Usability Opportunity #1

This post kicks off what will be a sporadic series of entries detailing situations I come across in real life which may be described as “usability opportunities.” I would describe them as “usability fails,” but I like to put a positive spin on it. There’s always room for improvement. They may or may not be technology-related, but a colleague at work has helped me to see the world in terms of usability and how, despite all our great advances in technology, it’s not always apparent how to make something easy to use. Without further adieu…

Usability Opportunity #1 – Parking Garage Entrapment

Last night some friends and I went downtown for a free art gallery crawl. As is often the case with downtown Nashville, reasonably-priced parking is hard to come by. We ended up parking in the garage under the courthouse for $3, and we were on our merry way. When we paid to park, we were given a ticket like the one pictured below.


We had our fun then headed back to the parking garage. Upon attempting to leave, we saw that the guy in the booth was now gone. So how were we supposed to get out? Perhaps the gate would open if we got close enough? Nope. Is there somewhere to swipe the ticket we were given? No. Only a couple sensors obviously meant for waving a key fob. So we turned around and went to another exit, at which a sign informed us we needed to go back to the one with no attendant. Alright…

So we sat by the gate and waited for the guy to come back, figuring he’d have to open the gate for us from inside the little booth. Five minutes later we were contemplating trying to get into the booth and open the gate ourselves. We drove up into the lane next to the booth again to hatch our plot, at which point a friend said, “Hey there’s a call button on that thing.” So I pressed a couple times, and there was no response. Just as I was contemplating more or less breaking into the booth to free us from this horrendous trap caused by a parking garage attendant who had left his post, a security guard walked up from behind, apparently alerted by the call box.

“Having problems getting out? Did you put the ticket in the box?”

“Box?” I replied. He motioned to a container below and to the right of the fob sensors. “You mean the trash can?”

He kindly took the ticket and stuck it into a container much like the one pictured below in that it had no markings whatsoever, only a slot on top.

Ticket Box

Magically, the gate opened, and we were free to go. There were no signs instructing that’s what should be done. Not even an “insert ticket here” inconspicuously stuck on top of the repository which was below and to the right of all the other sensors obviously meant to trip the gate. I recommend to Metro government that if they’re going to have a completely non-sensical interface to activate the gate in their parking garage, they may at least have some text to tell people the steps to take to achieve their end goal: getting out of that creepy underground place. So, the next time you are stuck somewhere, try putting something in a trash can; you may be freed.

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