citizenrod bad design goals transport ticket system
citizenrod bad design goals transport ticket system

Personally, I think the Opal system is fantastic. Pay for what you use, nothing else, and you don’t even need to think about it (sort of). I remember having to figure out how many sectors I was going to travel, then trying to figure out how much I needed to pay, all the while hoping I didn’t get it wrong and subsequently get caught by the inspector. And of course there were times when I “accidentally” didn’t pay enough for the length of my travel…oops!

If you come from the time of buying tickets, or dipping your travel10, then it is most likely you see the Opal system as an improvement, as I do.

But, there is a problem.

I don’t call these articles ‘Bad Design’ for nothing.

Now like most things, you will never get them 100% right the first time, or the second, or the third, or the…. Great ideas, products, and processes take time to develop. The Opal system is no different. So yes, bad design, but can always be improved.

The problem with the Opal system, is that the user’s goals are not aligned to the system’s goals. Let me explain.

Let us look at the task of getting on the bus.

Getting on the bus, steps and goals:

  • the user’s goal is to get on the bus
  • cultural constraints tell the user, that in order get on the bus, they need to pay
  • as soon as the user boards the bus, he sees the bus driver; the bus driver represents the authoritative figure which stands in the way of the goal
  • the user understands that payment must be made to be allowed through
  • the user makes the payment, be it with cash or with an Opal card
  • the bus driver allows passage
  • the user boards the bus, and the goal is achieved


There is absolutely no problem with the user’s 1st goal of ‘getting on the bus’, and the system’s goal of ‘collecting money’ for the service.

Now let us look at the 2nd goal, getting off the bus:

  • the user’s goal is to get off the bus at the correct location
  • the user’s focus is on determining where they are geographically, and how close they are to their destination
  • again culture dictates, that in order to get off the bus at the next stop, the bell must be rung
  • the user identifies his location, determines his exit point will be the next bus stop, and subsequently rings the bell
  • the bus stops
  • the user gets off
  • and the goal of ‘getting off the bus’ is achieved


Oh no, I forgot to Tap Off!

citizenrod bad design goals transport ticket

But how can you forget to tap off? There are signs all over the place. “Remember to tap off” “Remember to tap off” “Remember to tap off” … it’s everywhere! Yet people still forget to tap off.

The reason is simple.

The user’s goals are not inline with the system’s goals. There is a goal gap.

The user is focused on getting off the bus. Not paying for the service. That goal was achieved at the beginning (as far as they are concerned), when they initially boarded.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between the goals, the system’s solution is to plaster instructions all over the place, in the bus and at bus stops. But even with so many signs in the user’s face, the user still forgets.

When instructions need to be splashed everywhere, it is a sign of bad design. Designers should try to use all other means possible to align goals, and only use instructions as a last resort, or when the task is complicated.

Yes compromises need to be made, and yes this is a new system which requires learning. But the fact is, it is a simple task, and I’m sure it can be improved.

So get your thinking caps on and get working on Opal 2.0.

Citizenrod art design think

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