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Author: Sam Kurien
•10:16 PM
The parking meter is an interesting piece of public equipment and many a downtowns have these weirdly shaped posts (mostly ugly) standing or planted on the sidewalks, an important source of revenue for the city. Here are some pictures to amuse you and the first definitely reveals the total chaos of people trying to figure out the condescending parking meter. Look at the images below there are at least six people trying to figure the parking meter a sight not so unusual for unfriendly user interfaces.


A closer look at these parking meters reveal traditional parking meters haven’t changed mucy from the 1930’, oh for sure once in while we see cool looking meters with easy interfaces like the one in Harvard square that look at least new agey but I have had a hard time finding one with easy to use interface. Thinking on those lines I decided to design an interface conceptualizing what it should look like.


Problems:

Unordered buttons
Most of the parking meters have a myriad of buttons all over which creates creepy and scary look first time you look at it, there is no clear order in which these buttons are laid out and placements are most haphazard not following hierarchical order to present needed input or output information.
Orientation
In most of the parking meters across the U.S the buttons are grouped well mostly in a vertical order and the user tends to input or read information in horizontal or diagonal fashion, so if there are more buttons the end user is looking down at an angle and incline of his or her vision goes lower and lower with each row, so if it’s a taller person the difficulty in reading and usability of presenting information is hampered.
Colors
The color coding on these meters is usually a mess and some of them show the standard grey with black and white and some other use bright red or green iron plates that are engraved, so if the city changes rates then new meters need to replaced escalation of cost, downtime of service and loss of revenue. Didn’t know colors and dissemination of information could cause so much harm .
Fare Plan
The Fare plans are again displayed in vertical order most of the time, it makes sense to start with the fare plan and the time plan at the same level instead of two levels.
Iconography
Most of the parking meters today still do not have neatly represented icons and most importantly from the usability point of view do I push or pull, yank them left or right, switch on or off are the kind of questions the user is face with.
Payment
Payment is most of the times done with coins, so if you don’t have the right change then you stand and beg from people who might have the change to save you from getting a ticket. There should be alternative payment methods.

Explanation of Instructions
In many newer version of parking meters there are side panels that display a cheat sheet or an explanation of instructions of how to use this complicated device again lot of use of space and if the information changes, replacement of the parking meter itself (cost increases, revenue decreases model). Another observation is most of the instructions wear out, phase out with weather conditions and do not make sense to the end user adding to their frustration levels.

Alternative Redesign
It is easy to criticize existing products without showing alternative solutions. An alternative interface is shown here from Netherlands and a proposed interface from me is shown as well for you to choose and comment as to what you think, again this is not tested with feedback or even proto-typed. The Nethterlands version is of course on the European market and seems to be working well and seem to have a better usability feedback compared to the American counterparts.




My proposed idea is to have a interface panel that is a touch screen, cost may be a concern here but cheap LCD panels that are durable and extremely thin can be manufactured at a low cost to volume ratio, one disadvantage of the product itself maybe the portability. Here are some pictures of how the meter-kiosk should look like. Now, of course these can double as other devices to dissemination information like mapping, advertisements from the city, hot spots, serve up web pages for valuable tourism information etc. The hardware device can be refined to almost a single post just like the traditional ones but with a touch screen that can even be solar powered, scratch resistant and durable for outside weathering conditions.


Proposed Parking Meter Interface


Below is my version of a touch screen interface which is almost self-explanatory and the hallmark of the good User Interface is exactly that it is “Self – Explanatory”. Please click on the image to see the zoomed in version in your browser.




Solutions:


Orientation
Unordered buttons are now replaced by color coded section on the touch screen for easy selection. The end user if handicapped can also hear the information via the built in speaker telling them what to do.
The flow of information is horizontal primarily with three basic steps
1) Choose Duration
2) Based on the Duration selected the Hourly Rate changes
3) Deposit Payment
Colors
The color coding on the redesign is distinct separating and grouping the three step process. The third section is on part of the touch screen but is integrated into the meter device displaying the information on the second panel as well.
Fare Plan
The Fare plans are again displayed based upon the selection its both informative and intutive, these can be changed at any time based upon programming and sending the information wirelessly to update rates, as well as the information on the meter.
Iconography
High level information is reprsented and outline with color codes and icons, information flows vertically and is the short summary of test. If the screen is reflected and viewing is difficult you can also hear out the informational steps to operate the parking meter.
Payment
The device will accept coins, cash tendered notes, credit and debit cards and chip enabled cards that have prepaid parking dollars/euros paid into which the machine can read and then spew out the receipts.

Final Thoughts:

Obviously the interface is not tested and followed by the iterative process that I mentioned in the last post, but hey this is a start for better usability isn't it?. If you have better ideas or alternative solutions please feel free to sketch up something and email it to me.
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