Info-kiosks to Revolutionize Foreign Travel
A Firsthand Account of Integrating into the Local Transportation Culture
Contributors: Yating, Abhinav, Jared, Nicole
The transportation system varies greatly from city to city. Travelers, especially international travelers with different cultural norms, can find the Seattle transportation system incredibly confusing.
On top of the national transportation differences, there are cultural norms that differ from state to state. Some cities have an unspoken expectation of silence when riding the bus, like the “Seattle Freeze.” Other cities, like Menlo Park, have an overnight parking fee despite no delineation or signage to indicate no parking after a specific time. These social nuisances contribute to the isolationist feeling when arriving in a new place.
Our initial prompt into the topic of foreign travel was my own experience attempting to navigate the unfamiliar transportation system in Seattle. On my first bus ride into the city I had no idea that in order to get off I would need to pull a yellow cord. When I tried to get out at my stop I was embarrassed when the bus driver started yelling. Disheartened by my experience, but without an alternative to get around the city, through uncomfortable bouts of trial and error, I picked up the nuances of traveler etiquette in Seattle. But this made me question whether there was a better way to have learned this information without having made a fool of myself.
With so many travelers between states and countries, it is a surprise that current products don’t warn of these differences. Google Maps will not tell you that you need to pull the bus string to get off and it is up to the rider to learn through mistakes and embarrassment. But what if there were systems in place to enable a smoother transition for travelers to use the public transportation system in an unfamiliar environment?
We came up with our design challenge which is “How might we reduce the barrier for first-time public transportation travelers from China coming to Seattle and build a better experience for them? ”
The Current Solution
By creating a new, intuitive and traveler-friendly info-kiosks we offload the learning process from the original kiosk and, at the same time, save travelers from feeling the pressure of a forming line. A standalone kiosk also provides an immediate point of reference upon arriving to a bus/light rail platform.
How We Got Here: Gathering the Data
Before we attempted crafting a solution, we conducted some research. In order to determine what pain points travelers experience, we crafted a questionnaire to distribute to international travelers. The questionnaire was used to poll travelers for types of transportation apps that were most frequently used by them, what cultural norms were expected from Seattle, how they discovered that information (friend, website, prior research or travel, etc.), where and what they planned to visit, and their biggest concerns about traveling/exploring the Greater Seattle Area.
In addition, a personalized interview was conducted for King County transit security to determine the biggest struggles foreigners faced as was observed by the transit workers. As professionals in the area, they enabled us to discover the pain points of the system and analyze the current solutions.
In addition to our direct interviews, we analyzed the interactions of riders with the local kiosks and observed the reluctance to ask for aid amongst foreign travelers. This enabled us to gain an unbiased assessment of how long it takes for a person to complete a transaction and find the correct boarding station.
Narrowing Our Focus
Our chosen user-group are first time travelers to the United States from China. We examined their current practices at populated transit hubs such as bus terminals and airports. Our secondary stakeholders included bus personnel such as drivers and maintenance workers and our tertiary stakeholders were comprised of those who were adept at navigating the existing transit system in situ.
Common Themes That Surfaced in Research
We looked for people at SeaTac International Airport to conduct our interviews. Participant A was a 45-year-old interior designer.
Participant B was a 32-year-old lady traveling to Seattle for business.
We also conducted two interviews with international students attending UW, who have taken public transportation in Seattle, and like me, had to learn the bus and light rail systems to travel cost-effectively. Both of them are current master students. We booked a conference room to do the interviews and, with their permission, recorded their comments.
Additionally, we interviewed transit authority employees (admin and security personnel) at the transit authority office outside of the International District light rail station. The security employees provided good first-hand knowledge of the struggles of international travelers as well as pointed out the design flaws of the current ticket kiosks.
- Travelers experience embarrassment and a sense of being rushed.
- Travelers do not have all of their tools to complete their tasks. For instance, they are not made aware that they are able to select language options at the kiosks.
- Travelers have a sense of being afraid of making mistakes in public.
- Upon not being able to figure out the transportation system or in the event of closure and route connectivity issues, travelers tend to resort to rideshare/taxi.
- Travelers have no ideas about the facility inside the station. (e.g. if they are carrying a big suitcase with them, they wonder if there are elevators or not.)
“You have no idea about how to buy a ticket, you might be lost in the station, and if I am carrying a suitcase with me, I might not find an elevator in the station, which means I have to carry a big suitcase with me going up and downstairs.” (Participant A)
6. The instructions on the bus and bus stop broadcasters are not obvious enough.
“I did not understand the stops. They are just not comprehensive and clear enough for everyone to understand. And I am always afraid of miss the destination stop or waste the time of the drivers or other travelers.” (Participant B)
- The translation of the light rail kiosks is not comprehensive enough. Translations have mistakes and word misuses.
- No specific instructions on how to pay at the bus stop, which creates barriers to use it.
“There are not so many explanations of how to use the bus at the bus stop.” (Participant A)
7. Limited payment methods.
“In Seattle, I feel the system designer is trying to say that “you have to have an orca card.” Because I believe it is really hard for people to have two dollars and seventy-five cents with them. However, those two are the only payment methods.” (Participant A)
8. Public transportations are so hard for beginners.
“In Seattle, the transportation system kind of set “you know how to use it” as a default mental model. There are not so many explanations of how to use the bus at the bus stop.” (Participant A)
Following the two-diamond design thinking process, we did ideation based on secondary research results. We tried to investigate more possibilities in the solutions by not limiting ourselves in the form of the phone application. We sat together and used the ideation technique called “braiding” to try to come up with as many ideas as possible. The image below shows our ideas.
Our primary designs focused on app integration, where we would enable notifications through existing travel apps like Google Maps to notify users of tips and tricks of navigating transportation options, but that would require immense efforts across multiple platforms.
Our secondary approach was designing our own app that would encompass information regarding route changes, cultural tips, purchasing, and would even support AR that could be used to scan buses or stations for instructions and be enabled with speech. We found that a single app with so many computations and so much data would not be light enough to entice download. That naturally led us to our main focus — designing a physical device that would provide the necessary information about navigating the transportation system in Seattle.
Presenting Our Current Solution
The design process began with the travelers’ frustrations in mind — brainstorming and sketching many solutions to a yet-refined problem. Our interviews and research began to refine and inform our designs and ultimately led to our proposed design as seen in the image below in sections 2–4.
Ladies and Gentlemen, what you see here is the info-kiosks! A bank of such proposed kiosks will be positioned in strategic locations throughout light-rail and bus stations. The intended purpose of the info-kiosks is to offload and abstract the learning process from the already-confusing and time-consuming ticket-purchasing kiosks.
The info-kiosks’ intended purpose is education — the stress of having to “be fast and familiar” with local technology will be alleviated, as anyone using the device, or in line to use the device, will be familiarized with the ways in which to interact with the buses and light rail. Through the info-kiosks, they will be acquainted with the cultural norms in simulated videos showing the etiquettes of riding the Seattle transport system.
Additionally, the process of offloading the discovery phase incurred by foreign travelers from the ticket purchasing kiosks will ease line tension from those customers already familiar and adept with the local technologies, thus removing the embarrassment that coincides with the awkwardness of struggling to use the current kiosks.