Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Usability and Performance testing in the Analog world

Right now, our offices are located downtown. The AJC has been in this building since 1972 (I think). We're soon to be moving outside the Perimeter to new offices. Trust me, this is an important fact.

I started as a contractor here back in November of last year. I had an option for parking but at the time I didn't know how long I would be here (contracting can be volatile) and didn't know if I would plan on switching to Marta. Combined with the fact that the company WAS planning on moving offices, I decided not to get a parking pass.

Instead, I opted to use the pay parking lots behind the office. These spots are $3 a day or a monthly option of $40. This was about the same as the AJC parking pass so it was something of a wash. I went permanent with the paper in the beginning of February. Our move is scheduled at the beginning of April and parking passes are no longer available so I *HAVE* to use the parking vendor out back.

Of course this is when the parking company, Central Parking Systems decided to swap out the working payment terminals with new ones. The old ones, while a bit worn around the collar actually worked well. People understood them and things moved along quickly. I'm trying to find a picture of the old ones but the new ones look like the picture above.

Since these have been put in place, the lines to get a parking pass have been super long. I thought this was a familiarity issue. The new terminals are smaller, the screen is less readable and from a usability perspective, it's a pain in the ass. People have to stoop down to get the money in the machine and GOD FORBID you pay with a credit card. It's one of the quick swipe methods and from the angle you can NEVER "quickly remove your card" without also pulling up as you pull it out. This obviously isn't quick enough so you have to start again.

Well this morning I found out there's ANOTHER problem. There were two parking attendants watching people use the machines. Finally one guy spoke up and said the following:

"Folks, this terminal is running really slow and overloading the computer system. If you use X terminal or Y terminal, they're running really fast"

Let me position those other two terminals for you in relation to this one. X terminal is closest but by the time I get to it, pay and get back to my car (which I parked near THIS terminal I would already be done paying if I stayed in line.

The OTHER terminal would require me to get in my car, drive to it and come back to park near where I actually work.

So how slow were these new machines running? They were running so slow that they wouldn't actually take money. When I got up there, I decided to ask the guy how I would pay for a monthly option here. This is where it gets good:

"You can't buy monthly passes here anymore. Just go online to blahblahblahblah.com and register as a vendor. You get much cheaper parking and other rewards."

Are you kidding me? I'm only going to be here for another month. I'm not a "vendor" and I don't want to go to a stupid website to pay for freaking parking when I could pay just fine up until recently.

Where do I start with the screwups?

If they had ANY business intelligence or metrics, they would have known that this particular kiosk is the busiest one in the deck. It's near the best parking and it's centrally located. The fact that this one terminal was causing these kinds of issues is unacceptable. Load testing isn't strictly digital. Look at any major downtown event. The same work goes into capacity planning there from parking to traffic that any major website would undergo preparing for the Christmas holiday. The kiosk was running so slow that it was actually refusing to accept dollar bills. I decided to pay with my credit card and my ticket had printed while the screen still said processing payment.

But even IF the system could keep up with the load generated, having someone actually go onsite and see HOW users were using the damn things would have shown them the ergonomic bottlenecks.

Something as simple as a parking lot was foiled by lack of performance and usability testing. Amazing.

EDIT: I found a picture of what the old terminal looked like. It's not "pretty" but it worked and was ergonomically superior.

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