From buttons for fingers towards graphics for brains

History and future of ticket vending (machines). Problems and solutions of: hard buttons; frame button; touch screen; electronic cards; and price communiation in a dynamic interactive and integrated way.

Abstract

There are several generations train ticket vending machines.

  • In the buttons phase the problems are anthropometric and perceptual (pressing keys and readability of information). Ergonomics solved these problems.

  • The frame button phase showed that frame button screens might be applicable for simple tasks such as issuing bank notes but not for train tickets in a complex selling system.
  • Touch screen technology is more appropriate for public use of complex systems. To prevent problems, cognitive psychology should be leading.

  • In the electronic card phase, the options for tickets and prices increase. When the travel products to be sold are based on traditional marketing principles, it is almost impossible to arrive at an acceptable interface.

  • When the ticket vending system survives the electronic card system, systems will become, dynamic, interactive and integrated. What are cognitive psychological requirements for this generation?
  • Graphics for brains while checking-in



    Introduction

    The past unveils the future of TVMs (ticket vending machines). These machines evolved in several decades from 'physical one-product'one-coin-machines' (picture above right), towards 'non-physical contactless invisible electronic systems'. The latter has no buttons, no screens and . . . maybe there is no need for interface designers. However, this analysis shows that for future systems there are new requirements and there is a lot of work to do for interface designers.



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    The buttons phase The interface technology

    In the One-coin-one-product-phase interface design was no problem. The system is so simple and physical, that buying a ticket is easy.


    Real problems came when the number of buttons, the number of products and the ways of payment increased.
      The problems

    When controls are electronic, the size can be decreased and problems with the operation arise. Fortunately for these problems, science could give straightforward requirements for button size, character size and luminance contrast. An extensive investigation for NS, observing hundreds of train passengers with a hidden camera, revealed that in the multiple-buttons-and-text-machine-phase, interfaces proved to be more difficult to design than psychologists could predict (Verhoef, 1986). Some results of an investigation using the machine in the figure at the right are:

  • 11% of the passengers pressed the destination text instead of the white button on the right of the text. 0.3% of the passengers bought a ticket to the wrong destination. Half of these passengers selected a destination that was one line higher or one line lower than the destination they intended to press.
  • There were several observations that have shown that passengers did not press the button of the class they intended to press. For instance, 1% changed class before payment and at least 0.15% of the passengers bought a ticket of another class than they intended (n=426). The distance between class indication and button was between 2 and 11 cm.

  • 50% of the passengers do not notice an Out of order message and they proceeded to select their destination (n=426). The visual distance between the first step:selecting a destination and the second step: noticing the text Out of order (in red in the price display), was approximately 40 cm.

  • These are two of several problems caused by not taking account of But understanding was a problem too (Verhoef, 1986).
    autelca b100 ticket vending machine
    The Autelca B100 train ticket vending machine of Netherlands Railways. Approx. 1980. The machine was in use by several European railways (British, Dutch, Italian, Swiss).
      The solutions

    To solve the problems with the buttons-phase B100 ticket vending machine different strategies were chosen.

  • The machine was designed by Autelca, a company based in Switzerland. It is unclear what ergonomic principles were applied. The Swiss Railways informed NS at that time that they were satisfied because the text on the machine met their requirements for readability.


  • A text solution including several hundreds of words to explain the operation, was chosen in Germany (Geiser & Reinig, 1980 H.Reinig 1986 ; Reinig, H-J., & Wergles, K., 1984) (See figure below left.) . The Japanese Railways preferred the same solution (Oda, 1985). The text solution became a DIN for German public transport ticket vending machines. A Swiss evaluation rejected the solution ( Felix & Krüger, 1989) (See figure below middle.). The approach was abandoned in Germany ten years later (Sandmaier, 2008).

  • Netherlands Railways did not apply text to instruct passengers how to use the machine but applied psychological principles. NS changed the machine, for instance by reducing visual distance on the instructionless B8060.
  • public transport ticket vending machine b8060
    Dutch railways B8060 second generation text instructionless buttons vending machine.
      public transport ticket vending machine DIN
    Public transport ticket vending machine German DIN
    public transport ticket vending machine DIN
    Public transport ticket vending machine German DIN, Swiss experimental version (Felix, 1988).

    public transport ticket vending machine DIN
    Public transport ticket vending machine German DIN, with destinations list.
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    The frame buttons phase The interface technology

    The first screens for public systems were the frame button screens for issuing banknotes (see figure right).

  • Up to 1995 frame button interfaces were preferred over touch-screen interfaces because several problems were unsolved (costs, vandal proofness).

  • Frame buttons have an obvious input technology that is easy to understand by users and easy to develop for designers. The hard buttons are familiar, easy to recognize, and the screen enables the designer to present variable texts for the buttons. The buttons dictate the position of the information, there is no discussion on the arrangement of the information. With very little hardware the system can present far more options than the buttons only machines.
  • sncf public transport ticket vending machine frame button
    SNCF train ticket vending machine using frame button technology
      The problems

    A psychological analysis (Verhoef, 1999b) has shown that screens with frame buttons create psychological problems that are hard to solve for the interface designer.

  • The task to perform at a banknote issuing machine is: insert card, enter pin code, enter amount and take out your card and your money. Even at that time ticket vending was much more complex.

  • For the frame button banknote machines it was easy to win from the rather userunfriendly alternative (queuing for the wrong window at an inconvenient moment).
  • Designers think that users do not understand that a touch screen should be touched. They try to help using conspicuous texts (Press me!) and realistic buttons. We tested the premise that the input problem with a touch-screen interface was a really a problem. Of all passengers, including many elderly passengers not having used any screen technology, 0,0% has problems pressing a button on a touch-screen ( Verhoef, 1999a). Touching is not the problem and costly attention attracting and graphics should not be used to solve a not-existing problem.

  • The main problem of frame button interfaces is that simply indicating the meaning of a button, determines completely the visual structure of the interface. The buttons dictate a visual structure of lists adjacent to the frame. This impairs the using visual structure for cognitive problems, for instance having an overview of the parameters to be selected and changing parameters of the product selected in an earlier step.
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    The touch screen phase The problems

    The main problem at that time (1999) with screen technology was that screen interfaces had a rather bad usability reputation. Professional users had to accept bad usability but public transport cannot force every passenger to adapt himself to an awkward technology.
    NS touch screen train ticket vending machineNS touch screen train ticket vending machine
    Step 1: select ticket type
      The solution

    NS solved the usability problem using available research performed on previous generations of ticket vending machines and more general cognitive psychology. Graphical design and technology had to operate within cognitive psychological requirements. Psychology was not used afterwards to establish that passengers do not understand the machine.

    The main problem is routing – i.e. steering the user through the sequence of sub-tasks that have to be performed to acquire a ticket. On hard button vending machines, for technical reasons, it is impossible to install controls in positions that are the best from a psychological point of view (top-bottom or left-right).


    On screens there is a logical solution for this problem: give each step its own window and present them sequentially as is done by wizards. However, following a sequential procedure is not how people generally operate. In addition, a sequence of windows does not give an overview of the steps done and the steps to be taken. Changing selections made, is a problem too. Hierarchical and sequential procedures cause the well known navigation problem.

    A typical example is the choice of language. In common practice the language question is the first step to take. However, the language function can easily be made parallel instead of sequential, using a permanent change language button. Observations at Schiphol Airport Station show that the language button is not pressed as a first step.
    sncb ticket vending machine first stem language choice Step 1: of a Belgium touch screen ticket vending machine (select language).
      The routing problem also can be solved in a non-sequential and non-hierarchical way. The solution is presenting the controls belonging to one task conspicuous and immediately adjacent to the fixation point of the previous step. Although, this interface looks like a traditional hierarchical menu. However, it is a parallel multi-dimensional orthogonal structure. In the NS touch screen machine (see picture immediately at the right) there was more cognitive psychology implemented than selecting language and routing. For instance:

  • Parameters could be changed at any time, without returning to the main menu or pressing cancel.

  • The list of stations included synonyms for stations having several names, for instance Den Haag and 's Gravenhagen (presented in the list under the letters D, H, S and G).

  • In a list, a group of stations (e.g. all Amsterdam stations) was not broken up but presented in one column. Because of that, the design for the list looked frayed but the number of errors selecting a station was in some cases reduced with 4%.
  • NS touch screen train ticket vending machineNS touch screen train ticket vending machine
    Step 6: select the number of tickets.
    The evaluation

    The interface was tested in several ways.
    After tests with several hundreds of passengers the answer to the question:Is the touch-screen TVM user-friendly? proved to be:Yes, even for people 90 years of age and hardly being able to travel anymore.
  • Young passengers and ICT professionals had problems changing selections. After making an error they searched a chancel button and started again. For these special groups of users the cancel button was introduced. Old passengers, for instance, just changed their selection and did not search for cancel.
  • There was no need to change the first concept of the interface after the tests in 1998. After more than ten years complexity is multiplied (tickets for dogs, bicycles, round trips, starting at another station, tickets for abroad).
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    The electronic card phase The interface technology

    For all public transport in the Netherlands in 2005 one system of contactless electronic ticketing was introduced.


    Having such a card you can enter anywhere in the Dutch public transport system and exit anywhere. No paper tickets, no ticket windows, no ticket vending machines, no value cards stolen nor cards being skimmed by criminals.
      Problem 1: Confusion with other payment systems

    There are differences between the travel chip card and other electronic value cards the passengers are familiar with. There are differences in:
  • deposit on the card: yes/no,
  • access to bank account: yes/no,
  • number of products on the card: money only/several train tickets as well.
  • The only information the card shows is: This is a public transport chip card. The passenger can't see it is a traditional single train ticket 2nd class to Amsterdam. The interface is invisible as Norman (1998) predicted but not in the sense Norman intended.
      A verbal solution of the confusion problem
    The Dutch OV-chip-card obscured financial actions.

    On a verbal level jargon, technology driven and incorrect words (see table at the right) were used.

  • The name OV-chip card refers to technology used (chip not a magnetic stroke as usual at that time). OV-debit card as a name would explain to the passengers that there is money on the card, which was not common practice at that time (credit card, PINcards).


  • The term check-in obscures several financial transactions:You made an advanced payment. The airplane metaphor is incorrect: When checking in at the airport you do not pay but you deliver your luggage.


  • The term check-out obscures financial transactions as well: The final payment has been made. The airplane metaphor is incorrect again. You do not check out nor do you perform any financial transaction at the end of a plane trip.
  •  
    Technology driven, jargon and wrong terminology used for passengers (unclear word column). Terminology expressing the characteristics relevant for the passengers (clear word column).


    A visual solution of the confusion problem, check-in

    When checking-in the information given to the passenger did not provide information about the financial transaction that occurred while checking in.

    The system did not inform the passenger whether he has checked-in or checked-out. Being in or out proved to be a serious problem because passengers forgot to check-in/out or had to check in/out while traveling.


    The experimental check-in pole at the right presents the financial transactions being carried out while checking-in.

    A visual solution of the confusion problem, check-out

    When checking-out the information given to the passenger did not provide information about the financial transaction that occurred while checking in.

    The check-in/out status according to the system was not presented to the passenger.


    The experimental check-out pole at the right presents the financial transactions being carried out while checking-in.

      Problem 2: One payment system but company dependent fare systems

    The system was introduced as one system for all public transport in the Netherlands. However, there was not one fare system. Each company kept its own fare system. Sometimes a one price for all trip system (e.g. in a small underground system) and sometimes the system was degressive (the longer the trip the lower the price per km). When passengers changed company they had to check out and check in again. Passengers did not understand why sometimes they had to check in and to check out again when changing trains standing on the same platform.

    The public transport solution of problem 2

    Maintaining the company dependent fare system was essential for dividing income between transport companies and from a technical point of view could not be changed. The solution chosen was to force company changing passengers first to check out using electronic doors. This physical solution, of course is more expensive than changing a soft fare system. In addition, this solution made it impossible for the train traffic controller to change platform in case of a disturbance. Finally, in underground situations electronic doors are impractical in case of a disaster. The disaster did not come from a fire or terrorists but from the company dependent system itself. The company dependent fare system and consequently sometimes checking out and in again when changing public transport vehicle became Nevertheless, the system was not changed.

    Virtual reality was used to test physical means to force passengers to check in and to check out when changing trains.
      Problem 3: The product approach
    A ticket vending machine example

    The vending machine at the right sells the product Fyra (bottom line, second from left). Fyra is not the Dutch name for Brussels but the name of the product/train.
    The ticket vending machine did not solve the price and time problem for the Fyra passenger but just asked Fyra, yes or no? (bottom line, second button). The word Fyra does not mean Brussels but has no meaning in Dutch. It is a new fancy product name.
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    The cognitive phase

    Interface technology
    In the button phases the focus was on motor psychological requirements (button size, tactile feedback). In the screen phases the focus was on visual psychological requirements (readability, contrast, colour use and navigation). The next phase in the evolution of systems is support of human cognitive performance.

    The scale of the electronic Dutch Public Transport card made the project rather complex. One can understand that for that reason the passenger was not considered as a part of the system. Now, 2016, the examples given here, public debate and an inquiry of the parliament (2011) show that the consequence was a disaster. What would have been the next phase in the evolution of ticket vending systems?
     

    Requirement 1: fundamental characteristics, e.g. trip characteristics
    Product names hide the trip characteristics: such as destination, speed and price. The Fyra is a more expensive high speed train between Amsterdam and Brussels.

    The basic concept of the Netherlands Railways touch screen ticket vending machine was a trip parameter concept. For a Fyra trip to Brussels, the passenger should not select Fyra yes/no but Travel time 90 minutes and € 75 or 120 minutes and € 50. A trip parameter interface for a train ticket vending machine
    The interface is not sequential and hierarchical but parallel. All parameters and the selection remain visible and available and can be changed any time.
     

    Requirement 1: fundamental characteristics, e.g. payment characteristics
    Electronic systems are invisible. Payment characteristics tend to become invisible for the passenger. Consequently, in electronic systems the ticket vending machine is needed more than ever. A ticket vending machine gives the passenger access to the system when Internet is not available for whatever reason. The passenger should be able to change information on the OV-chip-card, have trips and payment overviews and to solve problems (forgotten to check-in/out).

    Experimental OV-chip-card trips and payment history on a traditional touch screen train ticket vending machine.
      Requirement 2: reliability of the service
    For human cognition reliability is crucial when making a selection e.g. between a fast, expensive and reliable service at one hand and a slow cheap and delay prone service at the other hand. Therefore, the risk of delays should be presented when a ticket is bought.
    The experimental check-in pole at the right is an example of an efficient communication of the relation between three interacting variables (price, time, service reliability) that human brains can process in 233 milliseconds, e.g. while checking in.

    Experimental example of graphics for brains:
    Check-in pole informing the passenger: departing later is cheaper and gives a more reliable trip.
    Requirement 3: Interaction
    Permanent two way communication between system and deciding elements gives a significant increase of system performance. Public transport system and passenger should inform each other before and during the trip about essential trip parameters such as costs, (delayed) travel time and route. With modern technology more interaction between travel system and passengers is possible.
    Example internet tickets
    The moment/price trade off should be presented when the trip is planned, e.g. when using a travel planner. When buying a ticket using internet there could be an option like: I will take this trip and get a discount for deciding now. So no complicated marketing based fare systems the passenger has to study before buying a ticket but a This is your price now based on your past frequency of traveling and the current situation (rush hour). The information is given after each trip (Next time within one week you get 10% discount) and before the next trip (Ah you again, 10% discount for seeing you again).
    Example mobile devices
    When the system is connected to the mobile system of the passengers interactive, individual, during travel, communication is possible. When there is a major disturbance the system could inform a selection of extra paying passengers (first class passengers in the old days) not to follow the directions on the station but to go somewhere where they will find a bus, for them only. This will decrease their inconvenience and decrease the number of passengers for the standard solution. These kinds of communication will go far beyond today's practice of communicating disturbances to passengers' mobile devices.
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    Is there a future for ticket vending machines? In 2016 in The Netherlands the record of the product strategy for selling tickets is two disasters for passengers: The fast train Amsterdam - Brussel (Fyra) was a disaster for safety reasons and permanently taken out of service. But the Fyra product based tickets forced themselves on the first screen of a parameter based interface. From an interface technology point of view, mixing a product interface with trip parameter interface was a disaster as well. Why the Fyra service on the first screen and all other services not on the first screen? The second disaster is the Dutch public transport chip-card. The solutions suggested here show that complexity of a system is not a thread for ticket vending systems. The solutions are simple and easy to implement. In 2009 the question was: Have ticket vending machines (interfaces about costs) any future? Disasters show that public transport does not innovate taking account of the cognitive psychology of the passenger. At the other hand there are innovations in road transport (car navigation, dynamic panels). The self driving car euphoria in 2016, even for experts, in The Netherlands changed the question from Do ticket vending machines have any future? to: Does public transport has a future? The irony in this case is, that excluding human cognition in system design caused disasters in public transport.
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    References

    Easterby, R., & Zwaga, H., 1984. Information Design, (Chichester etc.: Wiley and Sons Ltd.)

    Felix, D., 1988. Ergonomie-Studie Billettautomat für den Verkehrsverbund des Kantons Zürich. (Zürich: Inst. für Hygiene und Arbeitsphysiologie der ETH).

    Geiser, G., & Reinig, H., 1980. Der ratlose Reisende vor dem Fahrkartenautomaten, Verbesserung des Mensch-Maschine-Dialogs im Nahverkehr. In: Ingenieurwissenschaften, 4, 26-28.

    Johannsen, G., Mancini, G., & Märtensson, L., 1985. Analysis, design, and evaluation of man-machine systems, 2nd IFAC/IFIP/IFORS/IEA Conference sept. 10-12 Varese CEC-JRC Ispra.

    Norman, D.A., 1998. The invisible computer, Why Good Products Can Fail. (Cambridge (Mas.): The MIT Press).

    Oda, J., 1985. Passengers management and guidance at railway station. In: Johannsen, Mancini Märtensson: Analysis, design, and evaluation of man-machine systems

    Reinig, H-J, 1986. Benutzerfreundliche Fahrkartenautomaten setzen sich allgemein durch, FhG-Berichte, no. 3/4.

    Reinig, H-J., & Wergles, K., 1984. Neue Wege der Fahrgastinformation: Benutzerfreundliche Automaten, Harmonisierte Benutzerführung trotz unterscheidlicher Tarife. Der Nahverkehr, no. 3, 1-4.

    Sandmaier, M., 2007. User centred redesign of Germany's ticket machines for the future. IIID, International Institute for Information Design, In: Simlinger, P. Barrierfree information for public transport.
    www.iiid-expertforum.net/2007/Programme07.aspx

    Simlinger, P. 2007. Barrierfree information for public transport, IIID Expert Forum Traffic Guiding Systems (Wien: IIID).
    www.iiid-expertforum.net/2007/Programme07.aspx

    Verhoef, L.W.M., 1986. Perceptual and Cognitive aspects of Ticket Vending machines. (Utrecht: University of Utrecht, Ergonomic Psychology).

    Verhoef, L.W.M., 1999a. Detailontwerp MiniAutomaat. (Almere: Human Efficiency).

    Verhoef, L.W.M., 1999b. De MiniAutomaat, Frame Button of Touch Screen? (Almere: Human Efficiency).

    Zwaga, H., & Easterby, R., 1984. Developing effective symbols for public information. In: Zwaga, H., & Easterby, R. Information design.

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