Consistent Boxes and Buses
Design principle: Consistency and Standards
According to the concepts page: “Consistency and Standards refers to the idea that products our to be consistent with industry standards and with other versions of the product (on different platforms, for example). Sometimes these two different types of consistency can come in conflict and designers will have to choose whether to prioritize consistency with the industry or consistency with other version of the product.”
A box of Rice Krispies exemplifies the principle of consistency and standards. The name of the cereal is on every side of the box, so that the purchaser or user knows exactly what he or she is getting. The nutrition facts are easy to find on the side of the box, and it is clear where the box opens and how to retrieve the cereal from inside the box. This box of cereal is designed very similarly to most other boxes of cereal, in keeping with industry standards. Furthermore, the box is an “insert tab to close” box, which is not only consistent with other cereals but is also extremely common in the packaging of other types of food, making this cereal box consistent with an even wider industry.
An artifact that violates the principle of consistency and standards is the Short Line Bus Service. When you purchase a ticket, the bus service sends you an “e-Ticket”. For almost all other transportation companies, an “e-Ticket” is a real ticket. In the case of Bolt Bus, Megabus, and Amtrak trains e-Tickets can be redeemed directly at the bus or train either by showing the ticket on a smartphone, or by showing a printed copy of the e-Ticket. Greyhound requires the user to print out their e-Ticket, and present it at the gate. Short Line completely defies industry standards and consistency. Once an e-ticket is purchased, the ticket needs to be printed out. Then, the purchaser needs to take that ticket and redeem it in exchange for a physical ticket at a station at the bus terminal. This violation of consistency, combined with the confusing nature of terming the voucher an e-Ticket, resulted in a number of people on the bus line attempting to turn in their e-Tickets and being rejected by the bus that they had paid for. The e-ticket does include instructions, but the consistent use of the term e-ticket across the rest of the transportation industry results in confusion. This mistake is something that may be considered a “user error” by the Short Line transportation system but is in actuality a result of their failure to follow the principle of consistency and standards. Additionally, Short Line tickets are not purchased for a specific time, which is also inconsistent with other transportation tickets and results in confusion. This issue also leads to some buses being practically empty and to the bus company needing to charter extra buses when too many people show up for a specific bus.
The ticket can be redesigned to conform to industry standards. It includes the same information as the other ticket, but also has a QR code and the specific time at which the ticket is valid. This will allow for users to present their tickets directly, either in print or on their smartphones. It will also eliminate confusion over bus times. One advantage of the initial Short Line system over other bus systems is that tickets are always available. This can be maintained even if tickets are sold for specific times, as smaller buses can be used when fewer tickets are bought for a specific time and multiple buses can be chartered ahead of time if there is high demand. This is how Short Line can distinguish its design from the other transportation systems in a positive way, while also increasing its own efficiency and decreasing its own costs.
Photo of consistent cereal box and former and redesigned ticket here