The Opal Card
The Opal card is an easy, convenient way of paying for public transport in New South Wales. Instead of buying a paper ticket, users load value onto their Opal card. When boarding public transport services, users tap on at a card reader at the start of their journey and tap off at the end. The electronic ticketing system will automatically calculate the fare and deduct it from the value stored on the Opal card.
In 2014, Transport for NSW commissioned Outware Mobile to design and develop the Opal Revenue Protection App (ORPA), which allows Transport Officers to check Opal card eligibility and fare compliance. The app uses near field communication (NFC) technology on Android smartphones to scan free read data as well as encrypted content stored on the card. ORPA was a great success with users and picked up multiple awards including Gold at both the Sydney Design Awards and the Aus App Design Awards in 2015.
Following the success of ORPA, Transport for NSW commissioned Outware Mobile to update the existing Opal Travel iOS and Android customer apps.
The brief was to revitalise the overall user experience and enable customers to consolidate their Opal card management into one easy to use and convenient app.
The scope of this project included:
- Redesign of both iOS and Android user interfaces
- Replicate some existing functionality of the Opal mobile website
- Develop new features upon existing iOS codebase
- Redevelopment of the Android app to include new features
- Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance
Opal Travel revolutionises the way Transport for NSW customers manage their travel. With over two hundred thousand current users, it was essential that the apps were designed and developed with longevity in mind. That’s why the highest standards of quality were required to ensure the success of the product.
The Opal Travel project was completed in just 10 months, with Outware providing a total team of 21 people across multiple functions including UX, BA, Visual Design, iOS and Android development, Quality Assurance and Project Management. To ensure the project ran smoothly, we relied on our tried and tested processes that have been established based on years of experience of developing apps for government and enterprise level organisations.
Taking public transport can often be a stressful and complex feat in and of itself, with customers needing to understand and manage schedules, transfers and navigation around busy stations. The new user experience design is focused on ensuring that Opal Travel does not add any more stress or complexity to a customer’s day by making it as easy and convenient as possible to use.
The app is designed so that the most important information is easily accessible. On first opening the app, users who have linked a card to the app will immediately see their card balance and track the progress of how many more journeys remain before they receive free travel.
Topping up balances on Opal cards is quick and easy to use. While behind the scenes, the app handles complex business logic around auto top up prompts, error handling and linked credit cards.
Certain features in the app are only available upon sign-in. To ensure that the app is as user friendly as possible to most users, sign-in is only ever required if absolutely necessary.
With information-heavy utility apps like Opal Travel, our goal is always to manage the information hierarchy on every screen. Users should not have to search for important information, it should be clearly presented through the clarity and cohesiveness of the design.
One of the challenges in designing this app was balancing usability with both the Transport for NSW branding and the colourful Opal card imagery. On the Home screen, the Opal card image is communicating a lot of information, including the card type, card balance, and the number of journeys remaining until free travel, yet it remains recognisable as an Opal card.
Colour is also used as a communication mechanism throughout the app in a restrained and controlled manner. In the Trip Planner, colours help link the type of transport (train, bus, etc.) with specific legs of a journey. These seemingly simple cues help make the app both easy and more intuitive to use, quickly providing users with as much information as possible.
Motion can communicate many things that words cannot, including personality, orientation, context, and response. The use of motion in apps is a powerful, yet delicate operation. Balance and restraint is essential.
Opal Travel uses animation where it adds value to the user experience. For example, during the Onboarding process, animation is used to delight new users while also drawing attention to important information. Motion can also be used to display practical information; the Weekly Travel Reward bar animates and fills with colour to indicate progress towards free travel.
iOS and Android development was completed in staged iterations to allow continuous feedback throughout the project, conducted by both our internal QA team as well as third parties, ensuring that issues and risks were identified early and managed effectively.
Source Code Evaluation
Developing new features upon an existing code base requires careful analysis to understand the architecture, design, patterns and complexities that are already in place. Our development team evaluated the existing iOS source code prior to commencing development work on new features.
One of the constraints of the project was working with whitelisted APIs, which could only be accessed in specific locations. This limited our ability to test and demonstrate the apps at various locations. In addition to this, due to time constraints, the APIs were in development by a third party in parallel with the apps, with constant changes and service downtime. To overcome these challenges, our team maintained a constant and open dialogue with Transport for NSW to collaboratively address issues and mitigate risks on the project.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of requirements designed to ensure that all companies that process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment. Given that a key feature within the app requires users to make transactions with their credit cards, Opal Travel is compliant with the following best practices:
- Prevent credit card data from being intercepted when entered into a mobile device.
- Prevent credit card data from interception upon transmission out of the mobile device.
- Prevent unauthorised logical-device access.
- Conform to secure coding, engineering, and testing practises.
Compliance to these standards was verified by a third party, BAE Systems.
Critical to the success of the project was a collaborative working relationship between Transport for NSW and our team. The project management function was the key communication mechanism between project teams. Our team ran monthly governance meetings, daily stand ups and regular showcases to provide Transport for NSW with ongoing project updates. We also maintained risk, issues and dependency tracking to ensure that key stakeholders could make informed decisions when necessary.
The inclusion of Accessibility standards makes the apps available and usable by people with temporary, permanent or increasing disabilities. The scope of Accessibility included in Opal Travel includes:
- Testing on multiple screen sizes, including smaller screens
- Contrast testing
- Creating touch screen targets in line with best practise
- Placing buttons and actions in easy to access locations and in places that are familiar to the user (e.g. navigation draw)
- Keeping a consistent layout between screens
- Positioning important elements before the page scrolls
- Providing clear options and information to users that items are tappable or interactive
- Setting the virtual keyboard to the type of input field that is being entered
- Supporting the characteristic properties of the iOS and Android platforms
The latest version of Opal Travel enables customers to manage all their Opal card requirements in a single app. The new apps provide users with an easy to use and intuitive experience, as well as an incredibly useful tool that will make their life easier. Opal Travel includes a comprehensive feature set including:
- Scan card for balance (Android only)
- Trip planning
- Find retailers and get directions
- Top up card(s)
- Link card(s) to the app to top up and view activities
Users can also sign-in to the app to:
- Add cards to their profile (by manual input or by using NFC scanning on Android)
- Activate and block card(s)
- Top up with stored or ad hoc billing details and enable auto top up
- Update personal and billing details
- Personalise card order
The Opal Travel app has also received the following awards at the 2016 World App Design Awards: