As a UX designer, I'm acutely aware of how experiences are designed in all environments, not just in the digital space but also as a service or as a part of an environment as well. So when I was making may way through the new Oculus station the other day, dodging tourists stopping to take pictures like I was in a pinball machine, I came across one of the stupidest, but simplest UX fails.
First, a bit of context, I've lived in New York for more than a dozen years and have been to this particular station a couple of times recently but I'm not super familiar with the ins and outs. Its newly opened and still under construction, and its sprawling. So when I found myself trying to make my way from the R train at Cortland to the Path train at the WTC station to attend this meet up in Hoboken I had a basic idea of where I was going, but still managed to get lost twice just trying to find the PATH train entrance, despite asking authorities for directions (granted, they gave pretty crappy directions).
The transit hub for the WTC station, known as the Oculus, was designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava, a visionary designer known for his eye catching and absurdly expensive buildings. The Oculus was budgeted for 2 billion, and wound up costing closer to 3.8B, and finished 7 years later than expected. While the building is commanding and fierce: from the outside it resembles a whale skeleton picked clean, its pointy scaffolding bones threatening to puncture nearby building exteriors; but the inside is equally eye catching, with its all white, modern cathedral feel. The mall in between the various entrances to the subway and PATH train is half-filled with high end vendors like John Varvatos, Kate Spade, and Apple, and still under construction.
So when I finally made it to the PATH entrance, a train I rarely take, I first tried to load credit on my Metrocard, which is apparently a no-go unless you already have a PATH card, which I don't. So I spotted two PATH card machines: one that sold a dozen round trips and another that sold a single round trip ticket for $5.50, cash only. Being a millennial that almost never carries cash (I need my airline points) I desperately checked my wallet and found I only had $2.50. There was a Chase ATM next to the PATH machine, and it was one of the new ones so I thought I could get tens. But alas, the machine only dispensed twenties, and the PATH machine only accepted ones and fives. Even worse, the new Chase ATM machines have a terrible user experience: the poor interaction flows require the user to confirm EVERY decision. Asking inane questions like "We see you've chosen English, are you sure you'd like to proceed?" I mean I get that this is a highly international area, but let's not treat the edge case as the primary case, okay? Refer to Alan Cooper, who says you should always create an undo route rather than constantly asking for confirmations of all actions. And please, stop asking the user dumb questions: they should be able to trust their own judgement when making non life-and-death decisions like 'do I want a receipt or not?'
So here I was, impotently standing there with twenty dollars in my hand I couldn't even use. I searched desperately around for a place to get change. I asked a couple of security guards where I could possibly get change, one of whom suggested the Apple store. I looked at him in disbelief. "Really?! The Apple store is gonna have a cash register with small bills just waiting for 'NO SALE' to be pushed?" He smiled, paused and said, "okay, you could go back up to the street and find a hot dog vendor to ask." Now, if you're not from NYC you may not realize that hot dog vendors are not exactly the most accommodating people in general, but especially when it comes to asking for change without buying something. Moreover, I was three levels underground, and the fact that THIS was the closest source of change was absurd.
The fact was this: I had given myself plenty of time to get to an event, and yet spent over half an hour looking for the right entrance, finding the right machines, and I still had withdrawn money I couldn't even use for a machine that was directly next to the ATM. I'm standing in this beautiful building that was designed with pure majesty, but no intimacy or practicality into how the space would actually be used. The use case I'm describing surely must happen 100 times a day, but no one had seemed to notice. So rather than continuing my frantic search for singles while clutching a useless Andrew Jackson, when at this point I was already late to my event, I gave up. Going to Jersey is just never worth that much hassle and headache. So I spent my twenty bucks on beer and cheese and ate until my rage subsided.
All of this suffering may not have been Calatrava's fault, but I'm just going to pretend that it is. Bad UX needs a face to shake my angry fist at.