In 2011, I was working as a bicycle mechanic at OrangeBike, a rental shop in Amsterdam. I also had some web design experience. One day, the owner of the shop asked me to create a simple website to run on a touch screen monitor that he had purchased. The goal was to provide a way for customers to browse the shop’s services while they were waiting in line.
At the time, the process for renting a bike at OrangeBike was as follows: tourists would wait in line with nothing to do until they reached the clerk. At that point, they would be instructed to read the terms of rental, price list, and other information displayed on a large board behind the counter.
They would then have to fill out a paper form by hand, which could take some time and often resulted in questions from customers. After completing the form, they would be given a copy if they requested one, which was an additional task for the clerk to print.
Room for improvement
I saw an opportunity to use the touch screen monitor to improve the process for customers and clerks. By providing information and allowing customers to make their choices on the screen while they were waiting in line, I hoped to reduce the time required to complete the rental process and make it more efficient for both parties.
In addition, using a digital form would eliminate issues with illegible handwriting and allow the clerk to simply print a copy for the customer after the transaction was complete.
Since I had no UX experience at the time, I approached the project as a chance to “hack things up” and see what worked best. I connected the touch screen monitor to a PC and ran everything in a browser in full screen mode. To ensure that the system would restart automatically in the event of a power loss, I configured the Win XP startup process to boot directly into kiosk mode.
The touch screen was used as the GUI with action buttons, but for filling out the form, I decided to use a physical keyboard. I removed certain buttons (e.g. Esc) that could disrupt the process.
The website I created had a simple, linear process for customers to follow. They would first choose their language by pressing a flag button (we supported up to 7 languages at the time). Next, they would have to read the terms and conditions.
Then, they could select their bike type, duration, deposit type, and any accessories they wanted to add. After making their choices, they would see a summary and the total cost of their rental. Once they approved the order, the system would send the form to the printer for the clerk to print.
The digital system significantly improved the rental process for both customers and clerks. Customers were better informed and able to make their choices more quickly, and the clerk was presented with a printed, legible form and invoice after each transaction. Overall, service time was reduced and the process was more efficient.
After setting up the system, I returned to my bike repair tasks in the corner of the shop. This turned out to be a great opportunity to observe how tourists were interacting with the new digital experience.
At the time, smartphones like the iPhone had only been available for a couple of years, so many people were still getting used to using touch screens. I took note of any difficulties that customers had with the process and listened to the questions they asked the clerk afterwards. I was able to make changes after work and evaluate them the next day with fresh subjects.
Looking back, I realize that this might have been the purest UX design experience I have ever had. It was a lot of fun for sure.