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Where in the ATL?

Designing Interactive Digital Signage for MARTA

Atlanta's public transport system MARTA is working to add a new bus rapid transit line to their extensive list of transport options. But to get this new bus line up and running by 2025, they need a lot of help. MARTA reached out to Team Green Bean (Sophie Clyde, Manuni Dhruv, Jacob Xu, and Emily Gui) to ask for our help designing the interactive digital signage for the new BRT stops so that passengers can get the information they need at every step of their journey. 

Skills: User JourneysPersonas, Interviews, Survey Design, Comparative Analysis, Cognitive Walkthroughs, Wireframing, UX Design, Figma


By designing effective digital signage for the BRT bus line, we can help MARTA communicate lots of information quickly and effectively and potentially help thousands of people have a smoother transit experience without worrying about how to find the information they need. Our signage might even help people learn more about the city around them! One complicating factor on the path to our goal was that the BRT bus line does not currently exist and thus does not have active riders. Therefore, we needed to dive deep into the behaviors, thoughts, preferences and frustrations of current MARTA bus and train riders, as both of these transport methods incorporate elements of BRT buses. We chose to pay special attention to the needs of new riders in our research and analysis, as everyone in our user group will at some point be new MARTA BRT riders.

Project Introduction & Goals 

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the main public transportation service in Atlanta, recently announced the construction of a new 5-mile dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in the Summerhill neighborhood of downtown Atlanta. BRT stands for “Bus Rapid Transit,” and it resembles a mix of buses and trains – BRT buses have dedicated central lanes in streets where only they can go to allow them to avoid traffic and travel much faster and more reliably than standard bus systems. Our goal for this project, working in conjunction with MARTA’s Office of Customer Technology, was to determine what the most important elements to include in digital signage are for MARTA’s upcoming BRT bus station so that MARTA can help riders get the information they need to successfully complete their journeys as efficiently and easily as possible.

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User Research

To discover what information we needed to include in the signage, we conducted user research using five different methods: semi-structured interviews, contextual interviews, ethnographic observation, a survey and comparative analysis. The combination of these methods allowed us to gather a huge amount of rich, varied data, which we analyzed  by finding shared themes across all the research methods and organizing them using affinity mapping. 

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We chose to conduct semi-structured interviews as one of our primary research methods so we could gather rich, in-depth qualitative data about riders feelings, experiences and habits during their MARTA journey, and could drill down on particularly interesting answers to increase the usefulness of the data. We conducted 4 hour-long semi-structured interviews with participants recruited from MARTA’s Rider’s Advisory Council and our own social networks.

We conducted contextual interviews to see the exact tasks and flow of the user experience for users with lots of experience riding MARTA and no experience riding MARTA; we wanted to see how their ride experiences and actions differed, what tasks and actions they might take that would be different from standard users, and if they felt different emotions at different points in their journey. We conducted 2 two-hour contextual interviews, one with a rider from MARTA’s Rider’s Advisory Council with extremely high MARTA ridership, and another with Spanish-speaking users new to using MARTA.

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We chose to distribute a survey because allowed us to ask a much larger group of people about their perspectives and needs in an easy to answer, cost-effective and timely manner. We could also offer our participants complete anonymity as we didn’t need any identifying information from them. I served as the primary overseer of our survey efforts due to my prior experience working at Qualtrics, the platform we used to create the survey. I created the survey and wrote most of the questions, which were then refined by workshopping them with the team. The survey was open for a week and a half and collected 223 responses in total, 186 of which were fully complete. 

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We chose to do ethnographic research because it allowed us to see user's actions in the context of the environment without the pressures of an interview, and it allowed us to see how the myriad parts of the user journey through MARTA flowed together. We could also become more acquainted with the physical layout of MARTA and observe the signage there in action. We conducted three hour-long observation sessions in three MARTA locations – at/on the MARTA streetcar (as one of the closest existing systems to the upcoming BRT), North Avenue Station and Midtown Station.

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We conducted comparative analysis of four BRT metro systems in other countries around the world so that we could compare their setups, ridership, information displays and foundations with the planned MARTA BRT lines. We chose to do comparative analysis to better understand the current state of BRT systems around the US and around the world, the challenges they face, the challenges they have overcome, what they do well and what they need to work on so we could compare it to the planned MARTA BRT system and see where it does well and where it falls short. We wanted to analyze other systems to see what they’ve done well so that we could incorporate that information into our own signage when the time comes, and we wanted to see what some potential problems for other systems are/were so we could avoid making those mistakes.

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Once we'd gathered and analyzed all the data we collected we organized our findings into user personas, journey maps, and the design requirements that remained at the heart of our project for all future steps.

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Design Process & Details

Once we had our design implications, it was time to start the ideation process, from sticky notes to sketches to wireframes to prototypes! We began by narrowing down our design implications at the advice of our project sponsor Anthony Thomas, who advised us to focus on the six design requirements where he thought we could make the biggest impact. Next all four teammates sketched initial concepts based on our initial ideation session. Everyone’s sketches tended to focus on different design implications as a result of the the natural variation in our visual styles, but all sketches included similar elements.

To get feedback on our sketches, we held a participatory design workshop! We had 4 participants with varying degrees of familiarity with MARTA, and over the course of an hour asked them to complete 4 tasks:

 1. Warm-Up: Draw graphical representations of any 3 MARTA stations you’ve visited:
2. Walk the Wall: Under the sticky notes listing the stages of the MARTA journey, draw or write down your ideas for interactability at each stage

3. Feedback on our Initial Concepts: We presented our initial sketches to the participants and asked for their feedback! We particularly focused on accessibility and usability issues for part of this stage.

4. Ideation on our Initial Concepts: "Now that you’ve seen our concepts, how would you improve them? Go ahead and draw or write down your ideas!"

After the workshop, we reviewed and organized our notes and discussed the feedback from our participants, forming our findings out of the themes we saw for each sketch and across sketches. We complied the notes into four larger categories: Participant Likes, Accessibility Concerns, Visual Confusion, and Information Overload.


Using the feedback we received from the participatory workshop, we dove into creating a wireframe of the digital signage, starting with planning it out on a whiteboard before we transitioned to using Figma to design an interactive digital version.

Once we completed our wireframes, it was time to ask for feedback once again! For this feedback session we asked four (different) participants with varying degrees of familiarity with MARTA to interact with our wireframe. Each session consisted of a participant doing prompted tasks and answering questions while exploring our wireframe displayed on a 55 inch TV screen to better simulate the actual experience our users would have in a BRT station.

After the feedback sessions were complete we once again reviewed and organized the feedback into four larger categories that encapsulated the themes we saw across participants, defining areas that we needed to improve in our final prototype: Visual Design, Accessibility and Usability, Information Architecture, and User Experience.

The ideation part of the project was a lot of fun for all of us, but the tight timeframe of this part of the project required everyone on the team to put in a lot of time and effort, and learn to plan way ahead of time to make sure that everything got done before the deadline. We started planning the participatory design workshop and the wireframe feedback session long before we had actual sketches or wireframes of our designs to show off, but the time and effort we put in was well worth in to get such valuable feedback from our participants!


Evaluation & Validation of Design

After the wireframe feedback sessions were complete, we dove into creating a high-fidelity prototype in Figma. The high-fidelity prototype our team prepared includes many different features but generally follows seven main/functional user flows, allowing users to take actions like finding a specific bus via the Live Tracking feature, exploring places of interest around them with Explore Atlanta, planning their route, checking the weather, finding MARTA rider information, or adjusting the screen height.


You can find a link to our prototype here.

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Once the high fidelity prototype was complete, we decided to get feedback on our design once again, but this time we wanted to ask both normal users and experts for their feedback and advice. First we went to MARTA HQ and conducted a heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthrough of our prototype on a 65-inch screen with five of their experts. Two content experts and three UX experts helped us evaluate the usability, consistency, and discoverability of our design and pointed out placed where we did well as well as places where the design fell short. The next day we did another round of user testing with 4 new participants (members of MARTA’s Riders Advisory Council) who helped us evaluate the design’s effectiveness in meeting user expectations and addressing accessibility concerns via task-based usability testing and semi-structured interview questions.

The results of expert and user testing showed us several places where our prototype shone and several places which require more work and research to improve usability before the full implementation of our design at BRT stations.  Our design was generally successful in fulfilling all of our design requirements; it included all the necessary information laid out by our design requirements and all of our users were able to find the information they needed and complete their tasks with a minimum of errors or prompting, indicating that the design is discoverable and learnable. Users especially praised the Live Tracking feature and loved the details included for landmarks in the Explore Atlanta feature. Users described the prototype as interesting and fun to use and explore, and all of our users expressed a desire to see how the prototype evolved and use it once the BRT stations are constructed. 


While our prototype was successful in some aspects, it fell short in other areas. Our users expressed confusion about what station they were at, where they were on the map, and where other buses were in relation to their current location when using the Live Tracking feature. Another area where the prototype fell somewhat short was in addressing user differences and accessibility needs; while we made a concentrated effort to address the needs of all users, future iterations of the prototype need to better assist those who do not speak English, those who can’t reach all portions of the screen, those who have visual impairments, and users who aren’t as technologically experienced.  The final area where we can improve the prototype is by simplifying it; by reducing the complexity of the screen we can increase the ease of use so that users can find the information they need as quickly and easily as possible. All of these issues are addressable with further attention and research dedicated to them. No design is perfect, and our high-fidelity prototype did a wonderful job of pointing out exactly where and how we need to improve it so that users encountering it for the first time at BRT stations will have a great experience. 

What's Next?

Now that we’d successfully designed and tested our prototype with both experts and users and evaluated our findings to form design requirements that will guide the development of the prototype moving forward, it was time to show MARTA the results of our work. We presented our research and prototypes to MARTA employees at MARTA headquarters so they could see the progress we’d made over the semester. After the presentation we handed off our research and recommendations to MARTA so that they can continue to develop this project in the future as the Summerhill BRT project progresses and evolves. In the future we hope to see a future iteration of our prototype implemented at BRT stations along the Summerhill route, though MARTA may end up deciding to take a different route with the project. I will be sure to keep this space updated so that when the Summerhill stations are up and running in 2025, I can show how MARTA changed and iterated on our original designs to create the digital signage hanging in those stations!

For the immediate future, some steps MARTA may wish to take for immediate progress on the project would be: 

  • Researching and testing new icons and labels that match users’ mental models 

  • Adding and improving on accessibility features like ‘Change Language’ and screen reader compatibility 

  • Improving the content and design of the ‘Explore Atlanta’ feature in keeping with our design recommendations 

  • Improving the map to add increased interactivity (ex. adding zoom in and out functionality and and the ability to click on landmarks) 


This project was so much fun and we learned a ton throughout the process of research, design, testing and iteration. Each team member had different strengths that they showcased at different stages of this project, and our team as a whole benefitted from having different perspectives and strengths. Some things we learned included: avoiding being too prescriptive with our designs, how important context of use is when user testing so that users can simulate a real-life experience, public systems have a higher level of accountability to address accessibility concerns, and testing with a screen that was the size of the ones at the station was very important to understand the scale of the UI we designed.  

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