Years ago, when the first MRT lines were built in Kuala Lumpur, the whole experience worked as one expected. Clean, convenient, and predictable apart from the longer waits and pricier tickets. But it’s now 2020 — and commuting with these screens look like they could use some improvements.
At first, I was looking for possible MRT redesigns but only came across this SMRT case study from Singapore 👍 which was really so, so well done and showcases the impact UX designers can bring to public services/amenities.
I first mapped my own experience from entering the station platform to leaving the station. This narrowed down the specific in-train experience to address (only within the MRT train) and note down what I was thinking/feeling and what information was useful in each context.
The next thing was mustering up the courage to interview five onboarding passengers on the train waiting platform of different genders, age groups, and backgrounds. As time was short before the train arrives, I held an iPad in one hand containing an image of the existing train screens with questions like:
- What is the most useful and least useful information for you?
- How clear is the information presented in text and visuals?
- What secondary information is useful, e.g. time and connected transits?
The last step was making sense of all information on the current screens and arrange them by importance according to passengers based on interviews. This helped create clarity for wireframing solutions later on.
There are four identified mental states entering the train that would require some awareness from passengers — onboarding, waiting, reaching, and leaving states. This informs the screens needed in response to these states.
Passengers’ key priorities
Based on the contextual interviews, these information details were highlighted as most important to them on the train:
- Location: Where am I now? Where am I going?
- Duration: How far am I from my destination? (this is missing!)
- Direction: Affirm me that I’m on the right transit line & right direction
Existing screens assessment
Interviewed passengers responded that the information currently presented was sufficient but welcome a visual refresh. However, there were some problems and insights gathered:
- Text legibility: 60% of interviewees felt that the station names are too small, and one suggested to make it more accessible for elderly folks.
- Showcase time/duration: this was hands-down the most requested feature to estimate their trip plans based on arrival station times.
- Previous stations as secondary: passengers felt that knowing the previous station wasn’t as important once they are familiar with MRT, but a nice-to-have for tourists or assurance they didn’t miss their stop.
- Unclear connected transits: all interviewees would want to see connected transits (e.g. LRT, KTM) tied to the next stations.
- Good add-ons to have: nearest exits and pathways leaving the train and clearer visual indication on when the doors are closing.
To start designing, these clear goals were set to keep the exercise clear:
- Legibility and hierarchy: determine main and secondary information to give confidence to commuters of their location, duration, and direction.
- Clear screen states: inform onboarding, waiting, reaching & leaving states.
- Visual language update: simple and effective based on MRT’s brand.
Once the research insights, goals, and considerations are in place, experimentation took place with various grid systems that aim for clarity in a glance yet scalable for contextual changes.
One of the major hurdles was arranging, adding, and reducing information. The information mapping before helped set basic rules that bring attention back to the users’ essential needs.
It became clear that the more grid columns and rows, the more it expanded possibilities, but became more unclear. This led to a basic 3-col and 2-col grid that separates the long screen into 2–3 major sections.
- Readability of screens based on commuters’ position in the train.
- What could be removed yet won’t be noticed by passengers? Do that.
- Reduce the need for multiple languages in our diverse Malaysian context.
- Elimination of connecting lines and dots that don’t add much value.
- Redesigning transit line legends for simpler but easier readability.
Redesigned State #1 — Onboarding/Waiting in Train
When passengers are on board
Passengers can quickly discern the information they need anytime: where they are going next and how long it will take to get there. Connected transit lines, previous stations, and transit directions are reduced in size but still accessible to give assurance that passengers are on the right track.
Tourists and passengers still need secondary handy information from time-to-time like more upcoming stations, high-traffic stations, and landmarks which change dynamically every few seconds. This also creates space for ads.
Redesigned State #2 — Arriving at a Station
When passengers arrive and leave the train
As the train reaches a station, the screens change to indicate which door side is opening. Passengers can now see their position relative to the nearest station exits, stairs, and escalators — bringing ease of mind navigating out the train and a more seamless transition toward their destination.
When the doors are closing
For the deaf, audio cues for closing doors may not help and the existing visual cues are not clear enough. Learning from other countries, it made sense to create countdown indicators to alert passengers when the doors are closing with the right balance of calmness and urgency.
Redesigned State #3 — Train Disruptions
This missing information on existing trains can really make passengers feel frustrated when the trains don’t move. Having this assures that passengers that things are OK. This creates an opportunity for MRT to give live visual updates on the train status on top of existing audio notices.
- Information is the design: the goal for public services is to help you move forward as efficiently as possible, visual flair is secondary.
- Going visual is not always better: dots, colors, and lines may seem to represent the idea of trains moving or transit legends as icons, but clear wording can communicate intention much more clearly for users.
- Designing with systems in place: create grids and sizing templates based on hierarchy allows you to move information pieces around efficiently.
- Be direct and upfront at interviews: People always have time and interest for what is helpful for the public. Don’t have to be dodgy about it.
In completing this short UX exercise, it feels like it’s only a one puzzle piece in an entire jigsaw of the commuting experience. Here are some thoughts moving forward with this project:
- Live user testing: demonstrate these mockups with onboard passengers.
- Propose this to MRT: find out if they’re interested in expanding on this.
- Create more conversations around UX and urban design!
You’ve reached the end of this case study!
I hope this has been helpful to urban design enthusiasts and UX designers alike! Do you have feedback to share or want to build something together? Please feel free to drop it in the comments below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.