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This chapter is from the book

Step 1: Who?

Your first impulse, of course, is to bring up Xamarin and start dragging and dropping components onto the design surface. I hope this book has shown you that that’s wrong. That’s what the MBTA’s developers probably did when they wrote this app, and look where it got them: publicly hammered in this book. Let’s run the Platt UX Protocol on it and see where it takes us.

To begin: Who rides the commuter rail in Boston? What’s our potential user population? Your immediate response is to shout, “Everyone; it’s public transport.” But you should know better than that by now.

The basic demographic information is easy to find. A quick search on the MBTA’s Web site for the term advertising gave me the contact info for the company that manages the advertisements on the T’s vehicles and stations. I emailed them for a customer kit about advertising on commuter rail and received it within the hour. It contained the basic demographics we need to get started. You can see an excerpt in Figure 8.5.

Figure 8.5

Figure 8.5 Media kit with commuter rail demographics. (Courtesy of MBTA)

Commuter rail riders are just about evenly divided in gender, 52% male and 48% female. Commuter rail passengers skew older than the general populace. The largest single cohort is age 45 to 54, constituting 30% of ridership. Seventy-three percent of riders are age 35 or older. We could speculate that’s because younger people don’t move out to the suburbs until they marry and need room for the second kid and the swing set and the golden retriever. So no, it’s not everyone. Our user population contains very few kids, and not many millennials. Our users didn’t grow up with smartphones. They are not the kinds of people who say, “Way cool” when they see, for example, Snapchat. They will always speak geek with an accent.

Well, if they’re that old, do they use smartphones at all? Are we barking up the wrong tree completely with the notion of any smartphone app? Fortunately, no. A quick Google search finds the Boston Globe’s coverage of the MBTA ticketing app initial rollout, reporting that 76% of commuter rail riders carry smartphones. That was written in 2012, and I doubt the percentage has gone down since then. We have market penetration, if we can provide customers with what they need.

Now that we have basic information about our user population—evenly split in gender, but skewing older and hence less technophilic—let’s create personas to communicate that information to our development team. I worked up two personas, one who travels every workday and one who travels occasionally.

Claire (Figure 8.6) lives in Salem, Massachusetts. (You can download her full persona from this book’s Web site.) She’s 42, divorced, with three kids (16, 14, nine) still at home. She works at Massachusetts General Hospital as a respiratory therapy aide, on a regular eight-to-four weekday schedule. She depends on commuter rail to get herself to work every day. Commuting on buses and the subway would take her three times as long, and those kids of hers don’t leave her a free minute. Driving in Boston’s killer traffic at those peak times would be awful. And parking downtown costs $30 a day, which would take a huge bite out of her $18-per-hour pay.

Figure 8.6

Figure 8.6 Claire, who rides the MBTA commuter rail every day to work in Boston.

Claire drives to the Salem commuter rail station every day and takes the 6:43 a.m. train to North Station, arriving at 7:18. She then walks or takes a shuttle bus to Mass General. She likes to take the 4:20 p.m. train home, arriving at 4:53, but often she can’t get out from work in time. Then she takes the 4:45 train, arriving at 5:16. She knows the train times very well because she takes the train every day.

Her biggest headache is when the train schedule gets disrupted. It’s not just snow—lightning, construction, the old equipment breaking down, vehicle accidents at a grade crossing; anything can mess it up. She doesn’t know when she has to get to the station, or when to tell her family she’ll be home.

Claire pays her fare with a monthly pass. Her employer kicks in 25% of it as a fringe benefit. Her phone is a four-year-old Android on a T-Mobile family plan because it’s cheap.

For our second persona, I need to tell you of a Boston legend. A hypothetical man on Boston-area transit is always named Charlie, harking back to the Kingston Trio’s 1959 smash hit “Charlie on the MTA,” a song about a rider who never returned. Google it; it’s good.

Charlie (Figure 8.7) lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the same rail line as Claire, another half-hour farther out. (You can also download his persona from this book’s Web site.) He is 56 and married, one child graduated from college and another halfway through, but he hasn’t downsized his house yet. He is a higher-end computer consultant who sometimes works with clients in downtown Boston.

Figure 8.7

Figure 8.7 Charlie, who rides the MBTA commuter rail into Boston 25 or 30 times per year. (Photo by redjar on Flickr)

Charlie makes 25 or 30 trips per year on commuter rail. They tend to come in bunches, perhaps four trips this week and three the next, followed by several months with none. His billing rate is high enough that he could afford to drive and park in Boston, but the traffic drives him batty. He’d have to leave his house at 5:00 a.m. to beat it, and his clients don’t usually like to start that early. He’s happy to ride the train, drink coffee, listen to classical music on his iPod, and review the upcoming day’s material on his MacBook Air. On the way home, he turns off his phone and reads a book, sometimes drinking a beer (which the conductors wink at if he keeps it in a paper bag).

He drives from his house to the commuter rail station in Ipswich. He usually takes the 7:13 a.m. train in, arriving at North Station at 8:10. He then walks or takes the subway to his client. His default return trip leaves at 5:15 p.m., arriving at 6:07. But sometimes he finishes earlier and catches an earlier train. And sometimes he has to work later, or stay in town to socialize with clients, and catches a later train. He can’t remember the train times from one trip to the next because he doesn’t take trains frequently enough.

Charlie usually has to buy his tickets aboard the train for cash. There’s no store near his house that sells them, and no vending machine at his station. That means he has to remember to stop at the ATM and take out a $20 bill every day for his round trip. The conductor punches out a paper ticket and gives him $1.50 change. (How nineteenth century.) He has to keep the paper receipt for his expenses and manually enter it into Quicken. He could buy several from the ticket window at the main station when he gets in, but waiting in that line at rush hour is way more trouble than it’s worth.

Charlie always carries the latest iPhone from Apple. He justifies the cost by saying he has to project a tech-savvy image to his clients. But he really just likes Apple stuff. He won’t camp out on the sidewalk the night before a new release, but he will pre-order it from Apple’s Web site.

Note that neither of our personas is a tourist or a foreign visitor, someone new to Boston. If we were dealing with buses and subways, we would definitely want to include them. But commuter rail reaches a very different audience—more homogeneous, more suburban, more repetitive. (It also makes this example much easier.)

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