KOR_SEL_ADI_Younghee_0006

Obvious physical constraints

Many countries utilize RFID cards at high way tollgates, ranging from free passes with which cars can simply drive through the gates, to transportation or credit cards. Replacing cash transactions alone can speed up the process of passing through the tollgate.

This tollgate in Seoul, on the way to Incheon airport, had 3 card scanners each accommodating the different height of the driver seat. Designers must have gone through several options before deciding on this solution: A stronger scanner? Material and manufacturing cost of the machine? Off-the-shelf components available on the market? Ergonomics of the driver reach on different vehicle types? Maintenance cost? Variations in the usage contexts where the scanner should be installed and used?

Cash is an incredible medium that has lived through centuries in human lives to facilitate exchange of values. Any attempts to replace cash were accompanied by the heavy investment in the infrastructure over a long period of time, such as transaction terminals that suit various contextual and business requirements. Similar to any communication technology where the real value is in exchanges among people, it could move very slowly till the minimal size of ‘majority’ starts to get equipped with the tool and people get convinced that there is a clear benefit for conversion.

This slow change, in turn, could also result in intermediate technology solution in order to accommodate the existing human processes. For instance this signature pad has become a very common tool at the checkout using credit cards in South Korea. This replaces a printed receipt for getting the customer’s signature for the shop to keep. The credit card payer signs on the pad and gets the final receipt with the signature captured on the pad printed on it, typically in low resolution. This allows the shop to keep the transaction record electronically, which simplifies the process of bookkeeping. Is this working better than ‘Chip & Pin’, requiring a 4-digit personal code with IC chip embedded on the card as is widespread in UK? Advantages and disadvantages are different between the two methods, but I guess that’s beside the point. South Koreans opted for a technology solution that produces an equivalent outcome to an existing process: a printed receipt with personal signature, while being able to record the data digitally at the same time.

The signature pads I have tried invariably made me write my signature distorted or cut due to the inadequate feedback and lack of personal calibration (I was not exactly given a practice run either), or simply I started with the wrong size for the given space. So most of the times, I get a receipt with my signature printed too small, too big, unrecognizable, or incomplete. Does this matter? In theory yes, but in practice no. People have embraced the ineffectiveness, the defect of the technology tool because it still allows them to comply with the existing rule and process to a degree.

In India, I sometimes have to hand over my credit card to my driver (yes, I have to rely on a driver to live in Bangalore) for transactions. First time I got the receipt with no signature, I asked him “Don’t I need to sign this?” His answer was clear and simple as he started the engine: “Anyone can sign.” A similar attitude, but a different behavioral solution from the South Korean example.

Will either of these solutions prevail in the future? I would say yes, until the evidences of failure becomes apparent to the majority. We are, after all, humans who embrace mistakes and learn from them. But still – can we really design for adoption, abuse, appropriation and degeneration? Is it a matter of trying, an attitude? This is an increasingly relevant topic for my work these days. If you are involved in designing an infrastructural service that will have to transcend time, space and a large body of population, the cost of ‘we will iterate the design after we deploy it and get the feedback’ can be huge, if not leading to the failure altogether. It becomes critical that the patch tests of contextual validation trigger a wide variety of scenarios to consider, for policy creation, changing the existing process (gradually), training personnels, and establishing the word-of-mouth concept propagation message – including the potential ‘myth’.

Bonus: The new equipment invested is a chance to add on other features. The highway tollgate receipt comes with advertisement and coupons; POS system with the signature pad often comes with a screen facing customers that play ad videos.

2 thoughts on “Obvious physical constraints

Leave a Reply