The streamlined journey for Prague’s commuters | by Rui Policarpo | Feb, 2024


If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit a foreign city and use its public transportation system, you might be familiar with the overwhelming feeling of acquiring a ticket from point A to point B.

Of course, it depends on the city, but the process often plays out something like this:

  • Even before arriving at the station, you’ve likely checked your phone for the route using a map app. You now know you need to board at Station A and disembark at Station B. Stations with unfamiliar names possibly written in a language you don’t understand.
  • Upon reaching the station, you locate the ticket machine and begin using it. A slight sense of discomfort creeps in as you face an unfamiliar system, likely a touchscreen computer. If it’s not in your language, you immediately seek a button to change it.
  • Your focus intensifies as you attempt to decipher the system and buy a ticket quickly and accurately. The surrounding environment might not offer the ideal conditions for concentration.
  • You notice a queue forming behind you, and the pressure escalates as you struggle to complete the task efficiently. If comfortable interacting with strangers, you might ask for help. Otherwise, you navigate through multiple screens, mentally mapping the information architecture to understand it.
  • Frustration arises when you miss the bus, tram, or train due to the time spent purchasing the ticket. Now you face a fifteen-minute wait, your 8kg backpack feeling heavier with each passing moment.

This experience can be stressful and might even take away some of the joy of exploring the new place. If you’re not kind to yourself, you might even start blaming yourself for not understanding the system.

Let’s delve deeper into some psychological principles to understand what happened during the journey you described.

According to Jakob’s Law, users prefer interfaces that function familiarly, leveraging their existing mental models from previous experiences on other systems (digital or physical). This means that designing interfaces with common conventions and patterns leads to a more intuitive and efficient user experience, as users don’t have to spend time learning new ways to interact. In the journey I described, this experience might be disrupted due to the different social and cultural conventions of the new place you’re visiting. Usually, this kind of system is built with the regular users in mind — the ones who live there — and not for visitors.

Another Law that might not be considered for new users (in this case, the visitors) is Hick’s Law. This law specifies that the time it takes for someone to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices they’re presented with. Simply put, offering too many options at once can overwhelm users and lead to slower decision-making or even decision paralysis. It’s common for this kind of system to ask for the final destination (from 15 location names, for example) if you want a return ticket, the number of tickets (which might not be the same as the number of people traveling), and even how you want to pay (by cash, card, loyalty card, etc.).

Here, I’m also considering and acknowledging the existence of Tesler’s Law, which states that for any system, there’s an inherent amount of complexity that can’t be entirely eliminated, only shifted. This shift can happen either to the system or to the user. It means that during the creation of these ticketing systems or when the transport infrastructure grows and/or is managed by multiple entities, this kind of complexity isn’t solved from the source and is passed on to the end user.

A couple of years ago, I visited the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. After doing the usual research on my phone about how to move from point A to point B, I headed to the tram station. To my surprise, I didn’t find any ticketing machine, which made me think I would need to buy it onboard, probably by talking to the driver. However, what I found onboard was even more surprising. I hopped in through one of the back doors of the tram and saw a small machine, placed on one of the standee poles.

A small ticketing machine placed on the standee poles of a tram entrance.

At a glance, the minimal design of the machine made it immediately clear how to interact with it:

  • A touchscreen invited me to begin the process with a simple click.
  • A contactless card reader enabled payment using a bank card, phone, or any other compatible device.
  • A ticket dispenser stood ready to deliver my pass.

After clicking on the screen to initiate the process, it presented me with a screen containing two main areas: the fares and the language selector.

The touch screen of a ticket machine inside a tram showing buttons for different fares and different traveling times.

Though I clicked on the language selector, the information displayed was already self-explanatory. Two columns showed two fare types: Basic and Reduced. Each fare type had a row for each supported period (30 min, 90 min, and 24 hours).

Despite the system’s apparent simplicity, confusion arose: I couldn’t understand the difference between the fares or which one to choose. However, the larger “Basic” fare buttons suggested they were the most common option.

After selecting the desired period for the “Basic” fare, a new screen confirmed my choice and directed me to the card reader with an arrow.

The touch screen of a ticket machine inside a tram showing to the user the previous selected option and asking to complete the process by paying with a contactless device.

A quick tap on the card reader, and the ticket was in my hand within two seconds.

Animated image showing a person holding a smartphone close to the contactless payment reader and a ticket being printed and issued in less than two seconds.

The ticket pleasantly surprised me as well by combining both the ticket itself and the payment proof on a single piece of paper. Unlike other machines, which give you two separate, bulky receipts, this one offered convenience and reduced waste.

A hand holding a tram ticket that holds information about the travel and the payment method.

By examining this experience closer, we can identify several psychological principles used in its design.

Hick’s Law (previously described) appears in action here. The process minimizes choices, focusing only on selecting the appropriate fare. This streamlines decision-making and reduces overall journey time.

Fitts’s Law also plays a role. The digital interface features well-crafted buttons: large, bold, well-contrasted, and positioned prominently in the center of the screen for easy interaction. Physically, the ticket machine sits at waist height, offering accessibility for wheelchair.

Finally, the Aesthetic-Usability Effect is evident. Users are more forgiving of minor usability issues when the design is pleasing. This machine showcases a minimalist style, providing information only when needed and avoiding clutter. Notably absent are large logos, distracting backgrounds, and excessive typography. Even the machine itself departs from the usual bulky, static design, presenting a sleek and user-friendly appearance.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and there are some other considerations I had after the first analysis.

For users:

  • People who live in the city and use public transportation more frequently have monthly passes, so they will not be the target audience.
  • While some complexity was reduced in the machine, another part was transferred to the user, requiring them to be aware of the travel time between points, and selecting the right ticket period.
  • There’s a lack of explanation between “Basic” and “Reduced” fares (even though “Regular” fare buttons were the biggest ones, hinting at them being the most common).
  • This system requires all users to know what contactless payment is and how to use it.
  • In scenarios with more people, like children, you will need to repeat the process several times. Although repetitive, the user’s familiarity with the minimal process can provide confidence in what is being done.

For business:

  • Maintenance might be more frequent, as the paper for ticket printing needs to be refilled more often due to the machine’s small form factor.
  • If the system doesn’t support offline payments, users might face delays or errors when the vehicle is traveling through areas with no cellular network (although I didn’t experience any of these issues personally).

Being aware of psychological principles plays a key role in product design. Therefore, we need to use them carefully and responsibly. Otherwise, we could cause significant inconvenience for users and even bigger issues for the business. Advocate for the user, and the business will follow.

And don’t forget, if the experience is good, people will never forget how you make them feel. Even if it’s a tram ticketing machine! 😁

Look around. UX is everywhere.


Source link

2023. All Rights Reserved.