Today I observed the MTA kiosk at the Times Square Q station. I don’t mind paying my taxes as long as they’re used to help people, so I figured I’d go check them out at work. In the times since they’ve been up, I’ve never personally witnessed a visibly successful interaction. In fact, they seem like thinly-veiled ad space.
Never having used one myself, I assumed, jadedly, that I’d see the following groups be drawn to it:
- Bored people waiting for a late train
- Tourists who earnestly want to figure out where they’re going
- People whose phones have died so they can’t use Google Maps
Person 1: Lost Business Guy
Lost Business Guy looked very concerned. Maybe he was on his way to a super important business meeting and he seemed lost. As we’ve discussed in class, he was less forgiving with the kiosk because of his high stress levels. He didn’t finish the program, kept turning around and squinting in the distance, before reluctantly getting on a random train. He was there for about 2 minutes.
Person 2: Too-Chill-For-MTA Red Shorts Guy
This guy was my favorite, and fit the bored-on-the-platform archetype. He walked up to the kiosk, squinted at the home screen, yawned (no joke), and walked away. He was there < 20 seconds.
Person 3: Couple Who Doesn’t Want to Ask for Directions
This couple seemed like they were on a mission to see it all. They were also the most perplexing. Maybe I’ve been blind to it, but I’ve never seen anyone spend that much time with one of these kiosks. They had all the body language of frustration: hands on hips, confused looks around, taking out phone (2nd screening!), finger-swiping back to the map over and over again, and, my personal favorite, the guy used the edge of the metal frame to scratch his back. They were there at least 12 minutes before another guy came and started to edge them out:
They all stood there for a little while, wondering who was in charge. But then something incredible happened: they started to work together.
They’re both navigating the interface with their fingers, pointing at different points on the map. At one point, the older gentleman gets out a piece of paper and begins writing down directions. He looks satisfied, the couple doesn’t, but they both walk away rather awkwardly with a nod of thanks. The couple was there over 16 minutes.
I was amazed at the diversity of interaction, from a curious time-waster, to a few who seemed to need it but were confounded by it. I certainly didn’t witness any success stories.
The difficulties seem to come from the interface itself. Each person who walked away from it seemed more confused than when they approached it. The easiest part is experiencing the ad content. On the home screen, it easily takes up 2/3 of the real estate, so it looks more like digital ad space than an actual tool. And even if you realized it was one, it took more time to get the answer you needed than the time it takes for your train to arrive (and that’s being pretty generous to the MTA).
I’d hope it was designed for people who didn’t know their way around, but I wasn’t picking that up by observing. Chris Crawford talks about how Interactivity Designers consider the entire interaction between the human and computer by considering the thinking part of the process when optimizing. Based on the unsatisfied and confused users walking away, I feel like there’s a ton of room for improvement in this area. The home screen should really just say “Download Google Maps.”