Dear BART, You Have a User Experience Opportunity

by / Thursday, 20 June 2013 / Published in Experience Design, Interaction Design, Usability, User Experience
BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit. I have a deep desire to unleash Fluid’s Visual Design + User Experience teams on BART’s ticket machines. Immediately.

Conversations about digital shopping tend to center around digital retail. How can we convey the feel of a fabric? How can we optimize to increase conversion? How does a rich brand experience create affinity?

The mundane daily exchanges of money via digital are often taken for granted. When they work well they create no notice at all – they are seamless. The ones that aren’t seamless stand out.

My experience with BART stood out. It was an emphatic reminder to get up from our desks, get outside and see the consumer in action. To dig into the digital data. To watch and listen and learn. To let consumers teach us a thing or two so that the experiences Fluid creates continue to meet (and exceed) consumer expectations.

Now my letter to BART…

Dear BART,

San Franciscans and East Bay folks tend to move in separate circles – each fiercely loyal to where they live. And everyone knows that Californians love their cars. Many folks would rather sit in Bay Bridge traffic than zip under the Bay via BART.

Casual car pool doesn’t fully solve either of these issues. The notion of picking up complete strangers to qualify for the carpool lane isn’t for everyone. Despite your cloth seats, I believe that it’s you BART. You move hundreds of thousands of people every day. You are making a difference.

But today I needed to add fare to my BART ticket. I stood in awe of your ticket machine. Stunned. Stumped. I wondered where to start. Then I stuck my BART ticket into the credit card slot.

As you know, that’s not where you’re supposed to stick the ticket.

I work in an industry that demands amazing user experiences. My colleagues and I pride ourselves on being rather savvy. Your machine officially humbled me. The good news? My ticket came out of the credit card slot without too much commotion. Win.

I watched the majority of people take pause at the machines. Their actions screamed confusion. Some exuded increasing anxiety as a line formed behind them. It’s not me BART. It’s you. Phew. The frequent users do have it figured out. They are privy to the “how-to smoothly get a ticket” secret.

I’ve never been the jump-the-turnstile type. This morning I contemplated it.

Two specific things worth noting:

1. A woman visiting from overseas stood immobilized in front of a ticket machine. “In most countries this is a bit easier.” Don’t worry, we’re in this together lady. Confusion knows no language barrier. My willingness to help trumped the fact that my “help” was not savvy nor smooth. We did though have a very nice interaction. You are bringing people together.

But I really just wanted a ticket. So did she.

2. Someone tapped their Clipper card to the disk on the machine while I was using it. This reset the screen and the screen experience got rather confusing. The end result? I’m pretty sure $6 was transferred from my ATM account to someone else’s Clipper card. “Can that really happen?,” I asked the woman manning the station box. Apparently it can. This is obviously not ideal.

I’m going to assume the tapper was confused and not cunning. That feels better.

There was a lovely classical ensemble playing Pachaelbel’s Canon as I wrestled with the ticket machine. They were quite good. It made me think of my friend Helen’s wedding. Her wedding was lovely. The night was warm. There was a lot of dancing. Oh wait. Focus. What was I doing?

I was trying to get a ticket to 12th St. in Oakland. Just a ticket.

Let it be known that I bike to work but I dig public transport. The N Judah is my Muni train. The 71 is my bus. I believe you haven’t really seen San Francisco until you’re ridden the 22 Fillmore from start to finish. I ride BART to get to business meetings.

In other words, I’m cheering for you.

So this is my pitch. Okay it’s my plea. Meet me at the Montgomery St. station and let’s watch people interact with your ticket machines for a while. I get that change can be complicated. Change is especially hard when it involves complex systems and public funds.

But it shouldn’t be hard to figure out where (and when) to insert my change when buying a ticket.

Together we could design an amazing interface. Better yet a simple, intuitive, easy one. An interface that no one has to think about. Ever.

You in?