GDES-315 spring 2016 · American University Design
Instructor: David Ramos (ramos@american.edu)

We interact with a variety of machines in the course of a day. Some of them are simple, like drinking fountains with one button to active water flow. Some, like Metro’s farecard vending machines, are far more complex, with designs shaped by historical engineering requirements and layers of unplanned growth.

Farecard machine under maintenance

Farecard machine under maintenance, by ep_jhu.

Imagine that we now have the chance to create new farecard vending machines. Study the way that people use the existing machines and report on their strengths, their failings, and any unmet needs or ideas you have for improvement. Plan a flow for the user, then create three paper prototype interfaces, each examining a different approach, and test these prototypes with people from outside of the class. On the basis of your findings and in-class critiques, create a final paper prototype and repeat the user testing.

Design for today’s world, with today’s mix of users and requirements. Machines should occupy the same footprint as the current machines, and should work with existing SmartTrip cards, credit cards, and currency. Use real-world technology.

Users should be able to:

Note: the “farecard” machines now no longer dispense farecards, only SmartTrip cards. Suggestions are open for what else to call the machines, and this project.


Phases of Work

1. Observation/research/reflection

In this phase, try to answer four questions: who uses these machines? how do people use the machines? what do different people need and expect? and how well do the machines serve those needs and expectations?

Research part 1: Start by using one of these machines yourself. Then observe people at the machines, watching for any differences between different users. Write a paragraph or two that summarizes your observations.

Research part 2: Interview friends and colleagues, asking not only what they think about the current machines, but what they expect from a machine. Prepare a one-page document that answers all four questions—the document can include text, diagrams, and images. Based on your findings, suggests areas for improvement.

2. Conceptual design

Think about how you would redesign the machines. Explore three or four approaches. For each idea, create a flowchart that maps out a user’s experience with the system; a drawing of the front of the machine; a sketch of a few major screens; and any other details or screens that you need to explain your draft idea. Your drawings do not need to be well resolved – they just need to explain how the machine should work.

3. Design development

Create one final proposed redesign, drawing on what you have learned from user testing and critiques. Fill out the remaining screens and interactions.

Test your design with users. Find friends, relatives, or colleagues – two to four people will do fine. Test the paper prototypes against these people, and observe the results.

4. Documentation

Produce a documentation booklet with screen mockups, diagrams, and notes.


Present your work as a 17×11 in. (landscape) booklet, printed and as a PDF, and an interactive prototype (which need not be digital).



On reserve in library