Ricky Lau’s “PRESTO’s Failure in HCI Design” — ralbycs

PRESTO’s Failure in HCI Design

Ricky Lau
CCT380 Human-Computer Interaction and Communication
26 October 2012

1 Objective and Background

PRESTO’s card reader and website fail to adequately support the methods of which the user communicates with the computer. Moreover, the two fail to demonstrate several design principles of human-computer interaction (HCI) and attain usability and desirable aspects of user experience (UX) goals.

Prior to analyzing the card reader and website, it is essential to first review the overall system of PRESTO. PRESTO is an innovative payment system implemented onto selected public transport of Southern Ontario since 2009. PRESTO aims to offer “a seamless regional transit fare card system” through contactless smart card technology (PRESTO, 2011). The system of PRESTO consists of the PRESTO card, card reader, website, and participating service providers. The user can pay the fare of or purchase a ticket to (thus allowing him to use) a participating public transport by momentarily placing his PRESTO card against a card reader installed inside a vehicle or station (referred to as tapping). The automatic deduction of value stored inside the rechargeable card upon tapping substitutes the conventional payment of exact change or purchase of a ticket.

The system of PRESTO is analogous to an iterative design, as it was continually tested and modified. In 2007, PRESTO was tested as a trial on selected routes of MiWay, as well as selected stations of GO Transit and Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). After refinement, PRESTO was tested in 2011 on OC Transpo through 1,000 volunteers before its actual implementation on the participating public transport. Incidentally, PRESTO currently has ten participants, including GO Transit, MiWay, and TTC (PRESTO, 2011).

2 Card reader

There are different types of PRESTO card readers, including one that allows a user to pay fare (located in vehicles and stations), one that allows the user to purchase a ticket (located in stations), and one that allows the user to check his card balance (located in stations). Many card readers roughly resemble a parking meter. The card reader composes of an overall green rectangle, which embeds on its front side a grey enclosure. The grey enclosure frames a dot-matrix display in the top portion and an embedded scanner in the bottom portion marked with either the PRESTO symbol or logo. The dot-matrix display shows various messages. It may prompt the user to “TAP CARD,” display the amount of value deducted from the user’s card balance for the imminent ride, or display the user’s information including his card balance and status (e.g. child, student, or senior). The symbol below the dot-matrix display consists of an encircled green hand holding a PRESTO card. The symbol is accentuated by arrows in the form of either a down-pointing triangle above or two centre-pointing triangles respectively on its left and right sides, and above texts that read “Tap Card Here.”

2.1 Card reader analysis

The PRESTO card reader, similar to the website, will be considered in relation to design principles including “visibility, feedback, constraints, consistency, and affordance” (Rogers, Sharp, & Preece, 2011, p. 26). The card reader demonstrates evident affordance in that it allows the user to easily realize how to use it. Visual aids such as the dot-matrix display, symbol, logo, and textual instruction altogether openly invite the user to tap his PRESTO card on the card reader in the case that he wishes to use a participating public transport.

Card readers possess controversial consistency. The card reader largely demonstrates consistency in colour with other tools in the PRESTO system, including the card, website, and even card reader of another type. As with other PRESTO tools, most card readers possess the colours of green, white, and grey, with black in some card readers. Card readers of different types embody confusing similarities in terms of design and colour. At times, the sole noticeable difference between the card readers of different types is the brief instruction imprinted below the symbol or logo. Simultaneously, consistency is not absolute even among card readers of the same type. As previously mentioned, card readers of the same type may vary in that one may possess a symbol while another may possess a logo. The unruly consistency among card readers does not help indicate the card reader’s type, and may even confuse the user.

The confusing similarities among card readers are due to their lack of visible clues. For instance, the size of the text instruction inscribed onto the card reader is, at times, miniscule and prone to obliviousness. The syntax and positioning of the text instruction are also questionable. As opposed to defining the instruction in one clear statement (e.g. “tap card here to pay fare”) in a noticeable area, selected card readers consist of separately positioned sentence fragments. For instance, “Tap Card Here” is inscribed between the dot-matrix display and symbol, while “Pay Fare” is inscribed below the symbol. The ineffectiveness of the textual instruction can be illustrated through the consideration of the user’s scanpath. A scanpath is “the order in which the items in a layout are searched,” thus has a potentially great impact on usability (Halverson & Hornof, 2011, p. 300). One possible scanpath regarding the elements of the card reader correlates with descending order (which begins with the topmost dot-matrix display, followed by the underneath statement “Tap Card Here,” then the symbol or logo beneath, and finally the bottommost “Pay Fare”. Another possible scanpath correlates with the prominence order (which begins with the either the visually captivating dot-matrix display or symbol or logo, and later followed by the visually dull sentence fragments.) Incidentally, the user’s perception of text depends on the eccentricity from his visual fixation (p. 310). The physical fragmentation of the textual instruction on the card reader increases the difficulty for the user to follow instructions, as the user must first successfully locate both separated fragments before decoding and compiling the two. In both aforementioned scanpaths, the two fragments have relatively little noticeability. Accordingly, they must be visually intensified in order for the function of the card reader to become additionally apparent, thus more effectively instruct the user regarding the required procedures. The two sentence fragments can be combined into one concise statement, reformatted in font, or repositioned to attain a greater visibility.

Again, not all card readers are consistent. The card reader installed in the GO bus has a top-facing interface as opposed to the aforementioned common front facing design. The GO bus card reader is relatively compact in that it consists of a square interface as opposed to a rectangular one. While the reduced dimensions of the card reader in the GO bus allow for a less obstructed passageway from the bus door to the seats, the distance between the dot-matrix display and symbol decreases as well. In the instance of which the user places his card on the GO bus card reader, the card will most likely overlay the symbol and a great portion of, if not the entire, dot-matrix display. At this time, the user will receive the auditory feedback of a beep indicating a successful transaction. However, considering that the card remains over the dot-matrix display, the user will not be able to see the displayed information, namely the amount of value decreased for the imminent ride. In the case that the user does not retrieve his card expeditiously from the card reader, he will miss the sole chance to see the amount of the fare (which varies according to the bus’s route and user’s status). This possible invisibility of feedback forces the curious or persistent user to alternatively question the bus driver, or later contact a kiosk attendant, use the balance-checking card reader, or view the browse the website.

The card reader does not readily provide feedback upon the tapping of a card, especially in the event that the user taps his card shortly after the tapping of another card. This undesired brief absence of feedback is also present in balance-checking card readers. In the case of balance-checking card readers, the information on the dot-matrix display does not remain available throughout the duration of which the user’s card is placed against the symbol. Instead, the information shown on the dot-matrix display disappears within seconds. In order to receive feedback again, the user must retrieve his card from the scanner, wait temporarily, and then tap his card again.

While the PRESTO card reader can be described as a functioning utility, it possesses many issues, including unorganized consistency and unguaranteed feedback. Incidentally, merely 95 percent of users have experienced successful transactions through card readers installed inside busses during tests (Metrolinx, 2012). The PRESTO card reader fails in respect to HCI as it betrays essential principles such as consistency, feedback, and visibility, thus may evoke confusion as well as undesirable UX aspects such as annoyance and frustration.

3 Website

The PRESTO website explains the overall PRESTO system, allows for card registration, displays card balance, allows adding value onto the card balance, offers newsletter subscription, and answers frequently asked questions (FAQ). The website hosts over 22 webpages, with eight exclusive pages for cardholders who are logged in.

3.1 Website analysis

Similar to the card reader, the PRESTO website has strengths and weaknesses in respect to HCI. The website embodies utility such as an integrated Google search box and an English-French translator. The website also promotes accessibility through American Sign Language (ASL) translation videos, a prominent colour contrast, accessible font, and site map (PRESTO, 2011). The website’s utility and accessibility allow the French minority, visually impaired, or beginner user to use the website with ease. Incidentally, the website uses mapping in its explanation of PRESTO. For instance, the website metaphorically dubs the user’s online card balance as an electronic purse (e-purse).

A standardized mechanism only requires the user to undergo a single instance of learning regardless of the mechanism’s arbitrariness (Norman, 1988, p. 200). Despite that PRESTO revolves around the innovative payment method of smart card technology, its website supports the standard online payment method of credit or debit card. This familiar utility allows the user to increase his card balance effectively online without burdening learnability and memorability.

The website’s communication of information demonstrates concision and simplicity. This is crucial in that concision and simplicity are standard characteristics of an interaction (Hou & Zhu, 2011, p. 41). The website efficiently summarizes the PRESTO system with less than 500 words. The website’s lack of redundancy maximizes its helpfulness and learnability.

However, the website’s simplicity entails an insufficient amount of feedback. Even after registration and login, the website does not readily confirm the user’s identity by constantly displaying his name. Rather, the website generically displays the statement “You are currently logged in as a registered cardholder” on the horizontal bar below the banner. The user must visit the “View Registration Information” webpage in order to ensure the accuracy of his registered name and information (PRESTO, 2011).

The parts of the PRESTO system communicate asynchronously. Online feedback including the transaction history and changes to the card balance is not instantaneously available. For instance, the transaction history may be updated five days after the actual date of transaction. Also, the activation of a card and addition of value are only confirmable 24 hours after the time of request (PRESTO, 2011). The website’s apparent delay in feedback demonstrates inefficiency.

The website also demonstrates inconsistency. After login, the sidebar shows nine additional login-exclusive hyperlinks including “Load PRESTO card,” “Check Transactions History,” and “Autoload Management Requested Reload.” Simultaneously, the area below the aforementioned horizontal bar displays three sets of icons and hyperlinks including “Load PRESTO card,” “Check Transactions History,” and “Autoload Requested Reload Management.” Both “Autoload” hyperlinks respectively from the sidebar and below the horizontal bar are differently phrased and do not match the actual title of the linked webpage, “Autoload/Request Reload Management” (PRESTO, 2011). The sidebar is moreover inconsistent. In the case that the user navigates away from the nine login-exclusive webpages by toggling the hyperlinks of the public webpages, the nine login-exclusive hyperlinks will disappear from the sidebar. The length of the banner is also inconsistent. The website aims to correlate with conventional practice by accentuating its homepage by providing it with a larger banner. However, the banner of the “Requested Reload” webpage has the same dimensions as that of the homepage. The inconsistent sidebar and banner cause the sidebar and its embedded hyperlinks to shift up and down in the user’s browsing session every time a new webpage is opened. This inconsistency forces the user to repeatedly realign the cursor with the moving sidebar in aims to successfully navigate to another page via the hyperlinks. Another inconsistent aspect within the website is the implementation of the “Return to top” button. The button provides convenience in the event that the user wishes to quickly view the topmost portion of the webpage without scrolling intensively. While the majority of webpages (including the brief homepage) possesses the “Return to top” button, login-exclusive webpages (such as the elongated “Transaction History” page) do not. The website also possesses minor instances of inconsistency regarding the width of certain HyperText Markup Language (HTML) border for text.

Despite using the relatively safe communications protocol of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), the PRESTO website does not sufficiently attend to technical and human factors of computer use, which respectively relate to computer security and HCI (He, Kline, & Yaylacicegi, 2011, p. 3). After logging out from the website, the user’s personal information including card number and balance, registration information, and transaction history remain accessible and visible through toggling the web browser’s back button or command. In the case of Mozilla Firefox on OS X, the user’s personal information remains accessible through opening PRESTO hyperlinks stored within the web browser history. This is possible even after the web browser window has been closed and reopened. The insecurity of the PRESTO website is distinct from professional websites such as that of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). Despite attaining accessibility and standardization, the website cannot be considered as passible considering its failure to provide basic consistency and safety.

4 Conclusion

PRESTO provides the user with a relatively convenient method of accessing public transport. Despite this feat, PRESTO’s card reader and website fail to demonstrate crucial aspects of HCI design principles, including consistency and feedback. Moreover, at times, the two betray usability and desirable aspects of UX goals by demonstrating inefficiency and vulnerability, thereby potentially evoking annoyance, frustration, and unpleasantness in the user. Unless its card reader and website are improved in respect to such principles and aspects, the system of PRESTO cannot be genuinely considered as a passable system.


About PRESTO. (2011). PRESTO. Retrieved from https://www.PRESTOcard.ca/en/StaticContent/About/

Halverson, T., & Hornof, A. (2011). A Computational Model of “‘Active Vision’” for Visual Search in Human–Computer Interaction. Taylor & Francis Group., 26, 285–314.

He, L., Kline, D. M., & Yaylacicegi, U. (2011). User perceptions of security technologies. International Journal of Information Security and Privacy, 5(2), 1+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA280965958&v=2.1&u=utoronto_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w

Hou, M., & Zhu, H. (2011). Role-based human-computer interactions. International Journal of Cognitive Informatics and Natural Intelligence, 5(2), 37+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA280302580&v=2.1&u=utoronto_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w

Metrolinx. (2012). Presentation to OC Transpo Commission. Toronto. Retrieved from https://www.prestocard.ca/uploadedFiles/Content/About_Us/Presentation%20to%20OC%20Transpo_FINAL.pdf

Norman, D. (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.

Rogers, Y., Sharp, H., & Preece, J. (2011). Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (3rd ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.