We teach computer science, but usually relegate the human-computer interaction and usability aspects of it to upper year classes, where its relevance may be “too little, too late”. Software is a means to an end, whether it makes a washing machine function, control a self-driving car, or run a social media app. Software should possess seven qualities: user experience, availability, performance, scalability, adaptability, security, and economy. But, if you get the user experience wrong, then none of the rest matter. Unfortunately software exhibiting bad user experiences abounds, from terrible websites, to lacklustre apps, and awful appliance interfaces. Part of the problem is that software designers rely on advice from people who *aren’t the end-users* – sometimes they have focus-groups, but it doesn’t seem like often enough.
A case in point is Metrolinx Preto readers on various transit systems. I don’t know who chooses the device interfaces, but I imagine it is the transit systems themselves. On some systems, the readers are designed in such a manner that once tapped, the user is provided with confirmation via a sound, and a brief verification of the balance on the card. This is useful, because otherwise the user is forced to login to the Presto website to find the balance on the card. This is done on a two-line screen. The TTC on the other hand provides a huge screen area, and the only feedback they provide is success or failure – no information on the current balance. There are supposedly 10,000+ readers out there, and I would imagine transparency would be a key factor, making all the readers function in the same way from a user experience point-of-view. Consider the TTC Presto reader found in the buses.
The area associated with tapping the Presto card represents roughly 12% of the readers, front surface area. The feedback screen on the other hand takes up 30% of the real estate. Now many people using the reader for the first time will wrongly try and tap the screen, because it is the first thing the eyes are drawn too – not the small area below it. There are two problems, one is that the actual human-machine interface is very small, and the second is that the large screen basically mimics the visual instructions already on the tap area. A better interface would have concentrated more on the interface area, and less on a huge feedback area (which serves no other purpose really). These other Presto card readers do the job *way* better from the perspective of a person interacting with a reader. Feedback is provided by means of the 2-line LED display, and its almost impossible to get the card-tapping wrong.
Considering the market, you would also think that Presto would have a mobile app, not force users into using a mobile web site. It just makes sense.