How NYC transit helps S.T.U.P.I.D. users

One of my bad UX pet peeves are poorly executed kiosks.  Sadly, bad interfaces in kiosks are often the norm.  That’s why I am always delighted when I complete a kiosk transaction and realize that I didn’t curse at the thing even once.  Sometimes, I am even delighted.  The NYC transit kiosks are an excellent example of what kiosks should be.

I was a at a client site in New York city recently and stayed with a friend in one of the sprawling suburbs.  I had to take the commuter train in to the city but I had never taken public transit in New York before.

On my first day in town, I arrived on the train platform in the nick of time.  I could see the train arriving just around the bend.  The only  trouble was, I had to purchase my ticket from a self-serve kiosk before the train pulled into the station.

I had about 30  seconds.

Incredibly, I was able to complete the transaction successfully in that time, without back tracking, making a mistake, or cursing. In this situation, I was a S.T.U.P.I.D user (Stressed, Tired, Untrained, Passive, Independent, Distracted).  I was just about as stressed out and rushed as anyone could be.  Just how did the designers of the kiosk manage to pull off such a feat?

Being a UX nerd, I stopped by the kiosk on the way back to deconstruct what they had done.

 1) Choose your ticket type


The first screen let’s you choose the kind of ticket you are looking for.  Because most people scan left to right, the most common options are on the left.  Less common options are moved to the right, with a respectable space between them.

Other nice touches:

  • The target size for each option is really big.  Even people with meaty hands can hit it.  Even rushed fingers can stab in the general area with success.
  • The option for the weekly pass gives the dates – to make it perfectly clear what is included in the definition of “weekly”.  Is it Monday to Monday?  Business days only?  The dates make it clear.
  • You don’t need to read the title of the screen to know what to do
  • Easy way to switch to common languages with the big labels at the bottom


 2) Choose your destination


On the second screen, you choose your destination.  This is an interesting sequence.  You could have started with the destination – but perhaps that leads to more complex choices down the road.  Like the first screen, it lists the most common options separately.  They could have put Grand Central Station in a big list of stations and made me sift through them all, but they followed the golden UX rule: “Support the most common tasks first”

Other nice touches:

  • You can see the state if your purchase at the top “You have selected: Weekly”
  •  They pull out “Harrison to Another Station” as another common option (Harrison is the station I was standing in).  Another way of supporting common tasks first.


 3) Add extras


The third screen gives you the choice of adding on options.  Here is where they slightly slip up.  As a newcomer to New York, I didn’t know what a “MetroCard” was.  There is text that explains it at the bottom but I didn’t notice it the first time purchasing it.  It turned out that I did in fact need a MetroCard but I could buy one from Grand Central Station very easily.

Other nice touches:

  • You can see the state if your purchase at the top.  I can see that I am purchasing a Weekly pass from Harrison to Grand Central Station


 4) Pay

final screen

The fourth screen gives you payment options.  Again you have the most common options on the left and they provide a clear and concise summary of what you are purchasing at the top.

Other nice touches:

  • The colors they use are very easy to read and provide a nice visual hierarchy.  The bright yellow stands out with the amount due.  The summary of the purchase is in less contrasted colors.  The only thing that looks strange to me here is that the “Cash” option is in green.

So there you have it.  In four clean, simple screens, and less than 30 seconds later, I was able to make my purchase while rushed, stressed out, and completely new to the environment, process and terminology.  Kudos to the designers of this kiosk wherever you are!