When the new CineBowl/IMAX theater opened up on main street, everybody wanted to go see a movie and see what it was like. My friends and I decided on a whim to go see Mad Max: Fury Road on a Tuesday evening when we all happened to be free, so we headed to the theater to get tickets at the door. However, they had no ticket booth out front like most theaters do. Instead, they had 3 or 4 kiosks of what were essentially ticket ATMs: a touchscreen interface on a ticket dispenser machine. As with using any new technology for the first time, there was a learning curve to navigating through the interface to buy tickets, especially the part where you had to select your assigned seat(s). Even though we weren’t going to see a sold-out show, we still were required to select specific seats. Additionally, there was no indication of how the seats were oriented, so you were uncertain if you chose a seat at the front of the theater or the back. In order to speed up the process, each person in our group went to a different kiosk to get their ticket and we met at the entrance to the theater only to discover that we had purchased seats all over the theater.
A few from my group had picked seats in the back while others had chosen front seats, so we were forced to sit separately for the duration of the movie.
Activities – waiting in line, purchasing tickets
Environment – movie theater lobby, theater room, ticket-purchasing interface
Interactions – navigating through the purchasing system, selecting seats, navigating through the theater room
Objects – ticket kiosk
Users – anyone who wants to buy a ticket to see a movie at the IMAX theater in Blacksburg (and possibly many other theaters in the country)
Honestly, I would ditch the kiosks altogether. I’d rather buy my ticket from a ticket booth and select my seat when I walk into the theater.
However, in the spirit of redesigning an experience: the seat-selecting interface was entirely too vague. I read the diagram as left-to-right, which led to the assumption that the screen was to the left, while others read it the opposite way. I would redesign the seat selecting process to include a more complete, labeled diagram of the theater so that users are aware of the environment around their seat. This is especially important because the ticket kiosks remove the user from being able to select their seats in person. I would emphasize the orientation of the screen to the seats to highlight the optimal viewing spots in the theater. Also, I would add reprioritize the seating so that the first users to buy tickets for a particular show could only select middle seats, and then fill them out to the aisles. This avoids the issue of having a single seat open between two large groups, which typically remain unfilled. Finally, I would add a group-purchasing option, where a group of size N can purchase N tickets in adjacent seats while still following the center-to-edge filling technique. The purchasing would all be done from a single kiosk and the payment divided by N so that N people buying tickets still only use a single kiosk.
Initially, thinking of the solution to this problem was a simple task. My only problem was that I had difficulty reading a seating diagram. However, the more I thought about the process of redesigning the diagram, the more problems arose. There are several things the user loses when they use a screen to select their seat instead of walking into a theater and sitting down. For example, a diagram has no way of telling you if you are selecting a seat behind a really tall guy, or next to a loud family, or close to a guy that looks and smells like he’s homeless. These are things that need to be experienced in person in order for people to get the most out of their movie-watching experience. In my mind, the kiosks are an example of over-engineering a process that already worked well, or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.