Foreign Devices Not Foreigner-Friendly

Transportation is one of the key struggles of travelers across the globe. With transportation systems varying from country to country, and even city to city, it is imperative that the design of transit systems is easily accessible and comprehensive to people from various backgrounds. Living in the Greater Seattle Area our team set out to analyze how well Seattle handles that responsibility.

Contributors: Nicole, Yating, Abhinav, Jared

Yating, our head designer, having recently moved to the Seattle area, had a hard time learning the bus system and the cultural norms by which Seattilies rode public transport. Tired of iteratively navigating the transit system one embarrassing experience after another, Yating pitched the idea of re-designing the major transportation sector in Seattle.

So, Jared, our marketing lead and main engineer, Abhinav, our technical writer, and Nicole, our public relations specialist, set out to analyze how users interacted with the current light rail kiosks (the local rapid transit system in the metropolitan area) and bus stations.

There were a few things that stood out in our user research. According to transit personnel, a few foreign traveler interactions, and through our own general observations, we noticed that while the current ticket-buying kiosks supported multiple languages, they either lacked intuitivity in their design or travelers were unable or uncertain on how to select a preferred language. Additionally, short-term travelers, visiting for a few days or up to two weeks were inclined to skip the transit system and resort to a more expensive form of travel — Ubers and taxis. This was primarily due to the fear of public embarrassment as a result of unfamiliarity with the cultural norms and expected social conduct.

This sparked our idea of designing a physical kiosk, much like the current one, that would outsource the learning process of interacting with the local transit systems and, thus, prevent the pressure of a forming line behind the foreigner attempting to use the original kiosk.

images of selecting a language
images of selecting a language
image for audio selection of a language
image for audio selection of a language
images of the map
images of the map
images of the trip details
images of the trip details

Our initial prototype was as shown through several of the images above. We created a simple layout that would have an immediate way to select a language and would then navigate the user through purchasing a ticket and learning about the local travel trips.

To mimic the pressure of a real-life scenario, the team set out to one of the light rail stations near the University of Washington and in the international district to get a few willing participants

to walk through our prototype design. There were a few glaring errors such as the false affordance of interacting with the map and the initial screen being in English. We also recognized that our platform did not support an easy viewing of the travel tips without having purchased a ticket first since we had originally made the assumption that our kiosk would be single-interaction design only and not be used by those having already purchased a ticket.

The most important revision we made was to the initial display. Since a simple, clean initial design may be the difference between a user choopsing to interact with our design and choosing to take Uber, we added the following display.

the front screen
the front screen

By touching the screen, users are able to start to use this kiosk. The “Touch to Start” sign will flash in different languages so that different language speakers know how to interact with the initial screen.

Another important amendment was allowing users to easily directly navigate to travel tips to account for the broader user group who had already purchased a ticket and wanted to learn more about the local customs.

navigation back to the home screen
navigation back to the home screen

If the language recognition feature did not correctly analyze the speech of the user, then the user can easily navigate back to language selection using the back button in the left upper corner. If the language was selected correctly, then the user will be able to make a purchase of a ticket or view the travel tips from this screen.

Through the user research we had discovered our two primary tasks that needed to be supported in our design:

  1. Buying a ticket in the user’s preferred language
  2. Learning some of the travel tips when using the lightrail

The added display screen helps in our first task by identifying the purpose of the kiosk to foreign travelers and indicating, through the flashing sign in various languages, that it supports a multitude of languages. The following selection screen easily allows for users to choose their preferred language, accomplishing our primary task. Our secondary task was drastically improved in our final draft through the creation of a home screen that allows for the user, at any point, to navigate to trip tips. The home screen is also accessible at every screen.

The more technology develops, the more people see the need for simpler, more intuitive design in all aspects of our lives. A city’s success lies closely with the user-friendliness of its environment. The transportation system is a huge aspect of that — enabling locals and foreigners to explore and connect with one another. Creating a kiosk that is more welcoming to foreigners not only enables users to avoid the pressures of a new environment, but creates a sense of belonging and home for the traveler. Not to mention, this also helps travelers cut back on travel expenses by avoiding costly rides such as solely relying on Uber and Lyft for transportation.

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction