Design Critique: MTA Subway Time App

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MTA’s Subway Time smartphone application provides real-time arrival information for a select number of New York City subway lines. The app utilizes existing countdown clocks to display multiple arrivals for both directions of each line. Despite its limited functionality, Subway Time allows frequent riders to plan their commute. The design issues and proposed improvements highlighted in this critique would enhance current user experience and extend its use to those less familiar with the system.


Design Issue 1: App lacks signifiers instructing user how to choose departing station.

Once the user selects the desired subway line the app partially displays the entire list of stations from which the departing station is chosen. The user must then manually scroll through the list to find the station though there are no arrows or scroll bars to indicate the navigation.


Improvement 1: Add a search box as an affordance and gestures/controls to make navigation accessible and discoverable.

The addition of a search box will enable the user to quickly find the station with a partial entry. When there is a need to review the complete station list the screen can be “pinched” to reduce the text size and enable a quicker selection by showing more of the list at once. Additionally, an inertial scroll bar on the right can speed up the search.


Design Issue 2: Train directions are labeled differently than station and track signs.

The app displays arrivals for both directions on a single screen with each direction labeled for the last stop in the line. Although accurate, confusion may arise from the fact that subway stations are signed as “uptown” or “downtown” for northbound and southbound trains, respectively. Detailed knowledge of the semantics is required of both locals and non-locals.



Improvement 2: Enhance discoverability with stronger signifiers and graphics.

Include both names in the labels and consider adding a system or line map where beginning and ending stations are indicated.



Design Issue 3: Icons used are not clearly labeled.

The legend for the icons is on the first screen but most of the icons appear without explanation. As in the example below, arrival times appear with an asterisk but the user would need to go back to find the legend and meaning of the icon.


Improvement 3: Introduce a bottom bar to display icon legend on the screen where the icon appears.