User Experience Can Bring Out Our Best Or Our Worst
“Fuck off!” I shouted as I whipped around and looked the other driver in the eye. He shouted back at me, “So it’s going to be that kind of day, is it?”
It’s going to be that kind of day? It had already been that kind of day. I had been sitting in my car with my kids, trying to figure out how the parking garage worked when I heard a horn beep. That had settled it. I ignored the beep and got out of my car. The driver of a black SUV had stuck his head out the window and shouted at me that I was blocking the exit lane.
How, oh how, did I end up swearing at another driver, in public? The easy answer is that we left several hours late for the drive to my cousin’s house in New Jersey, and I didn’t get enough sleep. But I’d rather see what can be learned from the more complicated answer.
When my kids and I went to an open house at NYU, I figured it made sense to park in a garage that NYU recommended. It was easy to find the general location of the garage in Washington Square, but I had a hard time finding the entrance once I drove into the Washington Square Village Apartment complex. I drove by it twice. The entrance ramp is unobtrusive by design so that it doesn’t disrupt the harmony of the park the garage is built under.
Yes, I know. I should have researched all this before I left home. But who has the time?*
Driving down the ramp didn’t help much. Inside, the garage was a mystery. No ticket machine was at the entrance. Eventually, I saw a sign hanging from a concrete beam that read, “Stop Here.” I pulled up behind a silver SUV parked there and looked around. There was a parking attendant in a kiosk, but he left. No one else was around — not even another car — and he didn’t return.
In the public garages in Boston, the spots closest to the exit are reserved for people who rent them, and spots further away are available to the general public. I saw some cars, some with protective covers, parked in rows to my left and what looked like a ramp leading down, so I drove down the ramp. That’s what you do in Boston.
On the next floor, I saw open spots and cars parked one directly in front of the other, a pattern distinctive to valet parking. I told the kids that I didn’t know how this parking garage worked and headed out to find a different place to park.
I drove around the block, but I didn’t see another garage. By now we were late, and I didn’t want to miss the open house. OK, I’ll tell the truth: I hate being late. I’m almost always late.
We decided to try the Washington Square Village parking garage again. Now it was busy. The silver SUV was still sitting beneath the sign that read “Stop Here.” A black SUV with a driver and passengers was parked (I thought) behind the silver SUV. I pulled up near the kiosk to ask an attendant for help. And that’s when it happened. I stupidly swore at another driver. It was the first time I swore in public since I got out of my twenties. By the time I got to the kiosk, I was embarrassed, mortified.
A man was standing at the kiosk waiting to pay his parking fee. I said, “Excuse me,” because I wanted to ask him what to do to park my car. I was so confused. But my tone was wrong, and I was the crazy, wild-haired woman who swore at people at the top of her lungs. I got a one-eyebrow-raised glare. You know the look: If you’re asking to cut in front of me, you have a lot of nerve. I wanted to apologize to someone for my behavior, but he shunned me.
I asked the attendant what I was supposed to do. He told me to park my car behind the silver SUV and someone would come to the car. It was valet parking, just as I had guessed on the lower floor.
I don’t recall how the black SUV got out of the parking garage or how I came to be parked behind the silver SUV. Eventually the attendant came over and gave me a ticket. We got out of the car, and, still confused, I walked off with my car keys. The attendant was kind about it, and the kids and I went to the open house.
As we walked down LaGuardia Place, I thought about the experience. I apologized to the kids for my behavior. At the end of Taekwondo classes, I must have said “I will react in a mature manner to every event regardless of whether it is frustrating or disastrous as I represent the school,” hundreds of times. This would have been a good time to practice it. I was lucky that the inconvenienced driver didn’t react violently.
How could things have gone differently? I could have used some self-discipline. So could the inconvenienced driver. But I’m human and imperfect, even on a good day. And this was not a good day. Too much stress, too little sleep, too much driving in a strange city. Maybe it was the same story for the other guy.
So what else could change? The signs in the garage — a likely suspect.
Just like any digital app, garages have a user interface and a user experience. Can you design an interface for a parking garage so that customers have a great user experience? Why would a company want to invest in a UI for their parking garage?
Apartment residents who use the garage might be happier. Visitors might recommend the garage, and NYU would earn a little more money from parking fees. Employees might enjoy their work more because customers would treat them better. They might appreciate the gratitude, see themselves as helping people, view their job as having purpose beyond a paycheck. NYU, which owns the garage and houses faculty and grad students in the apartments, might avoid some unfavorable publicity. Who wants to be mentioned in a blog post for failing to make simple, low cost changes to signs in a garage?
So how do we improve the user interface in the Washington Square Apartments garage? The entrance ramp has a white sign that has a lot of blue, 12-point type. Most people can’t read the type from a car, and there are too many words, so it’s not useful.
The main user interface element is that black sign hanging from a ceiling beam. You know, the one that says “Stop Here,” in yellow type. It’s pretty easy to see the sign because of the bright yellow type. The type is large, so it’s easy to read. But the words are cryptic for someone unfamiliar with the garage. There may also be a white rectangle, about the size of a large car or van, painted on the floor. There is a curb to the right.
Can we improve the sign? Sure.
We could also add a sign by the curb near the white rectangle on the garage floor. A sign like this one costs about $136.
I bet developing new signs would be a great cross-discipline project for NYU’s students taking design, user interface, and user experience courses.
Hey! Owner of the black SUV who shouted, “So it’s going to be that kind of day, is it?” at me on Saturday, September 17, 2016, at around 10 AM, I sincerely apologize for swearing at you.
*We did not leave northern Massachusetts for northern New Jersey until 7 PM on Friday because one of my 17-year-old twins had to see the oral surgeon who removed his wisdom teeth. One of the sites had become infected for a second time, and the kid did not let me know there was an issue until Thursday. Life with teens is always fun, no one ever heard me say.