Simon Terry

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Confusion is the absence of Design

Yesterday I had to deal with an unnecessarily confusing customer experience.  All I wanted to do was pay for my parking.  It was a great reminder that in the absence of design you generate confusion.

Here are some observations on what happens when you forget to design:

  • The insides of this parking machine would fit in a shoebox, but it’s a big machine.  That means that it is actually very hard to keep all the machine in sight at one time. When the interface is confusing, having to scan the whole thing repeatedly to find your next step is hard work.
  • The screen draws your attention but it is not where the action happens. In fact the screen, tells you little of interest and mostly distracts from where the action happens.
  • Every function has a light or a sign which adds to the confusion. The signs look like later additions to improve the usability but the signage is neither consistent nor supports the process the machine requires users to follow.  The range of different coloured lights is distracting.
  • The blue P lit up is prominent, but purely decorative. 
  • The red laser light top left is for museum membership card discounts, a second process step for a small proportion of users, but it is by far the brightest light.
  • The slot for inserting a ticket to pay, the first process step, is a solid yellow light at bottom left. This is the last place anyone looks, especially when the screen shows the slot and you assume that the image shown must be near the screen.
  • The screen is below normal eye height. As there is no shade on the screen, the lights above make it unreadable unless you crouch.  This matters if you want to know what you need to pay or want a receipt and need to push a button below the screen to confirm your request.
  • The paypass reader doesn’t work though it appears to all intents that it does with a shining light. After several failed attempts, I realised that I needed to insert my card.

The odd functional arrangement and the lights create a sense that four separate divisions of Skidata all said ‘we want a bright flashing light and a sign. We want to be prominent’. Politics and engineering determined where the various bits went on the machine rather than any designed order of a customer experience.

For a simple process this is an unnecessarily confusing customer experience. That says to me Skidata and those who installed the machine weren’t designing a customer experience, they just installed a parking payment machine.


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