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Select Bus Service (SBS) Ticket Machine Graphics and Interface Design
Winner - Bronze
Designer: 34th St Partnership Design Team
Design Type: Graphics and Interface Design
Company / Organization / School: 34th St Partnership
Design, 34th Street Partnership: Ignacio Ciocchini, Julie Ember, Jamie Song; Client, MTA New York City Transit (MTA NYCT): Margaret Coffey, Ted Orosz; Advisor, NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT): William Carry, Neil Gagliardi. The design team created a graphics and interface system that makes the process of getting tickets for a new bus rapid transit system simpler and more efficient. After a successful pilot program, MTA NYCT launched city-wide a new bus rapid transit (BRT) program named Select Bus Service (SBS). The program’s efficiency and speed, superior to conventional bus programs, is greatly helped by off-bus fare collection. The user gets a ticket from the fare collection machines at the bus stop before boarding; there is one that accepts MetroCards and one that accepts coins. The pilot program for SBS included wraps and decals that branded the machines and provided instructions for the user. During the pilot program, the designers bought tickets, rode buses, spoke to users to better understand their needs, and made observations. The design team found much confusion arising from the machines’ graphics and instructions. Riders seemed unsure how to begin the process of getting tickets, and how to proceed afterward. The text on the machines was confusing, needlessly lengthy, and inconsistent, and the overall design was cluttered and did not relate to other SBS branding. Adding to the confusion was the fact that the machines were re-purposed versions of other machines that users are already familiar with (specifically, the MetroCard Fare Collection Machines were the same machines from which subway users purchased MetroCards; and the Coin Fare Collection Machines were re-purposed “Muni-Meters” used for parking fee collection). The original design did not take into consideration that users would expect the machines to work exactly as they had in their previous incarnations and might become frustrated when they did not. Working closely with the agencies, the designers set out to improve SBS users’ experience by clarifying the machines’ message, improving the user interface, and creating graphics that would integrate the machines’ branding with the other SBS elements. The client mandated that any new design be simple to implement, cost the same as the existing design, and have the same maintenance requirements. The designers could thus propose no changes to the machines themselves: they were limited to the “wraps” on the sides and back and the interface decals on the front of the machines. The designers judged that the existing “wraps”, which identified SBS and the machines’ purpose on their backs and sides, were wordy and cluttered, and that the central message (“PAY BEFORE YOU BOARD”) was off-point. Furthermore, the accompanying message “Keep Your Receipt” created ambiguity for users as to just what they were acquiring. The design team made the central message clear and unambiguous: “Get Ticket Here”, underscored with “Before You Board Bus.” They also eliminated superfluous text that was not central to the purpose of getting tickets, and employed easily understood icons to convey information more efficiently. For example, “MetroCard Fare Collector” was replaced with an icon of a hand inserting a MetroCard into a slot. In addition, the new design for the machines integrated the gradient “swooshes” used to brand SBS buses, as well as the vertical “swoosh” used on SBS bus shelters. This created a visual unity for the SBS system that it had lacked. The design team also significantly improved the user interfaces on the decals at the front of the machines. On both machines, the designers found that much of the messaging on the SBS machines was unclear, redundant, unnecessary or inconsistent, and that rules and exceptions were not laid out clearly or hierarchically. Some of the text was printed in fonts too small for visually-impaired users, and instructions were not consistently color-coded with actions. The new graphics for both machines’ interfaces simplified messages, arranged information hierarchically, and used color-coding to relate instructions for each step to its corresponding action. The team also worked with advocates for the visually-impaired to ensure all type and color was easy to read and understand. In addition, each of the machines presented specific challenges. The MetroCard Fare Collection Machines have a manual interface instead of the touch-screens on their sister machines in the subway. Due to this problem as well as the difficulty in locating the “Push to Start” button itself, users have trouble understanding how to start the machine. Though the preferred solution would have entailed changes outside the scope, the designers were able to make the “Push to Start” button much more noticeable by placing a bright white “bull’s-eye” around it. As for the Coin Fare Collection Machines, when these machines were refashioned for SBS fare collection from their original “Muni-meter” function, they included poorly labeled buttons and defunct functions. The original instruction decal did not clearly state options for starting different processes (i.e., for Regular Fare, Reduced Fare, or for instructions in Spanish), and had conflicting color-coding. The new instruction decals make the purchasing process more efficient by clearly stating the user’s choices for beginning the process through color-coding and simplified instructions. The resulting design was enthusiastically received by MTA NYCT and implemented on the 34th Street SBS line in November 2011. MTA NYCT will use the new design as the SBS program expands. And in another mark of its success, they have decided to replace the pilot program’s wraps and decals with the new design where needed. The new decals require less maintenance than previous ones, and are printed with water-based, solvent-free ink. The new design makes the SBS system even more successful: it reduces anxiety, saves time, and increases understanding of the system. SBS was introduced by MTA NYCT to address the problem of snail-slow buses in a busy city. With the redesigned graphics and messaging, the designers hope to build on the efficiency and success of the system, increasing ridership and making it even easier to use.