alexandtheweb / blog

Evaluate the Ecosystem

Andrea Resmini, one of the speakers at Friday’s UX Brighton conference, described how users’ tasks are often fragmented because product makers give too much consideration to a particular channel – be it a website, mobile app or some type of ubicomp device – rather then focusing on the whole ecosystem that supports a user’s goal. In other words: users think in terms of tasks, not channels or devices; and designers are too often guilty of feeling the elephant.

This resonated with me, since, as part of a school exercise, we’d been asked to conduct a user study on some aspect of commuting or transport. We had chosen to examine the Southern ticket collection machines at Brighton station. There are two flaws to be noted here: one in our own approach; and one in Southern’s own design of the task flow across the different channels.

We had set ourselves the task of “How usable / efficient is the ticket collection machine?” rather than “How easy / efficient is it to buy and collect a ticket?”. The second question is more closely aligned with the user’s actual high level goal. Since we focused too much on the channel, we failed to address the higher ecosystem around the task: the website where the ticket was bought, the placement of the machines, etc. We therefore may have failed to identify the true pain points involved in the process.

Secondly, Southern themselves have arguably failed to create a seamless experience of ticket collection. When buying a ticket on the website, the booking confirmation screen reminds us that when using “Ticket on Departure” we will need our “reference and card used to pay in order to collect your tickets. When arriving at the station, the communication from one channel to another has already broken down. The ticket collection machines are not called “Ticket on Demand” (despite the site suggesting, through capitalisation, that this is their brand name). The collections are also misleading. Only the purchase card is needed to collect the tickets OR the reference number and another credit card.

There’s a hint of irony in the fact that we set out to help the user by seeking fault in a machine, but may have failed because the machine, not the task, became our focus.