(what is a) User Experience

  • User experience (UX or UE) involves a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations. As defined on Wikipedia.

I find this a bit confining and misleading.

To hyper define User Experience as completely related to computers is – well – limiting. I believe that any form of communication is, on some level, a user experience. Whether it be a business card or poster, retail outlet or wayfinding. Any time a user has to engage and react to information is a user experience.

When you are looking up that business card for that guy you meet – user experience. All the way.

The act of identifying the card (shape, colour, typeface) is the beginning, but is not remotely the end of the experience. How is the information presented – how easy (or difficult) was it to get the information you required;

  • Phone Number
  • Title
  • Address
  • E-mail

That fact that user experience has been a strong part of design (all disciplines) needs to be considered when looking at User Experience in the modern, computer realm. Understanding how people move through a space, how they retrive information, retain information, etc. bodes well in considering the dynamic aspect of screen design. I’ll call it screen design because saying computer, tablet, mobile, etc. becomes too cumbersome. User Experience in today’s emerging markets can greatly improve with the Disney (Alcoa-originated) approach to problem-solving – Imagineers. A group – blended together from different areas of expertise meant to push the limits of thinking (engineers to poets, designers to psychologists, etc.).

Too often screen design can get hand-cuffed to either the technical or design prowess of teams. But expanding teams to include secondary thinking can only improve the process.

What skill-set would you like to see added to computer-based user experience teams/projects? 


Re-imaging the TTC: Part 5

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part five.

I believe there are a number of areas that the TTC (or, as stated, other transit authorities) could fix towards having a better rider experience and superior consumer engagement. In the first four posts there were ideas on signage and wayfinding, of expanding the colour-code system and of totally utilizing myriad digital delivery methods.

The big digital

A major bone of contention is the TTC website. I find their online presence to be lacking, and reek of government (I know, it is, but it doesn’t have to be).

The fact that there is no bold, clear way to find anything. Everything is equal in terms of importance. Really? Chances are that if the TTC did an audit on their website they’d find that people are going online to find out possibly three main things.

How to get somewhere – basically a trip planner. They do have that on the website, it’s actually on the home page twice. But it is something you really have to look for, it should be front and centre. And to repeat one of the points from an earlier post – the TTC should have this as a widget that can be used on any Toronto-based company’s website. Thus allowing businesses to quickly inform the public how one can get there via public transit. And it also shows support for the Transit Commission. A subset to this would be going to maps and schedules. Right now these are split – when there really should be a connection. Since a trip planner will be using both maps and schedules.

How much will it cost me (or my group, or family) – as already mentioned, not everyone that travels the system knows the ins and outs. People that normally drive for their job need to go downtown with the family on a weekend for one of the Toronto Parades (as long as fat guy with a beard and leather is involved, it’s a big parade in Toronto). People need to know what’s it going to cost. Period. To that extent, why not have the going fare rates for at least a single ride for each of the age groups. Why should someone have to click further than the home page to get that information?

Is anything going to delay my trip – this is an important one. Presently there is an area for Service Alerts. Although it doesn’t seem all that alertee (what, it’s a blog, I can make up my own words!). I would like to see this become something as (or maybe more) prominent as the Trip Planner and Fares indications. And I think the TTC should have a listing of all service alerts – not just ones that are TTC related. If I have to get out to Gerrard and Coxwell from College and Montrose (it could happen) it would be nice to know if there is any construction that might impact my ride on the, you guessed it, 506 Carlton Car.

If the TTC wanted to generate some revenue here – they could even ad a section for events that can be travelled to via the TTC. Hmmmmmmm. Interesting!

Anything else that one might be looking for on the: Careers, TTC by-laws, etc. can still be there, just not as boldly displayed. These are the kinds of information that people will look for. The main areas indicated are the ones that people want quick access to.

Beyond the main website, I find the mobile site lacking for pretty much the same reasons. Although, they do bring Service alerts front and centre. The rest of the mobile site is pretty lame. They have the links (and mainly the ones I talk about) but they should be bigger, better design buttons.

And if we’re talking about mobile, why has the TTC not come out with their very own App? There are a few apps about the TTC, but none (as I can tell) are from the TTC.


This is the last thing that I would like to discuss. Firstly the name – are they transfers or Proof of Payment (POP). Depending on where you are, or what you are doing they can be either. My feeling is that they should be called POP. Because that is what they are. And it should be expected that all passengers be required to have a POP (not unlike the GO transit system in and around the GTA). It can be used to transfer from one vehicle to another – but its main purpose is to show that you paid to be on the system.

Second to the name, I think that the TTC should adopt an approach to the POP system similar to that of OC Transpo (Ottawa, Canada). Their thing is that the POP has a time limit, you have a certain amount of time to use that POP to do whatever – including get back to where you started if time permits. What that means is that you could do a round trip on one fare. Sure, it’s not as much income from a few trips. But I believe that more people would use the TTC for such outings if they knew the cost was half of what it might normally be.

Overall the TTC does some things well. I also believe that they have a good leader in Andy Byford. And they will always have ongoing political and fiscal issues. But I truly think that by working on some of the ground-level interactions and experiences that people will start to use and like the TTC more.

What’s your take on improving the transit experience?

Re-imaging the TTC: Part 4

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part four.

Subway Stations (part b)

Yesterday’s post was mostly about the collector booth and the eye-numbing explosion of graphic debris that surrounds the collector booth at TTC entrances. Today I will be talking about the rest of the signage/wayfinding that exists in a TTC station. Again, I’m relating these to the TTC – but a lot of this thinking could be applied to other transit authorities and other places that require rapid movement of people to specific destinations.

What next?

Subway stations are never the destination – unless of course you work there. They are a transfer point from one mode to another. Whether it be walking to subway, subway to streetcar, bus to walking. You get the picture.

The current signage and wayfinding system is an ad hoc collection of various attempts to guide people through, sometimes, repetitive-looking areas in three dimensional space (x, y, z axises). I think one of the biggest drawbacks to the system is the inability to define a system font – some have borrowed from the Tube in London (UK) and gone with Gill Sans, others have utilized Helvetica (ugh!) and still a few other typefaces make their appearance. A standardized typeface choice would be the first step into helping guide people.

Effective colour

As stated in earlier posts, the TTC has colour-coded the subway lines and primarily used that in the maps for display only. I really believe that they (the TTC) need to implement the colour system as a part of the wayfining system. A way to quickly identify the line you are on, or the line you need to get to at an inter-change station like Yonge-Bloor. Beyond that I also think that a development, adoption of other colours would help with this system. A colour that defines signage of pure information, entrance and exits could have their own colours – not unlike the highway system in Ontario (white signs being the law – orange/yellow being a suggestion).

Unfortunately the TTC has already used Green (for the Bloor-Danforth line), because that is the colour I would suggest that indicates entrance. Then using red to indicate an exit. I would use yellow for information (already in use for Yonge-University-Spadina). I would really try to define a series of colours for the subway lines that exclude the three I just mentioned. Being able to quickly identify an entrance from an exit from a different subway line would speed up flow. I would even go as far as colour coding Buses and Streetcars areas – especially for those stations that have both (like Broadview).

To even help out flow – the colours could be used in bolder applications. Like on turnstiles. There are of course two side point issues with what I’m about to suggest. 1, the TTC is generating revenue from allowing advertising on the turnstiles, and 2, that some of the turnstiles are bi-directional (it is Canada after all). I would offer up the following solution. That turnstiles be colour-coded with their directional purpose – green for entrance and red for exit (we can even have those words on them as well). Beyond that I would suggest that they do away with the entrance/exit version. Mainly because it sets up a confrontation – not unlike a stopped escalator, who has the right-of-way?

Digital signage (and beyond)

The TTC is working with Pattison One in putting up digital signs on the platform. In most stations there is one per direction. In other stations there are two and in a few there are three. These are mostly an ad/news feed system with about the bottom 1/4 (maybe even 1/5) dedicated to TTC information. That information consists of next train arrival, delays, bus routes modifications, etc. The bulk of the display is taken up with, as mentioned, ads and news feeds. Although interesting, and a source of revenue for the TTC, they could be better used as pure information about the TTC. And there should be a minimum of three per station and for the busier platforms, five.

Information first

There is a push on by the TTC to keep the riders informed, most notably with delays. Making train and station announcements about delays and stoppage (which then require shuttle buses). And that’s great. Where this fails is in letting people get into a station while a delay is happening. There are many times that people have paid with a token, gotten down to track level only to find the platform filled (usually a bad sign at a station like Chester). Heading back up to leave and use a different method of transport, walking, Cab, whatever. They try to get a refund and nothing. If there was a sign or light that could indicate that a delay or stoppage was in place before people have committed to the TTC. This might seem like the TTC will lose out on those extra few fares, but in the long run customers will appreciate the frankness. They will not mistrust the TTC.

What’s the cost

Most of the suggestions that I’m offering are not free. I understand that. The TTC is already pinched for money in terms of just keeping the stations clean and expanding the actual service. But the cost in the long run of not taking into account riders and people flow will be massive. Having a good transit system is not just about the vehicles and staff – it’s also about getting people to their destinations efficiently.

How would you improve flow?

Re-imaging the TTC: Part 3

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part three.

Subway Stations (part a)

Currently there are 69 subway stations within the TTC system. And each has at least one entrance into the station – giving access to all vehicles within the structure. There are some stations that have no other modes other than subway – like Chester. One station entry point is always attended by a collector. There are various design configurations depending on volume and layout.

Two and separated – Yonge/Bloor has two collector booths that face each other, with a bank of exit turnstiles between them. There are also two large alternate entrances (the gates that can be swung open for people with disabilities, large suitcases, and they can also be used as an overflow entrance manned by an employee during peak times).

Two and together – the College station (in case you still need the Carlton Car) sees the two collectors in the same booth, back-to-back. This design has the exit turnstiles and alternate entrance on either side.

In above versions there is the allowance for two collectors, although that usually only happens during peak times.

Single – Stations like Castle Frank find the collector booth against one side wall, with the exit turnstiles and alternate entrance between the booth and the opposite wall.

Unmanned – There are two variations for this; 1, a former collector booth, like at the Yonge entrance at Yonge-Bloor has the booth part but is ONLY accessible by token or metropass, or 2, like the bank of token/metropass turnstiles at the St. Andrew entrance (although they reside in the same area as a collector booth, they are really a set of entrances on their own).

(photo by Michael Peake/©Toronto Sun)

Information Overload/Underload

Each of these entrances presents their own problems from flow and spatial design considerations, I will be talking about the visual, information aspects about the entrances – granted the flow and spatial aspects might come into play.

Firstly the collector is a limited description of the job, they are in fact: Collector, Security Guard, Information Kiosk (both TTC and the local area), Metropass/Token sales agent, Emergency Notification (if something happens in the station), Remote (when you happen to be at an unmanned entrance, and you press the ‘talk to someone’ button), etc. So for each of these tasks the booth is both a plus and a minus.

Given that a large part of the collectors job is not just to monitor the collection of the fare – they are engaged in conversations with the public (riders and potential riders). To that end having the entrance turnstile right at the place where said conversations are happening is myopic. All the while you have a line-up of people wanting to buy their monthly metropasses. It’s also the place of contact for any surface route connections that require entrance with a transfer (like Lansdowne). A minor solution would be to move the turnstile forward a metre or so – allowing flow for those that have tokens or metropasses or transfers. Thereby facilitating the conversations that might need to take place at the window wicket.

More than talking

Beyond the conversation, another reason that the passage way to the main turnstile might get blocked is because of the plethora of information signage on the booth windows. There are at minimum seven–ten of these ranging from fare notices to restricted items indications. All of these with different colour systems, fonts, sizes of fonts, etc. It’s a graphic salad of the worst kind. It’s bad not only because of the visual smorgasbord but due to the fact that it impares the safety vision of the collector. A better solution would be to have an information board – that is accessible for all, and does not impede traffic or safety.

There is somewhat a system in place that shows a local map – this would a great place to start. Combining all of the station/TTC/vicinity information into one super didactic area. It should also connect up with the colouring system that the TTC has in place for each subway line. And without beating a dead horse, this information can be presented on a digital sign board – allowing for updates and modifications easily. A digital sign I would keep at the booth entrance is anything related to fare and train information. Right now at myriad stations there is a hand-written sign indicating the last train leaving that station, on that day. Hand written signs in any situation reek of a unprepared, unprofessional social encounter – not reflective of employees as much as management.

Assuming that everyone that rides the TTC is a familiar with the workings of the TTC is a stretch. Even for seasoned riders, heading to a new destination brings it’s own set of challenges. Keeping that in mind allows design decisions to be made that benefit all parties involved – riders and employees. Ultimately the purpose of any set of signage or related wayfinding systems is to help with flow and passage – not hinder.

What other ways could you suggest to improve the entrance experience at a transit station?

Re-imaging the TTC: Part 2

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part two.

How am I going?

One of the biggest design flaws of the TTC (nay, a lot of anything that uses maps) is the orientation of the map to the direction of travel. An almost frame-of-reference thing that more often than not has the chance to confuse people.

Maps are great things, especially if you happen to always be in the exact frame-of-reference that it was made. Usually that requires adjusting yourself to North. A simple procedure if you’re outside. Simpler even if you happen to know which direction is North. Without those two basic pieces of information, a map can be a mind-blowing exercise – most notably in a unknown place. But, as long as you can make those connections (North, and a re-orientation) you can get through a map fairly easily.

The main map I have issue with on the TTC is the Subway/RT Route Map located over the alternating doorways (see below) on the subway cars. There are 10 door sets on each train car – four on each side (for passengers) and one on each end (for employees). There should be four of these system maps on each car. Should be, but they seem to keep getting stolen.

Here’s the issue – on any train at any one given time only two of the maps are correct. Here me out. From a system standpoint they are all correct. They show all four lines, in complete reference to each other. Where they are not correct is in their current frame-of-reference. In all terms.



The maps are north-biased, as are most maps (as previously mentioned). So, for the Bloor-Danforth Line (Green) and the Sheppard Line (Purple) the subway is travelling in the direction of the map. Left to right and right to left, matching the motion of the train with the direction on the map. Although at any one given time only half the maps are really directional correct. That is to say that when the train is travelling east to west (from Kennedy to Kipling) only the maps on the North side of the cars are showing the truth. When the train is travelling west to east only the maps on the South side of the cars are correct. For the alternate maps (for either direction) we are asking people to ignore the direction that the map is pointed and to re-orient themselves without physically moving. A mental leap for most people.

People making their way on either the Yonge-University-Spadina Line or the Scarborough LRT Line are always required to re-orient themselves. The trains are mostly moving against the direction shown. When travelling north to south (Finch to College – you need to catch the Carlton Car!) your map direction is up and down – yet the train is still travelling left and right. And both of those routes/maps are also travelling left/right at some point only adds to the confusion.

I would like to see a on-car map system that uses digital technology to better relate the direction the train is travelling with the next stop, and final stop in that direction. Why not have a monitor map that toggles between the end station and the next station. And while were at it – why not add the connecting routes at the next station to the screen as well.


As a colourblind creative director (what, it happens) I’m very aware of colour combinations and colour use. I don’t mind the colours, they do a good job of defining each separate route on the map. Here’s the problem I have. The colour is used in very limited areas outside of the maps. Some of the stations are using the colour with signage (wayfinding) to indicate the Line that you’re on – what the final station is and what the is the next station. Those overhead indications are a good start.

Making the colour a more ubiquitous thing throughout the system – when switching trains – indicate the colours for people going from one direction to another. On the trains (or at least on the maps) indicate which line that train is on. Show the colour on the signage for each station. Each station presently has a unique colour so that you can visually know which is your stop and they are not all the same – but adding the colour of the Line to the station names just helps reinforce the system colours.

To that end – having a colour indication on any surface vehicle that ends up at a station would help drive home the message.


As mentioned there are a number of stations that have signage that show Line colour, the next station and the final station. But it is hanging from the ceiling – not a convenient height to ask people to look for information. Why not tie that information into the station name (and colour) on the walls. Making sure to have the arrows pointing in the correct, frame-of-reference direction.

Is there anything else that would help with understanding how you’re going?

Re-imaging the TTC: Part 1

I learned an important lesson about content and reach last week. I did a 5-part series on comedy in Canada and my choice to leave that part of my life after 17 years. I had the best day/week/month of my blogging career (stats-wise). I believe that was for two reasons, 1, I have reach within that community, with the bulk of my Facebook friends in comedy (or at least knowing that I was involved in comedy), and 2, that the messages resonated with my audience – whether they be comedians or not.

To that end I am going to try a little experiment. I’ve been struggling the past little while trying to understand my place in the blogosphere. Here’s what I decided. If I want people to see me as a strategic thinker – then I have to be the strategic thinker. All the time. Further to that, having just finished Seth Godin’s book Linchpin (I know, I’m a bit behind the times), I’m going to be offering up my strategic thinking here – gratis. Like last weeks’ series I’m going to approach my blog in weekly, 5-part solution-based prose. If you know someone who would benefit from this, please pass along my URL (scottmcmann.wordpress.com) or twitter handle (@srmcmann) or if you just want to see how I see the world follow me on instagr.am (srmcmann).

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part one.

Where are you going?

For those that have travelled the TTC you may, or may not, know where you are going. The people on the transit routes are not all experienced in traversing the city, let alone via public transportation. They know where they are going – the destination. But getting from here (wherever that might be) to there is sometimes the challenge.

Firstly I think that more effort has to be done by destinations to inform the public where they are – relative to the nearest public transit access. Whether it be a bus or streetcar route, or the closet subway station.  If you don’t know that the 506 Carlton Car (a streetcar) travels on College, Parliament, Gerrard, Main and of course Carlton – how would you instinctively know that it could get you to your X on the map? The fact that it spends more time on College than Carlton could be confusing. The fact that it starts at Main Station (I’m an east-end boy, so everything starts in the east), crosses College Station, then Queens Park Station and finishes at Dundas West Station – notice that there is no Carlton Station. Once you know the system, you can work it. But for people that are new, or infrequent users – the naming conventions can seem illogical.

But without getting into renaming and re-numbering the routes (which could be its own 5-part series – and might be) I think that having clearer location information will help. That the TTC should be making applets, widgets or whatever available to stores and businesses to include on their websites. Google does have a feature that allows you to enter a starting and ending point, and the way that you want to travel (car, transit, walk, biking) – but I’m talking about a button that clearly indicates – if you want to know how to get here via the TTC – click this. Then be able to send that route to your smart phone – via sms, e-mail or QR code.

I also think that the TTC could utilize technology more on the vehicles – and also their operators. The operators (drivers) that garner some of the best relationships and responses are the ones that love their job and love getting people to their destinations. The ones that let people know that this stop has the following attractions close by. That value-added service – or as Seth calls it – the art. Beyond that, the TTC could enhance the system that is already in place, the one that announces the address, or street (cross road) of the bus or streetcar stop. Why not use flat screen monitors and a similar system to let people know what is close to each stop and what are the connecting transit routes. How great would it be to hear the announcement for a stop and have a listing of the available routes accessed as well.

What information would be good to know when travelling on any public transportation.