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  • Observe, Question, Design

    Pat Luke Mooney

  • 1. I visited a local Stop & Shop self-checkout line with a critical eye, paying atten-tion to the flow of the automated system for perhaps the very first time. I came to conclude that self-checkout has a strange sort of accordion-time effect, the promise of a quick and easy transaction often interrupted by interminable delays . As shoppers at any of the six terminals would encounter errors, the pace would slow and a backlog would build up. Yet at the same time multiple shoppers could finish their purchases simultaneously, freeing up other stations.

    When I began to purchase an item myself, the first step was simply waiting to approach a terminal. A line had appeared, and overall this was an average, boring experience. Eventually I was able to chose a checkout station, and my emotional state was fairly neutral throughout; I had the straightforward ob-jective of selecting a language, rewards card, and scanning my items. However this turned to anxiety as I made an error when selecting the right produce option, not wanting to inconvenience other customers.

    As far as interfaces go, I feel the system was fairly natural (in the sense that it uses the assumed logic of a supermarket effectively). Scanning my items from left-to-right and placing them in bags seemed perfectly normal, and when I en-countered an error I pressed the button for assistance. The attendant that ap-peared was a far more effective tutorial (through conversation) than any help menu. I paid by swiping a credit card, another collective social interface.

    I would improve the system by tinkering with the weight-sensing algorithm, which occasionally hits a snag and slows the process down. A camera that could visually identify produce could have resolved my issue fumbling with the menu. Lastly, the 15 Items Or Less line should live up to its namesake!

  • 2. I chose to record my daily experience taking the PATH train into Manhattan. On the whole, I came to believe that mass transit is very well designed by modern standards. There is little wasted space and the platforms are fairly orderly and well arranged. Note that the PATH is slightly different from the NYC subway system, and I feel has a little room for improvement in some key areas.

    I noticed a number of people struggling with bags, boxes, and various forms of luggage when taking the station escalators, invariably blocking the path for others. I thought one solution could be to install a second, smaller moving track to one side of the escalator, where the handrail is. Slots in this track could be used to place bags when descending, freeing up space on the escala-tor while keeping luggage within arms reach. User feedback could help design the specifications of the track, such as ergonomics and size of bags.

    I know native New Yorkers have a certain affinity for reading train line maps, but for me they are utterly indecipherable. I saw several people staring at the wall map in vain, before giving up and finding an attendant or someone else to ask. One solution for the smartphone-enabled crowd could be to post a QR-code url on the wall with a You Are Here title. Surveying users to find points of confusion could help build a context-sensitive web map.

    Finally, when on the track itself, I observed some others lingering confusedly after their train had been delayed. The system would periodically play auto-mated alerts over the loudspeakers, but these were often garbled or hard to understand when in a crowd. There are monitors stationed by the track to show advertisements, and I think these could be easily repurposed to periodi-cally show delays and schedules, maybe color-coded for different user groups.

  • What if I began to select meals purely on a nutritional basis, not bothering with how things taste? How would that change my quality of life in the short term / long term?


  • How could online shopping better approach a physical browsing metaphor, as seen in retail stores?

  • Despite all their rich history, most people approach museums by simply browsing from exhibit to exhibit. How could an interactive installation make this more engaging?

  • What if my cat was old or disabled (instead of a rambunctious little bastard)? How does that change human relationships with pets, as caretakers?

  • What if I didnt have long walks in my daily commute? How would that change the rhythm of my life?