Giving a Facelift to Chicago's Parking Meters

Re-visualizing an unorthodox process flow

The challenge

For a Communication Design course at IIT Institute of Design, I was tasked with rethinking what Chicago's street parking meters would look like, without changing the physical structure of their components.

This image shows the existing faceplate on the meters.

A subtle user flow

Based on the physical layout of the meter (its buttons, slots, and ticket/receipt dispenser), users are required to follow an unorthodox path to pay for their parking.

The first interaction (inserting payment) starts at the top-right of the meter.

Next, users move to the bottom-right of the device (adjusting payment amount).

Finally, they end at the middle-left of the meter (receiving their printed ticket and/or receipt).

At first blush, this might seem a bit odd to those in the West, where readers are accustomed to interactions that flow from left-to-right and to-to-bottom. That said, there is something of a clockwise flow of interactions in play.

Unfortunately, the parking meters' faceplates fail to make this evident.

When paying for parking, users are more or less up to their own patience and skill in deciphering the disconnected bits of information and jagged interaction flow. With this in mind, I set out to clarify the process.

The first draft: One step forward...

The design brief did not allow me to change the physical location of the meter's various buttons/receptacles. With this constraint at hand, I tried to simplify how information was being communicated to meter users.

After reviewing the types of information on the existing meter (and their assumed purpose), I grouped these details into six sections:

Payment info (#1)
Printing a receipt (#2)
Posting the receipt in one's car (#3)
Critical info (at the top)
Miscellaneous info (at the bottom)
Language details (alone at the top...)

To make it easier for users to understand how to use the meter, I numbered the steps involved in paying for parking and added guiding arrows.

However, there still wasn't a solid sense of flow -- there were too many visually-distracting areas competing for viewers' attention, and the poor language controls were also woefully unresolved.

Simplification and cleanup were needed!

The final redesign: A clearer flow

I addressed the overly-cramped feeling of the three payment steps by unboxing the elements within each section.

I also extended the borders of each step so that all three converged to create the feeling of a cohesive set of operations.

I reincorporated the language details beside the language control button, and I added a gray background to give prominence to the primary action areas.

The straight arrows from the first draft were changed into a circular forms to more gently guide users through the process of using the meter. I also changed their color from white to bright yellow to draw attention to the main steps in the process.

The redesign in the wild...

This comp shows the new faceplate in action.

The meter still looks dirty, but at least the user flow has been cleaned up!

If I were to go back and work more on this project, I'd like to bump up the hierarchy of the parking fee/duration details at the top-left, and adjust the text spacing at the top-right.

That said, I think this redesign would do a solid job of guiding Chicagoans and visitors alike through the parking payment process.