Observation: turnstiles

Observation – Pick a piece of interactive technology in public, used by multiple people. Write down your assumptions as to how it’s used, and describe the context in which it’s being used. Watch people use it, preferably without them knowing they’re being observed. Take notes on how they use it, what they do differently, what appear to be the difficulties, what appear to be the easiest parts. Record what takes the longest, what takes the least amount of time, and how long the whole transaction takes. Consider how the readings from Norman and Crawford reflect on what you see.

Turnstiles have been catching my attention since I arrived to NYC. In different shapes and sizes, and all over the place, a diversity of bodies are always trying to fit in those equipments as fast as they can. The most common use in my everyday life is on the subway, and I have seen and experienced many different situations with them.

First of all, a turnstile is a barrier equipment, so it is made to be difficult to go through unless you pay or show your ID. That said, this is not supposed to be the most pleasant of experiences, which means that sometimes it will be very difficult to go through, specially if you are carrying anything a big bigger than a backpack.

Some people struggle for a fraction of second to figure out how the turnstile work, specially figuring out in which side should the card be. But, bodies are often used to passing through those devices, and the design most of the times gives the user enough clues to how it works, so I didn’t see anyone having a lot of trouble except when carrying too many bags or a suitcase. Moreover, the turnstiles in NYC subway are larger than the ones in Brazilian buses, so I decided to take a bus to observe how people’s bodies respond to it – to discover there is no turnstile in the buses, at least not in the line I got.

While carrying large items, people often have to get creative so they can get it through the top or bottom of the equipment. I was wondering how people would do with bikes, and the only person I saw carrying one swiped his card, got in without the bike, and came back through the emergency exit to get it. I didn’t get to see any person in a wheelchair, but I believe the process must be similar.

I believe the biggest problem I have experienced with that equipment in MTA is the “security” system to guarantee you are paying for your ticket. I have been, and have seen many people being, locked out of the station when entering the wrong side and trying to get to the right one again. That can be really frustrating, since you have to wait 18 minutes before you can get in again.

In other facilities, such as Bobst library, people seem to struggle the most with knowing which of the doors will open, since the design doesn’t give you as many clues.

I always feel very aware of my body whenever I am in a turnstile, but at the same time it feels so natural that I don’t even think about what I am doing. So I enjoy observing this, because it is designed to have direct physical interaction with human bodies in wide diversity, which is a huge challenge.

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