Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Current State of the Art

The MBTA already has a mobile app for buying tickets. The T made a great fuss over its introduction in late 2012, as the first such app in the nation. When we start examining it, we see that it doesn’t help our users solve their own problems anywhere near as well as it could and should.

The home screen (Figure 8.1) is terrible. Most of its area is wasted. The top third shows what some graphic designer probably considered a pretty picture. The designers probably think of it as “our branding.” The bottom third is completely blank.

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1 MBTA mobile app home screen with wasted space and no functionality at all.

We can’t do anything at all on the home screen. We have to leave it to accomplish anything—view a schedule, buy a ticket, see alerts that might affect our commute. They’re squandering the most precious resource in any mobile app, a resource that could have helped us accomplish something that we actually cared about. Instead, they’ve given us a picture, a blank space that sort of balances it visually, and no functionality whatsoever. I suspect it’s the art major’s revenge for all those jokes ending, “Would you like fries with that?”

The purchasing and displaying of a ticket works not too badly, once you navigate to it from the home screen. Figure 8.2 shows the process. We select the stations by typing in the first few letters, and auto-complete (good) narrows the list. The app retains our most recent selection at the top of the list (also good), because almost everyone on commuter rail uses the same stations repeatedly (Figure 8.2a). We type in our credit card number, which it also remembers for the next time (also good), and the transaction is consummated (Figure 8.2b). When we’re ready to ride, we tap a button to activate the ticket. It then flashes the color code of the day so the conductor knows it’s valid. It also has a button that shows a bar code for readers that conductors might someday start carrying (Figure 8.2c).

Figure 8.2

Figure 8.2 MBTA mobile app ticket purchase—not too bad.

Because it works not too badly once you get to it, we won’t discuss the ticket purchase portion of this app very much. However, even with all the data it remembers, we still have to type in our credit card CVV number every time. This app is most commonly used by occasional riders, who will not have that memorized—monthly pass buyers with auto-renewal don’t need it. Occasional users now have to juggle their phones and wallets and credit cards in a crowded public place, which is uncomfortable, or think ahead, which no human in the universe ever does about anything. Adding an Instant Purchase button for each recent trip at the top of Figure 8.2a, similar to Amazon’s 1-Click purchase, would smooth this out even more, especially since commuters almost always travel the same route.

The app fails miserably at the greater need of commuter rail riders: accurate and timely schedule information. Again, the home screen contains no information whatsoever about schedules. If we want to see a schedule, we have to go through three steps: tapping Schedules on the home page, which then takes us to a screen where we are offered the choice between Schedules and Alerts (Figure 8.3a). The app is saying, “I know you selected Schedules, but did you really want Schedules?” After tapping Schedules again, we have to choose the line for which we want the schedule (Figure 8.3b). Only then will it show us a schedule in an ugly format that is very hard to read (Figure 8.3c).

Figure 8.3

Figure 8.3 Schedules are difficult to find, then difficult to read once we’ve found them.

Alerts, whatever they might be, do not appear as an option on the home page. We have to somehow intuit their existence and go digging—tap Schedules, then tap Alerts (Figure 8.3a), then look at our line to see if it has any (Figure 8.4a). The green check mark would seem to indicate that everything is OK, but despite this indicator, the Lowell line has one Upcoming alert and one Ongoing alert. (What the hell is the difference between Upcoming and Ongoing? I can’t tell, and when I look at the contents of each, they appear to be identical.)

Figure 8.4

Figure 8.4 We have to select the alert for our line.

If something is important enough to be called an alert (“an alarm or other signal of danger”), it surely shouldn’t be buried four screens deep, should it? And isn’t an “ongoing alert” a contradiction in terms? Once we look at the alert, we can see that it often impacts the schedule; note the two canceled trains (Figure 8.4b). Burying this information four levels deep ensures that no one will ever see it—exactly the opposite of what alerts are for.

The developers of the schedule portion of this app did not apply the skills that they (sort of) demonstrated in the ticket purchase portion. They didn’t work from the users’ perspective. They just took their paper schedules and tossed them into an app, with the awful results you would expect from such an unthinking approach.

The user has to do far more work than she should have to. The app doesn’t make use of the knowledge it has about the user, or about the repetitive nature of the commuter rail relationship. The developers are saying, “Hey, it’s your job to do all this work.” Maybe that attitude was acceptable a decade ago, but it sure isn’t today. If a student of mine turned in something like this, I’d flunk him so fast he’d switch his major to English.

We can do a whole lot better by following the Platt UX Protocol, putting ourselves in the users’ shoes. Once we think about who the users really are and what these users actually need, we can select the items of information most relevant to them, here and now, and present them clearly and easily. That will turn this commuter rail app from a brick into an indispensable everyday aid.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020