Minimising stress and uncertainty when boarding a .

The challenge

As a frequent traveller, I often navigate around cities where the public transport system is new to me, in a language I don’t understand.

In some cases, these systems are well-devised so that inexperience and/or lack of local language skills is not a problem (the Czech Republic being a prime example—hopping on a tram or a bus quickly became as natural as walking).

In others, not that much.

One of those cases was when I travelled by bus from Córdoba to Buenos Aires a few months ago. Buying the was easy: I used Busbud, a bus ticket aggregator, to find and purchase my ticket. After I completed the transaction, Busbud sent me a (very thorough) confirmation email where I could see all details about my trip and download my bus ticket, which needed to be printed and presented at the station. Now, this ticket was a intimidating wall of text, which I had to carefully read through to find the information I needed.

This ticket also proved to provide conflicting information and failed to minimise the nervousness I was feeling about catching this bus.

My Córdoba to Buenos Aires ticket 👻

Anatomy of a confusing ticket

At a glance, this ticket didn’t give me any of the information I needed. I actually needed to make an effort to find basics such as the departure station and the departure time.

It was divided in three sections: one for the bus agency, the other for the the bus driver, and a third one for the passenger.

Bus agency

Given this section of the ticket, I assumed that I needed to present it to the bus agency desk at the Córdoba terminal before boarding the bus. So when I arrived to the terminal, I went looking for the bus agency desk, stood on the queue for about 10 minutes, only to be politely informed I just needed to wait for the bus at the platform and present my ticket to the driver.

Given this experience, I was left unsure about the necessity of having this section altogether. The bus agency is not a necessary player for this interaction, and all this information contained here is repeated in the latter sections of the same ticket.

The bus driver/inspector section

Bus driver/inspector

I then headed to the platforms (any platform between 6 to 15, according to my ticket), so I could keep an eye on the arrival of my bus. The main element that stood out in my ticket was the sentence “Usted viaja por General Urquiza” (You are travelling through General Urquiza), but my non-Argentinian self had no idea what this meant. Was this the route? The bus company? And why was this bolded on the section of the ticket that was meant for the bus driver—wasn’t he supposed to know that?

The passenger section


And lastly, the section that actually mattered to me. It repeated the travel and passenger information in the sections above and advised me to “keep these two receipts together when boarding” (which two receipts?). It also had some subdued information about the bus company, General Urquiza (ahh, so that’s what it means). It also included two pretty important travel advisories (in a tiny font) and a very lengthy terms and conditions text which I didn’t read.

User 1: Traveller

Any person could be in this role, so we can’t make any assumptions about the user, for instance on their knowledge of the transport system, of their level of Spanish. The underlying principle is to strive for readability and understandability of the ticket, despite of previous experience and language level.

These are the Traveller’s pain points, i.e. the problems the ticket should help them solve:

  1. Am I at the right station?
  2. How can I find my bus?
  3. When does my bus leave?
  4. Are there assigned seats? Which one is mine?

For the first three questions, there is an element of stress and uncertainty, especially for someone who is taking that bus for the first time. Failing to answer these questions correctly and timely could potentially result in missing the bus—for a ticket cost of $1,100 Argentinian Pesos (around 40 dollars) and an itinerary with less than a handful of departures per day, this is not a consequence we can neglect.

User 2: Inspector (in cases where the ticket is validated manually)

We know a bit more about the inspector. Since this role is their job, we can safely assume that they know the bus station and how the system works. We can also assume they speak Spanish, although not necessarily other languages.

These are the Inspector’s pain points, i.e. the problems the ticket should help them solve:

  1. Is this a valid ticket, i.e. travel details on the ticket match the bus?
  2. Should I let this person on the bus, i.e. personal details on the ticket match the traveller’s ID?

When checking the tickets manually, the main challenge for the driver is to be able to answer these questions as efficiently as possible, since he needs to do this for 40–50 passengers as they queue to board the bus before the departure.

Ideal scenario

  1. The traveller purchases their ticket. This could happen physically at the bus station, or digitally through the bus company or a third party.
  2. The traveller uses the information to board the right bus, at the right time, in the right seat.
  3. At the moment of boarding, the ticket is validated. This could be done manually by the inspector, or automatically (i.e. using a turnstile or a code scanner). In this particular case, the ticket was to be validated manually.

User experience

On the left, the original ticket. On the right, the redesigned ticket.

The proposed ticket is divided into two sections: one for the inspector, the other for the traveller. The two sections work independently if the receipt is cut in half (which happens at the moment of boarding). The division between the two sections is made clear by the different background and the dashed line.

The elements of the ticket have been reorganised to mirror the order they are needed during the lifecycle of the ticket.

The date format has been changed to spell out the first three letters of the months rather than indicating them with numbers. What does 04/05/2018 mean to you? Some would interpret it as May 4th; others as April 5th. The choice of spelling out the months removes this ambiguity.

Missing in the redesigned ticket is the explicit mention to the bus company and their legal address, as well as the bus company terms and conditions. This type of information should be provided upon booking, not with the ticket.

Inspector section

Let’s revisit the questions this ticket needs to answer for the inspector. These two questions are answered simultaneously, at the time of boarding.

Is this a valid ticket—do travel details on the ticket match the bus?

To answer this question, the inspector needs to quickly be able to see the bus company identifier, as well as the date, time, and destination on the ticket. On the proposed solution, these elements have been reorganised in order to make them more scannable and visible. The departure and arrival terminal and date and time come right at the top in bold, with the bus company logo in a watermark.

My original ticket also included some sort of QR code, which was not used at all on my trip. Rather than eliminating it, I’ve moved it to this section— it could potentially be used to validate the ticket by scanning rather than manual verification.

Should I let this person on the bus—do personal details on the ticket match the traveller’s ID?

Once the inspector determines the presented ticket matches the bus, they need to determine whether the passenger info matches the traveller’s personal details. The passenger name and passport number come in bold right under the bus information. Together with the passenger’s ID, the driver can answer this question in a matter of seconds.

Secondary information, such as the ticket number, the seat number, and the seller was kept on this section. This is not necessary for the primary job of answering these two questions, but it comes in handy in case of any issues.

Traveller section

Since we can make less assumptions about the passengers, I chose to add labels in English as well as in Spanish in this section. However, this decision should be backed by further research to determine the average percentage of non-Spanish speaking users—if too low, this might not be a requirement in the design.

Am I at the right station?

How can I find my bus?

When does my bus leave?

First and foremost, we need to provide the terminal name, its address, and the platforms subordinated to the ‘From’ section on the ticket. As in the inspector’s section, the bus company is hinted with the watermark. The date and time of both departure and arrival is also grouped here.

Are there assigned seats? Which one is mine?

If there are assigned seats (as in this case), these should be identified on the ticket—both the seat number and the type of seat.

On top of all the above information, there are two other types of information that should be visible to the traveller:

  • Boarding requirements. The bus agency requires presenting this ticket together with the travellers’ ID at the moment of boarding. These instructions are there in the original ticket, but in a very small font that could easily be overlooked.
  • Secondary information. Information about where and when the user purchased the ticket, for instance, is important in case of issues—for instance, if the bus would be overbooked and

Decisions I’d love feedback on

Font choice

I’ve changed the font from a serif to sans serif. Reasoning being it felt “easier” to skim. Without conclusive usability studies to back it up, this is a blind decision.

I’m even less sure about the font, Source Sans. I tend to use it by default, but is it the best choice to use in this case? What are the factors that should weigh on this decision? What font would you personally choose?

What else do you think?

After not being directly working in design for almost a year, I definitely feel like my chops are getting a tad rusty. Do you have any feedback on this project? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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