I can’t use ticket machines

I think I’m okay when it comes to technology, not like a geeky genius or anything, but able to have at least a limited grasp of how digital devices work and interact with each other. There are times however when I can’t get my head round simple concepts of usability, like mobile phones for example, which I still find difficult to use after ten nearly years use (has it really been that long?).

One of the biggest usability hurdles in my life is the touch screen ticket machine, which I find so infuriatinlg difficult to understand that I have to get someone else to operate them for me. Mind you, shouting obscenities at yourself in an underground station isn’t always the best way to get people to help you.

Okay so this is sounding a bit tabloid now, overweight middle aged white men moaning about technological progress, but I really think I’ve got a point here.

There are two issues at play, architecture and design. Both intrinsic to each other as well as to a satisfactory user experience. What is happening is that they are both being overlooked in the rush to provide machines, shut the ticket offices and of course, save money. A depressingly common theme as we use technological advancement for economic rather than customer benefit.

From an architecture point of view the information, or products on sale, are usually always organised in a manner more in keeping with a database structure rather than a humanistic one. This leads to a confusing mass of information that takes so long to digest that the ‘See more’ button at the bottom is usually overlooked. Nothing really seems to make sense as my brain struggles to keep up with the sheer weight of content.

A better way to arrange content would be to display the most popular stations choosen in the last 12 hours, plot that to a calendar for obvious variations and it won’t be long before the initial choices will change depending on the time, day and even weather. More human, more dynamic.

Which brings me neatly to design, which never really seems to extend much further than the default Visual Basic buttons laid onto a dodgy train montage. It simply doesn’t work, and the ticket machines abroad aren’t much better either, same layout, same buttons. The machines on the Berlin Metro are to usability what Helmut Cole was to tightrope walking. You know we have a problem when the Germans can’t get it right!

It’s quite obvious that these processes are put together by IT staff or web developers who have no interest or experience in Information Architecture or the fundamental tenets of usability. If you like, an unwelcome distraction from the joy of working with the Internet. Interface design is a disciple in its own right that deserves thought, creativity and above all, testing.