The below has been edited and republished with the permission of the writer, Mika Reyes ’17. The original can be found on Medium here.
Imagine you, a Wesleyan student, are staying late at a friend’s place after losing track of time. Then you realize: oh no, there’s no space for you to stay in this room–you can hardly see the floor with all this dirty laundry around, plus there are already 5 other people sleeping over. But, shucks, you live all the way on the opposite corner of campus. It’s 2AM on a cold, wintry night and you don’t want to encounter scary people, the dreadful cold, and possible snow monsters that may come out. Who do you call? The Ride!
The Ride is Wesleyan’s 7PM–3AM campus night shuttle. It is a life saver, especially during dead, freezing, lonely winter nights (AKA the majority of the school year).
This year, I live in Lighthouse, past Freeman, and basically one of the farthest corners of campus. Only consolation is that the community is great (and that I live close to the gym, I guess). I’ve been taking The Ride every night to bring me home and I imagine I will be doing this for the rest of the semester. The Ride drivers and I will all be close buds by the end of it.
Recently, however, they changed the way they handled commutes. Instead of students being able to call in for their services, like a taxi cab, it instead follows a predetermined route, like a bus stop. Last night, I took it, but noticed other things didn’t change along with the change in this system. An important design lesson: systems are intertwined and changing one part of a system ripples through other parts. I wanted to evaluate some problems (outlined below in 3-ish major categories) and imply quick recommendations on design solutions.
Physical map flaws
The Ride now operates in bus stops. Naturally, it would suggest that some device will tell the following for the user: 1) The different stops it has; 2) Where it passes to get to those stops; 3) The direction at which it goes.
This is the physical map given out about The Ride. Let’s assume the user only derives information from here, not at the app or not from the driver (both of which we will discuss soon). Yes, it lists the stops, but, no, I don’t believe it helps with the other two.
1. Redundant labels
The current labels of the areas are redundant, since they are listed both on the side and on the map. Perhaps the side listings were done to show the order at which it followed, while the labels on the map were put for obvious reasons, but this redundancy can be overturned. The labels on the map are also quite distracting (the text & boxes are so big that they probably cover half of the content of the entire map.)
2. Confusing dot points
The dots are also quite confusing: are they the bus stops (i.e. where The Ride will pass through) or the areas themselves. To me, it looks like they’re the latter. This is problematic in that some users might be on the other side of the building where there is no stop. Besides that, the dots are a bit too big, not lending themselves to precision.
3. Unclear map
Additionally, the map is not the clearest picture, and it’s hard to determine the contours of the area.
Besides the first three features listed above, more “advanced” information (thank goodness for technology) should also come in handy. For the user, it’s important to know: 1) where the service is at any given point in time and; 2) approximately how long the wait is. This is where the handy-dandy Wes Shuttle App comes in (available now on the Apple Store & Google Play!).
Here’s a screenshot of the interface:
1. No waiting times
The app does a better job of indicating what path the ride is going to take. This service also helps with indicating where the ride is at any given time, with the trusty dark red bus icon hovering along the red-lined path. However it does not do as great a job with calculating approximately how long one must wait in each bus stop. This feature is especially important when one does not want to wait out in the cold for 15 minutes (AKA me every night…)
2. No indication of direction
What one will not draw out from this app or the physical map, but only from the driver, is that there is more than one shuttle every night, both going at different directions (clockwise vs. counterclockwise). While there are now path indicators, users won’t immediately know what direction each shuttle is taking, until they stare for a while at this very laggy system (it only renews every minute).
3. No differentiation between shuttles
Let’s say after staring for a while, I know that one ride goes clockwise and the other goes counterclockwise. Perfect, I’ve got direction. Then I close the app, chat with my friends for a bit, talk about how oh so cold the night is. I open the app, and I now have to stare again to know which bus is which. This might also happen when the rides cross paths on a 4-way street, and they take some road, but you don’t know which ride went which way because of the 1-minute lag times. It’s hard to follow the ride that you’re actually waiting for when there is no clear distinction between the two.
4. Unclear navigation/no value-added info
When I press “Routes” on the upper left, it points me to the screen on the left side. I still have yet to figure out why I would need to do that, if there clearly will only be one route for the night (and indefinitely into the future as well.)
When I click “Stops” on the upper right corner, it brings me to the screen to the right, which allows me to pick a stop. The scrolling feature may not be the best medium (I would just make it a simple list). But also, after that it redirects me back to this, which doesn’t give me significant information anyway.
The two buttons may be unnecessary for now, until some value-added information can come out of them.
Incompatibility with on-call procedures
Previously, with the “taxi” system, students could call the ride (at 860–685–3788) and ask to get picked up. That system doesn’t make sense for the “bus stop” procedure, since there is already predetermined route. This causes problems for both the driver and the user:
1. Nuisance for the driver
The driver gets 218109274xxxbajillion calls every night (yes, ze is popular). They’re unnecessarily picking up the phone, listening about where someone wants to get picked up, saying “The Ride runs to all stops every 15 minutes” or something to that effect, and trying to calm some drunk, angry person who wants to ride The Ride to get to the grilled cheese station. If they’ll be saying the same thing anyway, why allow users to call in?
2. Nuisance for the user
Not many people know that The Ride now runs in a bus-stop system (save for some school breaks). And so of course several people are still calling in and asking about whether they can get picked up. But when the ride answers that it’ll get around to all stops in 15 minutes, what added value did that give to the user? The app might have been a bit more useful, despite not having times indicated. This also makes the user unnecessarily angry at the poor old The Ride driver, when the driver was just doing their job.
Aaaand, last but not least:
The Ride’s branding font
Comic Sans? Really?
I don’t mean to undermine the service that brings lots of joy to distant homeowners like me. But based on the problems listed above, there is much potential to improve its service for the whole 3000+ students on campus who use it nightly. That way, maybe my nightly escapades with my beloved, but currently not-so-user-friendly The Ride, will be that much better.
Hello, I’m Mika, a student at Wes and avid design/data/tech/entrepreneur girl who obviously hates Comic Sans as a font. This is just a quick design run through, but I do other stuff on here. You can also check out The Ride information here. Feel free to comment with feedback–I always love finding out how things can improve.