For Physical Computing, I had to observe a piece of interactive technology that is used in public. I chose to observe the entrance gates to the NYU Bobst library.

In order for the gate to open, a user’s NYU ID card must be swiped in an exact manner; the magnetic strip on the back of the card must face away from your body. It took me a moment to spatially understand the illustration and map it to how I was holding the card upon the first time entering the library.

When swiped correctly, an indicator next to the card reader will flash a green arrow to enter, while the glass gate doors submerge into the barriers almost immediately; these are the visible indicators of a well designed system. When a user swipes their card incorrectly, an audio tone and red indicator on the LED display signals that the card has to swiped again. Feedback to the user is immediate. When the gate is not in use, an orange signal is apparent.

Most users who enter have memorized how the system works, and which direction the ID card must face.

Addtionally, most users have their card ready in hand, swiping it upon arrival at the gate. Others will block the gate as they fumble through their pockets or bags to locate their ID. Most users slide the card from the top of the scanner in a downward motion. On the rare occasion a user will slide their card from the bottom of the card reader, in a forward direction. Either method is sufficient for the card reader mechanism to recognize the ID card. The relationship between the user’s intention and required action are sensible and non-arbitrary.

The card reader is positioned at a downward angle, allowing for a better swipe while putting focus on the card reader to use as an interactive device to enter the gates. Individuals rarely had to swipe their card more than once for the system to respond.

Generally, the process takes about 3 seconds if the user already has their card in hand when they reach the gate.

Interestingly, most users are not specifically focused on whether the gates open; as individuals pay attention to putting their card back into their wallet or bag, they can see in their periphery that they can enter without being blocked by the gates. This is most likely due to the indicator’s immediate response that you can or can’t enter.