Parking Hell: How Bad Technology Choices and UX Design Ruined a County’s Public Attractions

Unfortunately for us all, bad UX design is everywhere in this day and age. From internet sites that hijack the scroll bar and stop you going back to games that sport badly designed menus and lack obvious accessibility features, it seems you’re constantly bumping into programs where the design team has put zero thought into how users actually use the thing in question, or how it factors into their day to day lives.

Fortunately, these issues usually affect services that can be done in another way, or random entertainment sites and apps you don’t actually ever really need.

But what if they didn’t? What if they affected your access to public parks and spaces instead?

What would that be like?

Well you can wonder no longer, since today I came across a car park app that’s not only badly designed in itself, but outright blocks car access for public parks and spaces for those driving the ‘wrong’ kind of vehicle too.

That app? RingGo, which is often used by a certain London borough for their car parks.

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Location details removed for obvious reasons.

And you don’t even need to install the bloody thing to start seeing the problems with it here. Because for reasons only the council knows, said app has now become the only way to pay for parking near attractions in the area.

Seriously, the machines are gone, and there are no assistants who can pay for your ticket manually. Instead, you just get this awkward looking sign telling you to install the app and pay from there.

Which is itself already bad design. Why? Because these machines are used in locations where internet access is already spotty, or where phones may necessarily be fully charged. Such as a country park or forest miles away from civilisation.

This means that anyone in said situations is just left utterly screwed. Now they’ve either got to go away and park somewhere else, or write down the app name, go back home, set up an account and pay from there before returning again to actually visit the place they want to visit. It’s ludicrous.

And it just gets more and more so when you realise what kind of audience is likely to be reading said sign. For instance, do you think the average person visiting a country park is a tech savvy individual? Or has experience with phones to have quick access to the app store and the know how to set up an account on the fly?

Nah, me neither. Hell, some of them may not even own a phone (or a smartphone), speak English or remember how their account was set up in the first place.

What’s more, even the ones who do understand the process likely aren’t going to go through it all at this time. Again, think about it. You’re a London based software engineer from Google/Facebook/wherever who decides to visit a country park with the kids and dog, and everyone’e excited to do whatever. Do you really want to be stuck there messing around with your phone for twenty minutes just to pay for the parking ticket?

Hell no. You want to press a few buttons, put the ticket down and get doing whatever you came there for. Like walking through a visit, having a picnic, visiting the cafe or going on the boating lake.

So no one wins here. Those are tech savvy get frustrated as they waste time fiddling around with tech on their day out, and those who aren’t spend hours on the phone with support asking how the basics work. It’s a clear example of tech being implemented for no reason other than ‘it looks cool’ with no regards being given to who actually has to use it and where.

Still, let’s say you’ve got through that, and installed the app. You’d think it’d be a simple process with a well designed interface, right?

Haha no. Instead, it’s a mess.

Starting with the whole account system that makes up the core of the app. You see, in a logical, well designed parking app, you don’t really need much information to make a purchase. You need the location you’re parking in, you need the vehicle registration number, and you need a way to enter payment details. That’s it. At its most basic level, it’s the kind of thing you could do with a simple web form.

But this parking system doesn’t work like that. Instead, you have to create an account to pay for a ticket altogether.

Which basically means going through a multi step form asking for a whole bunch of details just to get access to the page to buy the ticket. Or to get access to the account you previously set up (but don’t remember the details for) just to get access to the page to buy the ticket.

And it gets worse. Again, in a logical world, how do you think an account based car parking app handles multiple vehicles?

Answer? Probably via a little + button that lets you add multiple entries. That way, people and families with multiple cars can say which ones they’re buying tickets for at that time, and use it across multiple locations at once if different members are visiting different areas.

It’s simple really, and it’s the same way every other account based system handles multiple identities.

But not this one. Oh no, here it seems the designers failed to consider that people actually change their cars or have multiple vehicles, so the app has no way to handle them at all.

Instead, you have to outright delete your account to add a new vehicle. As in, delete the old account, then register a new one just to change the license plate number in the app.

It’s absurd, and if I didn’t see it myself, would sound like something you’d read about in a bad parody article. How could the designers be this incompetent? How could they genuinely forget that people change their car on a regular basis, or even have multiple vehicles per family?

Who knows. It’s incompetence like you’d never believe possible. Ah well, it can’t possibly get more ridiculous than this, right?

Right?

Wrong. Because when I called them up about the issues with the app, things took a really strange turn.

Basically, they said the kind of car I was using was ‘unsupported’ and that I’d have to park somewhere else.

No, I’m not making that up. Someone actually said the type of car I was using the wrong type of car for that parking spot, and that I should park somewhere else. You know, as if cars were internet browsers that wouldn’t run the required JavaScript or something.

It sounds like the setup for a Candid Camera prank. Or perhaps an Improv Anywhere sketch.

Honestly, I still wonder whether someone at the company was having a joke or something, since it sounds so utterly ridiculous.

Regardless, one deleted and reregistered account later, the details could finally be updated, and the ticket saved. What an utter joke of a process.

And it’s one UX designers can learn a lot from. In no particular order:

  1. Ask yourself whether you need technology for your usecase, and whether it appeals to the audience you’re targeting. In the case of this car park, a simple machine would have worked a lot better than a mobile app.
  2. Do market research to find out what your audience actually needs. In this case, a simple form for the license plate number and credit card details would have worked much better than a complex account system, and would have done the job in a much more efficient manner.
  3. Get real users to test your work, and use their experiences to improve the process. Just watching a few real people use this app would have shown its designers the design problems inherent in it right now, and given them the chance to fix it before the app went live to the public.
  4. Finally, stop making judgement calls about how your users want to use your services, and don’t tell them they can ‘only’ use said service with said piece of technology. This is 2019 not 1997, and a ‘best viewed in Netscape’ analogue isn’t necessary at all.

Do that, and you can make a system which is designed with the user in mind, not one that’s driven by tech for the sake of tech and held back by moronic middle managers and designers.

Thanks for reading!

Gamer, writer and journalist working on Gaming Reinvented.

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