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Parking, User Interface Design and Random Acts of Kindness

There is a car park in mid west Wales where I park fairly regularly.  I was sitting in the car next to a recently upgraded ticket machine.  The scene was like an sketch from a candid camera show.  This car park is used mainly by local people so they come prepared with the right money.  People would approach the machine with their money in an outstretched hand and pause a couple of meters from the machine, their jaws would drop in bewilderment and then they would take one of the following actions -

  • return to their car and drive off
  • crouch down in front of the machine and try to work it out
  • stare at the machine for several minutes, look around for help then return to their car and drive off
  • punch buttons at random

This is the machine in question:


The central bank of 37 buttons has the digits 0 through 9 followed by the alphabet listed A through Z with a delete key at the bottom of the second column.  There are additional silver, green and yellow buttons above this bank that do not have labels.

The text on the left of the machine tells you how to use the machine including what the unlabelled green and yellow keys are for.  This is a bilingual area and yellow key is quite important since it changes language.

The shiny buttons catch the sun and dazzle the user.  They also protrude which means that for a tall user the button text is obscured.  As a user interface design, this must be among the worst example out there.

However, I think there are more important points that this machine highlights.  The purpose of this machine is to enforce parking rule 1:


“Parking tickets are not transferable”.  Imagine if McDonalds instituted a similar rule – food is not transferable.  You can’t eat all your fries and give them to your kid.  The manager walks over to you and tells you that you and your child are to be prosecuted for stealing a meal.  I’m not clear under what moral principle that the use of the parking bay that I have purchased is confiscated.

But much more importantly, if you pay for parking time and do not use it all then you are prohibited from making an act of random kindness to a passing  stranger.  We should be encouraging random acts of kindness, we should be encouraging generosity of spirit and considerate regard for our fellow human beings.  Surely the loss of revenue is worth the smiles, the thanks, and the small increases in well-being created.

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