructions with them.
It would help if the sticker on the meter had some instructions. I assume that changing the displays or how the meters work would be too involved, but we didn’t get to those topics.
We talked a little more and I wished him well.
Lesson: Design, test, redesign, test, …
Problem #6: The underlying problem is that the product design process probably didn’t involve any actual users or testing in real situations.
This is a system designed for anyone who parks a car at a meter, day or night, possibly in a hurry. How do you think someone like that reacts to this user experience the first time?
I don’t know who the vendor is, or who designed the system. And I don’t know how they’re going to resolve this problem. I’m pretty sure the program will not succeed without a big change.
I sent what I learned to Eric Moskowitz, the Boston Globe reporter who writes the Starts & Stops column about transportation issues. Maybe he can write a column and help teach people how it works.
It seems pretty clear to me that this whole system was designed the old-fashioned way. Rather than test the system with real users in real situations, they probably talked about it in a conference room and figured it would work out OK. If someone raised the obvious problems, I can imagine someone else saying, “Yeah, but all they have to do is…”
That phrase is the kiss of death for a design. I hope the City of Boston can make this project work because it’s a great idea.
Does the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) do any usability studies to see how passengers react to security screening at airports? I don’t mean whether people like the different types of scans, but the whole process, from approaching the TSA area to getting their shoes and belts back on.
I have two problems: There’s never enough time and space to prepare, and I don’t really know what the rules are.
I try to prepare: liquids in one bag, prescriptions in another bag, a bag ready to empty my pockets into, shoes ready for removal, etc. But I always wind up at the conveyor belts sooner than I expect to. People are standing behind me, waiting for a basket while I’m trying to remember all the things I’m supposed to do. About half the time I forget to remove the bags with liquids and medications, and it doesn’t seem to matter.
Apparently certain mistakes can cause you grief. I read a story in the New York Times about a businesswoman pulled aside by TSA agents because the sundress she was wearing was too long (and could hide something) and because she didn’t make eye contact with the agents (after taking the red-eye from San Francisco to New York).
And I recently learned that cargo shorts pretty much guarantee a pat-down. Too many flaps, pockets, snaps and zippers.
So if I arrive at the conveyor belts and don’t do everything smoothly enough, will I be pulled aside for additional questioning or screening? That’s another part of the problem — no one really knows what the rules are. It’s like entering a new password on a Web site that doesn’t tell you the rules for passwords until you violate them. (That’s another blog post.)
I was in the Atlanta airport recently. It’s big, so they have a couple of subway lines to take passengers to the terminals, hotels and car rental offices.
There aren’t many seats on the trains, which I think allows more space for people to stand, and makes it easier to get on and off.
To make standing easier, they have poles. But notice the design of the pole: instead of a simple vertical pole, it divides into three parts, providing more hand-holding space. Even if someone leans on the pole, there’s space for someone else to hold on.
And, as a friend noted, the bars aren’t so far apart that people can get their heads stuck inside. That’s a good design, huh?
I wonder if they tested this at all, or just assumed that it would work because it’s so clever. I assume that someone at least rode trains for a while, observing how people reacted and used it.
What do you think? Would you test something like this, or just build and install it? Have you seen any other clever designs like this?