Adam, in the previous post, showed an example of presenting important service alerts and said that Metro can improve the usability of its website with simple fixes. So I played the role of webmaster and took a look at Metro’s homepage. I found several issues and developed small fixes that cost very little to implement and doesn’t involve redesigning the entire website, summarized in the list below:
- Get a timetable function not useful if you don’t know what route to look up.
- No Quick Link to system map
- Quick Link icon for ORCA should represent the card
- Quick Link icon for fares should use standard symbol that Sound Transit uses
- Some graphical banners don’t link to specific information and requires user to search for it
- Minor trip planner usability issues
- Structure of the website in relation to the shortcut menu
Specific and technical details follow after the jump.
Let’s begin with the Get a Timetable function. I must already know a route number to use it. If I don’t know, Metro has a tool to look up routes and bus tops near a location. Those tools are hidden in the Ride Metro menu which isn’t very obvious. Putting links to those tools with the Get a Timetable function increases their visibility and makes sense since they are related tasks. In addition to this, why not also put a drop down menu of all Metro routes? I know that Metro has over 200 routes but Translink makes it work. Community Transit combines the drop down menu and input form elegantly using some coding magic. When I begin to type a number it filters the results for me. Since route maps are linked to from timetable pages I think it would be appropriate to rename this section “Get a Timetable & Route Map”. I made a mockup of a less elegant implementation seen below.
While I call this a mock up, I created a copy of the home page on my computer, modified its source code and it actually works.
The Quick Links section is missing an important item: Maps. If I want the system map, I have to know that it’s under the Destinations menu. There’s space for a Maps icon, which should link to an index of all of Metro’s maps like the System Map, Downtown Seattle map, transit center maps, etc.
Visually, icons for the Quick Links look inconsistent with each other. Why does the ORCA icon not show the ORCA logo? The fares icon doesn’t use the standard pass symbol that Sound Transit uses. The shine and gloss of some icons look out of place on a site that has none of that. I discovered that some of the icons appeared to be from the Chicago Transit Authority’s website and modified with or without permission. I made new icons for fares and ORCA and put in a placeholder icon for Maps. If you’re reading this Metro, they’re yours to use.
Moving to the left column is the graphical banner that has four slides calling attention to the new Transit Alert system, 4th Ave Downtown road construction, Bus connections to Link light rail, and the “It’s why we ride” campaign. When I click on the 4th Ave slide it sends me to the main Alerts Center page, leaving me to look for myself where the relevant alerts are. Since this construction project affects many routes downtown, there should be a specific page for that. There is such a page on the Eye on Your Metro Commute (EOYMC) Blog but it is incomplete information. More on EOYMC later.
Then I see the students on the “It’s why we ride” slide. I’ve seen the ads and I click on it, expecting to learn more about why people choose to ride the bus and instead get a portfolio page of current Metro promotions. There’s no information about that campaign at all. At least put in some information about the slide I just clicked in from. This is a marketing campaign that lacks an online component.
But why do we need a shortcut menu? It buries links under another layer of navigation that has no relation to the main site’s structure. I think it’s preferable to put more links in plain sight, judiciously. Also, perform an evaluation of the website’s structure, which has been unchanged in over a decade, whether it is logical and functional from a user’s point of view. Why do we need a shortcut menu? Is there something wrong with the side menu and site structure that makes it so difficult to navigate? This isn’t a small fix but it is a core problem that I have with the site in general. There seems to be two disconnected parts of the site: the original Metro Transit part and the part with King County DOT like the Transit Now section.
This is far from an exhaustive list of little things Metro can easily do to make their web site more usable and I’m only touching the homepage in this post. It may sound like nitpicking but the fine details really do matter as I hope to have shown. I might have missed a few things so feel free to add your own tweaks.