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 communication in a dynamic interactive and integrated way.
Presented at Rail Human factors, March 3rd to 5th, 2009, Lille, France
Updated May, 2016.
Dr. Leonard Verhoef,
applied cognitive psychologist.
For designing complex things.
Not a designer.
Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental cognitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
With click to: CV.
There are several generations train ticket vending machines.||Graphics for brains while checking-in|
|The past unveils the future of TVMs (ticket vending machines). These machines evolved in several decades from 'physical one-product-one-coin-machines', 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.|
1 The buttons phase
1.1 The interface technology
|In the One-coin-one-product-phaseinterface design was no problem. The system is so simple and physical, that buying a ticket is easy.|
One coin, one (platform) ticket vending machine.
|Real problems came when the number of buttons, the number of products and the ways of payment increased.|
1.2 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 imagine
(Verhoef, 1986). Some results of an investigation using the machine in the figure at the right are:
Verhoef, L.W.M., 1986. Perceptual and Cognitive aspects of Ticket Vending machines. Utrecht: University of Utrecht, Ergonomic Psychology.
These are some of several problems caused by not taking account of
the effect of visual distance.But understanding was a problem too (Verhoef, 1986).
Four properties are used to find an experimental answer on that question (visual size, visual distance, cognitive quantity and cognitive structure). The tasks investigated are simple every day tasks like finding a station on a ticket vending machine, noticing that a vending machine is out of order and finding a train in a list of trains on a dynamic trains indicator. The first experiment, reported in chapter 8, is an easy one. The element property: visual size that is used to improve the userfriendlyness of finding a station in an alphabetical list.
Met klik naar: Visual distance
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).
1.3 The solutions
To solve the problems with the buttons-phase B100 ticket vending machine different strategies were chosen.|
Geiser & Reinig, (1980),
Geiser, G., & Reinig, H., 1980. Der ratlose Reisende vor dem Fahrkartenautomaten, Verbesserung des Mensch-Maschine-Dialogs im Nahverkehr. In: Ingenieurwissenschaften, 4, 26-28.
Reinig, H-J, 1986. Benutzerfreundliche Fahrkartenautomaten setzen sich allgemein durch, FhG-Berichte, no. 3/4.
, Reinig, H-J., & Wergles, K., 1984) (See figure below left.). The Japanese Railways preferred the same solution
Reinig, H-J., & Wergles, K., 1984.Neue Wege der Fahrgastinformation: Benutzerfreundliche Automaten, Harmonisierte Benutzerführung trotz unterscheidlicher Tarife. Der Nahverkehr, no. 3, 1-4.
(Oda, 1985).The text solution became a DIN for German public transport ticket vending machines. A Swiss evaluation rejected the solution
Oda, J., 1985. Passengers management and guidance at railway station. In: Johannsen, Mancini Märtensson: Analysis, design, and evaluation of man-machine systems.
(Felix & Krüger, 1988). The approach was abandoned in Germany ten years later
Felix, D., 1988. Ergonomie-Studie Billettautomat für den Verkehrsverbund des Kantons Zürich. (Zürich: Inst. für Hygiene und Arbeitsphysiologie der ETH).
Dutch railways B8060 second generation text instructionless buttons vending machine.
Public transport ticket vending machine German DIN
Public transport ticket vending machine German DIN, Swiss experimental version (Felix, 1988).
Public transport ticket vending machine German DIN, with destinations list.
2 The frame buttons phase
2.1 The interface technology
The first screens for public systems were the frame button screens for issuing banknotes (see figure right).||
SNCF train ticket vending machine using frame button technology
2.2 The problems
A psychological analysis (Verhoef, 1999)has shown that screens with frame buttons create psychological problems that are hard to solve for the interface designer.
Verhoef, L.W.M., 1999b.De MiniAutomaat, Frame Button of Touch Screen?(Almere: Human Efficiency).
3 The touch screen phase
3.1 The problems
|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||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 machine|
Step 1: select ticket type
3.2 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 languagebutton. Observations at Schiphol Airport Station show that the language button is not pressed as a first step.
|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 below) there was more cognitive psychology implemented than selecting language and routing. For instance:
|NS touch screen train ticket vending machine|
Step 6: select the number of tickets.
3.3 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.
4 The electronic card phase
4.1 The interface technologyFor 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:||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|
A verbal solution of the confusion problem |
The Dutch OV-chip-card obscured financial actions.
On a verbal level there is jargon, technology driven and incorrect words (see table below) were used.
More examples of technology driven terminolgy, jargon en incorrect terms, below.
|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 several times during one trip.
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 the whole 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
a matter of public debated and was not accepted by the parliament.Nevertheless, the system was not changed.
Wat is de beleving van de reiziger van de OV-chipkaart en hoe gebruiken reizigers de kaart. De focus ligt op het opnieuw uit- en inchecken wanneer de reiziger tijdens de reis overstapt naar een andere vervoerder. Onderzoek voor de kamercommissie Meijdam.
Click leads to:Communiceren met de OV-chipkaart
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 askedFyra, 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.|
5 The cognitive phase
5.1 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
Requirement 1: fundamental characteristics, e.g. trip characteristics
Requirement 2: 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.
|The passenger be able to change information on the OV-chip-card, have trips and payment overviews and to solve problems (forgotten to check-in/out). Below an example of such an overview.|
|Experimental OV-chip-card trips and payment history on a traditional touch screen train ticket vending machine.|
Requirement 3: reliability of the service|
So far some obvious cognitive psychological requirements were mentioned. 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. No fancy complicated marketing based fare systems the passenger has to study before buying a ticket but aThis 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.
6 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.
In Dutch, discussion: Will Public Transport survive modern car and traffic technology such as self driving cars?
The same mistake might be made in the design of self driving cars.
Van veiligheid met regels naar veiligheid met ontwerppsychologie. Veiliger (verkeer) met minder borden, regels, examens en slachtoffers. Meer cognitieve psychologie, list, bedrog en intimidatie voor bordjesmakers. De wet wordt geacht de burger te kennen.
Click and you go to: Een psychologische veiligheidsstrategie, van veiligheid met regels naar veiligheid met ontwerppsychologie. [A psychological safety strategy, from safety with rules to safety with design psychology.]
and new systems for paying parking fee.
Meer nieuwe betaaltechnieken maken betalen voor parkeren steeds ingewikkelder. Een zefbetalende auto lost waarschijnlijk meer problemen op dan een zelfrijdende auto schept.
With click to: Hoe betalen we in de toekomst parkeergeld: technische en psychologische oplossingen. [How to pay for parking your car: technical and psychological solutions]
Easterby, R., & Zwaga, H., 1984.Information Design, (Chichester etc.: Wiley and Sons Ltd.)
Felix, D., 1988. Ergonomie-Studie Billettautomatfür 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.
Simlinger, P. 2007.Barrierfree information for public transport,IIID Expert Forum Traffic Guiding Systems (Wien: IIID).
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).
Verhoef, L.W.M., 2007.Why designers can’t understand their users, Developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology.(Utrecht: Human Efficiency).
Why are computers difficult to use? It is so easy to design a userfriendly computer. Don't blame technicians, designers and managers. Blame cognitive psychology. The conclusions are based on experiments with train ticket vending machines and trains indicators. A typical European view on the application of cognitive psychology.
After click you go to: Why designers can’t understand their users, Developing a systematic approach using cognitive psychology.
Zwaga, H., & Easterby, R., 1984. Developing effective symbols for public information.In: Zwaga, H., & Easterby, R. Information design.
More applied cognitive psychology for public design:
More applied cognitive psychology for design, other than public
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Leonard Verhoef, theoretical and practical background. From an experimental coginitive psychologist to a designer of simple and complex daily life systems in a technical future.
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