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UK train ticket redesign

The background to this

The information design geek in me took special notice of this post by Daniel Gray, about the excessive number of train tickets he received for a return journey. I was beaten to a visual response by a follow-up from Neil Martin with a solution to fit everything onto a single ticket.

existing train ticket design

My version of events

For my attempt I’ve attached a number of rationale:

  • complex route (from my local station to the furthest significant point I could think of – apologies to those in Penzance)
  • involves using London Underground system
  • assumed the customer has specified the times they want to travel (the cheaper option)

simplified uk train ticket design

Unlike Neil’s solution, the purpose of this design isn’t to get all the information into a single ticket, but to make the information on the ticket more useful to the customer and to provide some useful additional information.

To this end, you’ll see from the design that I’ve split it between what the customer needs to know, and the stuff that is for staff to check. Because staff of the rail companies look at these every day, they will soon become familiar with finding the information they need to check.

An equivalent ticket would be produced for the return journey, so whilst it’s not as environmentally sound as a single ticket for the whole journey, it is (I hope) more logical.

Simpler versions

The example shown above is a sort of ‘worst case’ to show how the design would cope with a lot of information on it. The two images below show more realistic situations:

A booked return between two stations

simplified uk train ticket design for fixed time

An off-peak ticket

simplified uk train ticket design off peak

Let′s discuss: leave a comment and see where the conversation goes





Comments on | UK train ticket redesign

  • Pete says:

    I like the idea but I think for it to be viable you need to:

    1. Include start date, valid date, route etc.

    2. Try and do it with a machine dot matrix font and the limitations of the printing devices. Otherwise ALL the ticket machines will also need to be replaced.

    Cracking idea though. Even for just a simple, no change, return journey I had 6 bits of card to fumble through recently.

  • Robert says:

    Thanks Pete

    I’m getting lots of good feedback on this, so I’m going to create a Version 2, and would be interested in clearing a couple of things up. In my thinking, the start date/valid date is accommodated in the top right corner, and the route is as listed by the stops. I’d certainly be pleased to hear if your interpretation of these is different.

    With regard to the fonts, I’ll certainly give them a go. If I can make it work with them, it may make it more of a design solution than a concept.

  • Neil Martin says:

    Really like this, Robert. I’d say it’s a great update to the current ticket! A few things grab my attention.

    1) Let’s see you write Liverpool Lime Street as the destination. Not sure there’s enough room, but I’m being a bit mean as I’d have no problems with it being shortneed to LPL Lime Street, similarly with other stations.

    2) Platforms are a great idea, but platforms are subject to change after the ticket has been printed, making that particular bit of information useless, unfortunately. I totally agree it’s a great piece of information, just not one for a ticket unfortunately!

    3) I really like your addition of tube trains. A great idea and one which wasn’t part of my own plan.

    4) What happens if this ticket is an open return? i.e. bought on 30th June, but can be used until 30th July? Return tickets need a start and end date, but your ticket only has a start date currently. Something to think about.

    5) This is site-related, but when I clicked on your “2 comments” link at the bottom, it didn’t bring me back up the page. I clicked about five times before realising where the comment box was!

    Nice to see other people redesigning the tickets. I’ve already tweeted your post.

  • Rick Seymour says:

    The orange tabs could be used more productively
    .

    For example merge Ticket Type and larger type into one and place on the top bar

    Then
    Adult/Child + Class on the bottom.

    PS Agree with Neil on the comment link.. you need a named anchor

  • Gail Knight says:

    This is great! I actually quite like the existing tickets, but mostly as they’re iconic, and you’ve kept that stripey orange aspect. Yours is definitely an improvement.

    First thing – I get confused even with journey planners whether the station listed is the one I’m leaving or going to – so it’d be immediately more obvious if you could fit a ‘From’ or ‘Leaving from’ as a column heading – especially as you’ve got ‘To’ at the top, but then the rest are ‘from’.

    I’m not saying I couldn’t figure it out! But it would require less thought.

    I like how much helpful info for the passengers you’ve got in there – the Tube bit makes me a bit nervous for some reason – I think because I find the rules confusing. Basically, the Northern Line route is a suggestion, not a rule – you can go other routes if you prefer. It’d be good to indicate that.

    You’re probably right though – it’s more useful for the majority to be told the quickest route, than worry about ‘the rules’.

    LOVE the off-peak times!
    Can’t wait for version 2!

  • Pete says:

    I think the Start Date and Valid Date(s) could be different things though. You may just need to accommodate a date range up there which might work.

    Am I correct in thinking that some tickets allow you to go from point A to point B using whichever trains you wish? In which case the list of trains on the ticket is moot. Not sure if this is correct or whether it would even make a difference really but might be worth a thought.

    One also needs to consider how, for mulit-part journeys, a ticket inspector could mark each part of the journey. Currently they clip each ticket so perhaps it could be as simple as clipping the appropriate line for that segment of the trip.

    In answer to the long station names, perhaps a system akin to that used for airports would be suitable. However, this is obfuscating the info a bit so may just end up defeating the object.

    I’m definitely interested in seeing the next iteration!

  • Stephen says:

    It’s already possible for train conductors to print itemised journeys on ticket stock from their machines (obviously you have to ask for them though).

  • Antonio says:

    I’ll echo the thoughts of other commenters and add that this design looks good on screen but try printing it.

    The edges of the letters on your design are very crisp but when printed you can expect the ink to bleed and so you’d very very blurry words.

    With that said good to see some thought going into a redesign

  • Tom says:

    Think tickets need to be clearer about which company they can be used with, if it’s a chiltern or virgin only service then the ticket should clearly indicate. Perhaps even with the company logo/favicon in the corner.

  • Stuart says:

    Clarity of tickets would be very welcome. When I’ve been issued with 12 of them for a return journey they all look the same and I have to constantly put in effort to work out which one is which.

    Your suggestion has some nice ideas. I agree that making it work within the limitations of the printers they use would be good. I also agree that the platform number, whilst a great idea, would be useless in practice as they change them too much.

    Would this ticket also do the job of the seat reservation ticket? It would be nice if there was a way to include bicycle reservations for the journey too.

    For the Young Person’s Railcard (and other rail card tickets) it would be very useful to indicate that it was only valid if the rail card is too. I’ve seen a few people caught out by not having their rail card with them on the train. I guess this probably comes under the existing “Validity” section that for my two most recent tickets says “BOOKDTRAINONLY” or “ON DATE SHOWN”.

  • Robert says:

    Thank you for all the comments so far. They’ve raised some interesting points: some of which I kind of anticipated and others I didn’t.

    It’s great to hear you all concerning yourselves with the detail of this as though it’s a real project.

    Thus far, this design is the result of a couple of hours fiddling about, but I’ve had such a good response to the general concept of it that I’ll take rather more time to develop it into a solution that can accommodate all the different types of tickets/dates and so on.

  • This design doesn’t cover the problem of two bits of paper for each booked train for when I take my bike on longer distance trains. It would be great if you could cover that too.

  • Kevin says:

    Not to diminish the magnitude of your achievement here, but virtually any redesign with an ounce of thought behind it would be an improvement over the old style.

    Perhaps the orange borders could play a role somehow. And it seems the price could be a little more prominent.

    That said, the new ticket’s information can be processed extremely quickly, characteristic of a very good design. Well done.

  • Frances says:

    Would you be my ticket maker? Vast improvement on current design, which is awful.
    Clear & simple & I actually like the tube info – of course there are always alternative tube options but thats for the individual to decide – just having those details is a time saver. Easy on the eye too. A very convenient solution. I like it very much.

  • Kai Hendry says:

    I don’t see how your date design on 20 Jun 2011 accounts for open tickets with 1 month validity.

    Did you consider using a more standard date format? e..g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_8601#Durations

    I don’t like the font. It’s look too boring and American to me. Besides, lets face it, it will be IMPOSSIBLE to print your design in existing ticket printers. So how about a design that takes that into account?

    Platforms aren’t announced for good reason, it leads to overcrowding.

    What I suggst is a saner ticket number which could be plugged into a URL like
    http://ticket.info/THN64557 and then that would display the same itentary in detail and add (later) announced platforms.

    In fact when I think of it, I wish the physical ticket wasn’t necessary if I could show a valid ticket number.

  • It would be great if the ‘lines’ included an icon to denote overground/underground, that would make the journey summary even more useful to a ticket holder.

  • Dougie says:

    How are you going to handle the ticket gates. They like to eat my OUT ticket at the destination for the outward journey and eat my RTN ticket when I get back to Basingstoke?

    If I buy a return ticket in the machine I get at least three pieces of card. OUT, RTN, CCard receipt and it its for business an expenses receipt.

    I like the idea of printing the time of the first train that the ticket is valid on – printing the platform won’t work (even at Basingstoke a train to London can be from any one of the four mainline platforms.).

  • Dougie says:

    If you want to add lots more info for smart phone users you could print a QR code on the ticket. That could include a URL to the National Rail journey tracker website (pre-filled with the origin and destination stations).

  • Nicola says:

    I love the idea. However your design I feel only adds more problems. No fraud prevention, no class status, platform info is useless, dates are a big problem. However, i think granted all its problems, its clever of you to even attempt a re-design.

    I visited london last yr and had so many tickets it looked like id been riding trains for a month! Im not a big train fan myself but Id love train tickets to go digital like gig tickets – or possibly just a number – but thats far far in the future. :-/

  • Ian Franklin says:

    Yes the current design needs improving especially vailidty of dates, routesm and whether it is 1st or 2nd class.

    However I would never put departure times or platforms on a train ticket.

    a) because platforms change so often.
    b) there is a strong implication that the ticket is only valid for that particular time, that only that train can be caught. Leaving many to wonder if they can get later trains on what happens in the case of cancellation.

  • The “route” element is a bit more tricksy than providing a suggested best route – you probably still need to give the official conditions. For instance tickets to Exeter from Brighton can be Any Permitted or routed “Salisbury” or “Not London”, all at different prices.

    There are also some time restrictions, for example Southern Super Off Peak Returns are not valid for return journeys leaving London Terminals between 1615 and 1915.

    Perhaps call add a “Route restrictions” line that could say, for instance:

    “No restrictions” (current “Any Permitted”)
    “Only trains shown above” (current “BookedTrainOnly”)
    “First Capital Connect trains only”
    “Cannot leave London 1615 – 1915″
    “Must pass through Salisbury”

  • Robert says:

    Responses to a couple of todays points:

    Anthony: the sort of column you’ve mentioned is something I have thought would be useful, although it would probably extend to become a ‘notes’ column and contain useful information relating to each leg of the journey (based on some kind of priorities list).

    Ian: Some tickets are only valid for certain times and trains. Most of the cheap deals train companies offer are based on this arrangement. Admittedly, I don’t know what the arrangements are if that specific train is cancelled/runs late, and the consequences for connecting trains

    Dougie: The intention with this approach is that it would eat your ticket at the end of each journey, as per the current system, but keeping the printed tickets down to 2 and a receipt.

    On the general topic of platforms, they are worked out to schedule, but of course this is open to change, and presumably a sort of domino effect if one is changed. On open tickets (the third example) I have intentionally not included and platform information for the very reason that different trains to the same destination can go from different platforms at different times of the day. The platform detail seems to split people from what I’ve seen so far – I shall investigate further.

  • Kai Hendry says:

    Agreed with Dougie, Train ticket collectors should just scan a QR code. This happens already on the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heathrow_Express

    The trouble with QR codes is that you can’t you can’t assume every consumer can scan one. Vendors must clearly print or shorten a URL. I think it is fair to assume people can understand a URL, and that might give them further information.

  • guinnesslee says:

    I really like the simplistic information design on the ticket, much more easier to understand and read with the cleaner fonts, and non cluttered layout. O do prefer the simpler version on the bottom of the blog as that one, seems to show abit more clearer, but I can see that for long journeys you need to see which platform to board and get off etc.

    Unfortunately there are more major problems than the ticket design, and that’s the delays in trains tied with engineering works , and theres the issue with the workers unions and strikes.

    Nice work on the design!

  • Chris Green says:

    This is a well thought out, clearly designed and considered common-sense approach to updating a ticket format that hasn’t changed since the early 1980s…….thus it has no chance of being adopted by National Rail or any of the TOCs.

    But seriously, this is a really good idea, and one that should require minimal retooling or software changes to implement.

  • netgaine says:

    This is fascinating. It’d be very interesting to see where the balance lies between the traveller and the ticket checker who sees 1000s of them a day :)

  • John says:

    I think you’ve kinda missed the point here. You’ve produced a ticket-sized TIMETABLE rather than an actual ticket.

    A ticket is not for the passenger, it is for the ticket inspector. In this regard it should be easy for the passenger to know what ticket he needs to show to the railway staff.

    Unfortunately, most passengers are clueless about the inner workings of the railway. Some railway staff also lack knowledge because of how complicated everything is. What really needs redesigning is the railway system that can charge you £200 for a 100-mile journey.

    In terms of your actual design, can’t some of the informtion go on the BACK of the ticket?

  • Robert says:

    Thanks for that John, but I’m going to have to disagree with you on that point.

    The tickets as they are currently, serve only as proof to the train company that you’re on the right train, and that you’ve paid for it. They provide no significant amount of useful information for the customer. So, yes, the overall concept of what I have created is a mini-timetable for the customer. As pointed out by the many comments above, as it stands the design is far from perfect (that will teach me for putting up a rough first draft) but I feel, and obviously some will disagree, that it is moving towards something that is more usable for the customer.

    There is, of course, the argument that it should be designed for the benefit of the rail staff who look at thousands of these a day, but in my view, they will soon (probably within a matter of hours) become adept at finding the information they need to know.

  • Daniel says:

    Robert – you took my frustrating journey and ran with it! Great work. I only just realised you had this big discussion going on here, so apologies for not chipping in sooner.

    A couple of things I’d say: the platform number on there would probably be counter-productive. Platforms change so often, and if people start to trust the information on the ticket, they might not pay as much attention to the announcements.

    Also, I think the idea of sticking with the existing printers and tickets is a good one, but we have to acknowledge the limitations – this test ticket gives an idea of the typographic constraints: http://www.flickr.com/photos/guyhulse/3425435029/in/pool-384325@N24/

    Oh, and in response to Kai: QR codes are evil. :D

  • Craig M says:

    Nice work Robert

    You know it’s a good design when you find yourself saying ‘of course it should be like that’.

    One thing possibly worth considering is increasing the font size for the valid date. As a season ticket holder I often flash my ticket and photo ID to the ‘revenue enforcer’ who only really needs to see location and date.

    Great work, what’s next. I see a series coming on.

  • Matt Ritter says:

    Reminds me a lot (and I love this idea) of Tyler Thompson’s re-design of the boarding pass:

    http://passfail.squarespace.com/

    Love the work, Robert.

  • Danielle says:

    Totally agree! My season ticket helpfully tells me I can go from my local station to “London Terminals” via “any permitted route”.

    I don’t know what either of those terms mean, so my ticket doesn’t tell me where I’m allowed to go to or the route I’m allowed to take to get there. All it does in fact tell me is that my starting destination (which I would hope I would know!) and how much it cost (which I don’t need reminding!!)

    It would be great if the tickets could also tell you which company you’re allowed to travel with, as I know so many people who have been caught out by unwittingly getting on the wrong provider when their ticket actually tells them no different.

    Fantastic idea!

  • Idan Gazit says:

    This is a lovely design, but it fails massively at observing some important practical constraints.

    The thermal printers which produce the existing tickets are likely limited in their typographical capabilities. The existing type looks the way it does because that’s what the printer is capable of producing.

    Of course, I could be wrong, but I suspect that these printers simply can’t reproduce the typographical subtleties of your new design. The dotted lines, the condensed type, even the variety of type sizes.

    I doubt that beancounters would see the value of a more legible ticket overwhelming the cost of new ticket printers, and thus they’d ask for a redesign that lived within the constraints of the printers they already have.

    With that in mind:

    On the original ticket, I count two type heights. Of the larger size, I see two widths (normal and extended), which is also likely a property of the thermal printer; the wider setting produces glyphs twice as wide (monospace) as the normal ones. Finally, the extended large glyphs come in two weights: normal (as in the “STD” class near the top) and bold (as in the “2-PART RETURN”) at the bottom.

    Furthermore, I suspect that the extended large cut only provides uppercase glyphs.

    This (beautiful) result is design in a vacuum; a flight of fancy.

    Great design is informed by constraints. I’d love to see an improved ticket within those constraints.

  • Juergen says:

    Do not forget the url for the twitterfeed, in which you get informed for delays. I´ve seen it on my ticket from Oxted to London a few weeks ago! :-)
    regards,
    juergen

  • FS5 says:

    Did You noticed what font they are using and why is this? Because they are using NEEDLE PRINTER, they canno’t use fonts like in INK/LASER PRINTERS. So what’s the point of Your redesign if You they would need to buy new printers which would cost much more with Your solution of redesign than it is now?

  • Alan says:

    Gosh – some people seem really concerned about whether or not printers can handle your design or barriers will retain their tickets. That seems rather odd when you are basically talking about how to present the information on the tickets.

    Clearly, there’s no redesign going on, but if there was, then it’s a perfectly valid approach to start from an “ideal” position, and then adjust for compromises. And it’s also worth bearing in mind that printers and barriers change over time. Transition programmes happen.

    It’s like a train journey – you start planning the journey knowing where you want to get to, and only then do you look at the timetable to work out if it is possible.

    Regardless, it seems you’ve found something that people care passionately about and think is worth redesigning.

  • ChazUK says:

    Great to see people tackling real life problems, but honestly I think it could be improved a lot.

    I use trains everyday and have amassed a stack load of train tickets over the past year alone. You’ve left out some very important information that the ticket guards need to see, and be able to spot quickly.

  • Richard J says:

    As per John, this is a ticket not a timetable. The most important information that the ticket can tell the customer is when, and by what routes, the ticket is valid, and this design doesn’t do that. Remember that the vast majority of tickets used everyday are NOT advanced tickets and therefore do not have a booked route.

    The key things the passenger needs to know are: (i) operator restrictions, eg Virgin WC only; (ii) time restrictions, eg not leaving London 1630-1900; (iii) route restrictions, eg via Birmingham; (iv) validity dates, eg today only or until 1 August 2011; and (v) railcards that must be held with the ticket, eg Network Card.

    It would be useful if a ticket on many cards had a sequence number, eg 1 of 2.

    Another point to note is that often the seat reservation is sometimes done separately from the ticket sale, so separate parts are needed, or the entire ticket would have to be reprinted.

    BTW the ticket type “Cheap Day Return” doesn’t exist anymore!

  • Ayse says:

    I agree some of the points Idan made. The result of the existing chaotic design caused by the constraints of thermal printers in the ticket machines. The lettering is not that great I admit. But I am afraid I don’t think your simplified design proposal is practically viable.

    In the future we will be using oyster type digital smart cards or the QR codes with our smart phones instead. I even used a smart card in the Netherlands for all my journeys last December as a tourist. I am sure almost all other regular London visitors get an oyster. Unfortunately paper based tickets will be less used in the future. The wave and pass or the scan/touch will be the type of interaction for our future train journeys.

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