A friendly face

I was standing on the platform, waiting for the train to arrive when a gentleman in his fifties walked up to the ticket machine and loudly started to complain that he was unable to use these kinds of automatic ticket dispensers. As the words kept flowing from his mouth I could deduce that he was not a regular commuter, at least not in these remote parts, there had not been such a machine there last time he rode the train and he was worried that he would not be able to buy his ticket on the train, excluding him from the commute. What he didn’t say, but I could tell¬†¬†from the way he was circling the machine like it was some kind of fabled beast, was that he was not even going to give it a try. There was another man on the platform with us, also in his fifties. The men exchanged a few words, but the other man wasn’t comfortable with the machine either and was of no help.

What I could deduce from this situation was two things. The first was that there had been a change in this man’s world, one that he had not been prepared for and thereforeDSC_0055 felt that his security had been violated. Not the kind of security that keeps us from physical harm, but the kind of security that keeps us from making fools of our selves. The other thing that came to mind was how un-inviting the machine was.

Here was a chunk of yellow and grey metal, just sitting there. There is a somewhat friendly text at the top, supposedly inviting people to interact with it, but the thing it self actually look a little menacing. I understand why they chose yellow. It is the colour of the bus company that also runs the trains, But to accent it, they’ve chosen a rather unfortunate dark grey, closely resembling black. And yellow and black is the universal colour combination for danger. Basically there is a giant bee sitting there, inviting the young and old of the community to try their luck.

Then there is also the shape of the beast – a large, impenetrable fort of a rectangle. They might as well dig a moat around it.

I’m not surprised that this became the end result, and I do believe that the people coming up with the idea genuinely thought they were making the world a better place. Well, a cheaper place at least. It is not the only obelisk of the digital age out there. But it begs the question of why they have to look like that!

There is a lot to be said about the user friendliness of this thing, but I what I would like to point out is that a little user experience tactics would go a long way. And by that I mean make it look inviting and friendly to use! The first thing that comes to mind is to paint a picture of a train conductor on the thing. The machine will never look like, or replace a human, and it should not strive to do any of those things. But just like support chatbots have a face to bridge the gap, that would help here too. And it should be a painted face, not a photograph, for the same reason. It should not try to look like a human, and a photograph is too much like a real human. It is in fact a real human behind such a face. A painted face is a make believe person, but not necessarily any less friendly.

Furthermore, making the base thinner would break up the shape, making it less menacing. Maybe even making it a bit shorter so it’s easier to see over the top. In fact, just make it smaller. The sheer size of the thing is frightening enough and it takes my mind back to the 50’s when a computer took up a whole room. I have a computer in my pocket, why does this thing have to be huge enough to hold a tiger?

Lastly I would love to see a more graceful solution to the height problem. Because this thing is meant to be used by kids, adults and people in wheelchairs, the height of the screen is placed somewhere in the middle, which makes it uncomfortable for everyone. I realize that placing one machine for tall people and a second for small people and people in wheelchairs next to each other might cost too much. But there must be another solution. Maybe the tall ones could sit down in front of it on a slide-into-place-seat? I don’t know, I probably should’t bash them about it, when I don’t have a solution to the problem, I just know that my back senses foul play whenever I use that thing.

That said, I wish that the interactions out in the real world will not be forgotten and the same care will be put in making them as user friendly as the equivalent web page. We are here, and we are capable to help.

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