I know I’m a usability pedant but this is on my doorstep in Bath, so I had to mention it. When I first became aware of the small fanfare of announcements about a Boris-bike style scheme being adopted in Bath, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It’s always great to see a focus on public transport, but the market for it, beyond the occasional tourist is hard to define. In my quest to work it out, I often observe passers by checking out the terminals, presumably to work out how the scheme works. They often look confused, but it was only recently I read the instructions for myself. Here are my unassuming suggestions for improvement with one or two usability principles to boot.
Use appropriate language
There are quite a few examples to choose from here
- Approach the card – presumably a mistranslation, not making sense in English and not using the simplest language for foreigner visitors
- Insert the shaft into the hole – I never really consider bikes to have shafts. I tend to move their wheels. I couldn’t quite see a hole either! Again, for visiting foreign tourists relying on the text, this would be tough
- Make sure the bicycle is docked – this isn’t terrible but could definitely be improved. check the bicycle is locked in maybe
For complex processes, use diagrams and symbols and supplement with instructions
Foreign tourists are an obvious user of this resource – how much better to see an image of someone taking a bike, placing a card on a terminal, putting the, erm, shaft in the hole etc.
Take a look at the picture I’ve taken. The useful arrow symbol for returning the bike points to the place you place the card for so that you can take the bike. Do you need to use your card to return the bike? Maybe but I’m not sure and I probably should be by now! For all the criticism levelled at flat pack furniture, Ikea do this really well (no, really!). I made a chest of drawers this week and hardly spent a moment re-interpreting a single diagram. I should be able to hire a bike in Bath with a little more ease.
Be careful what you assume
So, I’ve arrived at a shiny row of bikes, eagerly rolling up a trouser leg, map in hand, and now… Well, yes, what do I do now? Unless I’ve read about the scheme and have a card there’s no easy way for me to find out how on earth I can hire a bike. There isn’t a URL I can use on the smart phone I’m likely to be carrying, no QR code (possibly a blessing) and not even the words Bike in Bath. The most obvious word is Bicincitta, which if you Google will serve you informative pages in Italian from the Italian bike sharing company, local and reasonably negative articles but little that is going to tell me how to hire a bike in Bath.
According to the instructions, beeps tell you when you can take the bike. Is there any other way to tell? Much better if those with hearing problems could find out too.
I saw a great lecture by Bill Buxton recently which explored the subject of ubiquitous computing – these terminals would be an obvious choice for screens with language choices, step-by step instructions with animations and a choice of languages and accessibility options. In the absence of this, focusing on user experience and user testing prior to installation of anything as costly as a scheme like this is surely essential.