Indian Railway Ticket Booking from the Overseas

The Design Challenge

For a foreigner of a non-Indian origin, it is very challenging to book the tickets and the itinerary in Indian Railways, given merely the number of trains, their connections and the complexity of the train network. The geographical and social complexity and diversity of the country makes the entire process even harder. 

The challenge I tackle in this project is to:
 

Design a mobile experience (a mobile website) for booking train tickets that is specially tailored for the foreign travelers traveling to India and wanting to search for the trains and book the tickets.

Key Drivers of the Challenge

  1. India is one of the world’s top tourist locations for the foreign travelers.
     

  2. A majority of foreign backpackers prefer traveling by train given the excellent train connections, affordability and to experience the real India
     

  3. The current online train searching and booking process by Indian Railway is very challenging, lengthy and complicated

The Design Process

The various phases followed in the design process and the activities in each phase are illustrated in the image below:

Empathize

Prototype

Test

Research

Research Synthesis

1. Planning

2. Conducting

3. Data

    Collection

4. Debrief

1. Persona Creation

2. Empathy Mapping

Information Architecture

Interaction Design

UI Design

1. Site Map

1. Task Flow

2. User Flow

3. Wireframes

4. Rapid Prototyping

1. Branding

2. High Fidelity

    Prototype

Usability Test

1. Planning

2. Conducting

3. Result Interpretation

4. Affinity Mapping

5. Priority Revisions

Research

This phase was broken down into the following four activities:

Research

Planning

Research Goals

Types Of Research

Research Participants

Research Timeline

Research

Conducting

Primary Research

Secondary Research

Market Research

Competitive Analysis

Research

Data Collection

Audio Recordings

Detailed Notes

Research Debrief

 

Common User Behavior

Pain Points

Unmet Needs

  1. Research Goals:

    • Understand and study the Pain Points and Unmet Needs of the users in the existing process of online ticket booking system of the Indian Railways
       

  2. Types of Research:

    • Empathy Based Primary User Research

    • Secondary Research

    • Competitive / Market Research
       

  3. Research Participants: 

    • 'Globe-trotters' and 'Backpackers'

    • Participants of Non-Indian origin who have traveled extensively in trains in India or other countries/continents

    • Indians living overseas
       

  4. Primary Research:

    • In person and telephone interviews recorded with permission

    • Ethnographic Study
       

  5. Secondary Research: 

    • Understand and study The Indian Railways

    • Understand the online and offline Indian Railway train booking process

    • Study competitor products

    • Study online train booking in other countries
       

  6.  Research Debrief

    • Organized the primary research data and drew some commonalities, unmet needs and pain points from the same

    • Organized and categorized the secondary research data into strengths and weaknesses for easy comparison

Indian Railways (IR) is India’s National Railway system. It is the fourth largest railway network by size in the world. Indian Railway (IR) runs more than 20,000 passenger trains daily, on both long-distance and suburban routes, from 7,349 stations across India.
Every day, 23 million passengers travel through the Indian Railway.

The online ticketing system of Indian Railways IRCTC was launched in the year 2002. As years have passed, the e-ticketing system has gained huge popularity and is used extensively by the residents of India as well as the people overseas.

IRCTC is the only system and the single source through which Indian Railway tickets can be booked.

Research Synthesis

The purpose and the pattern of traveling, the pain points and the unmet needs were such that a single persona could represent all the users that were interviewed and ethnographically studied. 

“I have to resort to Google many times during the process of searching and booking the train, for example, to know the local city or station name, to find alternative trains, to get some orientation about the location of the source, destination and the route or to know about the Indian Railway reservation process and concepts.”

 

“Why is the registration with IRCTC mandatory? Verification process through the OTP (one time password) is extremely painful!”

Persona

“Testimonials and Reviews for each train, especially about safety, cleanliness, food etc. is something that are extremely necessary for booking a train confidently.”

Empathy Map

Empathy map was created based on the data collected from the research. Direct quotations and statements helped to develop empathy towards the users and their requirements.

“As a foreigner visiting India, I believe that trains are the best way to get around the country!”

“I would like the train ticket reservation process to be very straightforward, provide ample information about what train to choose, so that I am satisfied and confident at the end of it.”

Information Architecture

Main focus in structuring and organizing the data of the site was:

  1. to provide ONLY the necessary options / pages to the foreign traveler ONCE i.e.

    • eliminate any information and options pertaining to only the Indian citizens,

    • eliminate multiple occurrences and duplication of information from the site.

  2. to provide a very CLEAR and CLEAN organization of information that is of most importance to the foreign traveler

  3. to restructure the site to make it very straightforward and friendly to the foreign user

  4. Amongst all the pain points and unmet needs, I put a majority of focus and thought on the following while creating a site map:

    • The train search and trains route functionality given the challenge of spelling / identifying the stations & cities,

    • Graphical / Geographical representation of the place

    • General Information about Indian Railway, FAQs etc

    • direct and alternative train routes

Site Map

Interaction Design

In order to provide the most intuitive interaction with the website, the happy path for a particular task was chalked out in the form of a task flow and a user flow.

Task: User chooses a train and books the tickets for the same

Task Flow

User Flow

Wireframes

The user flow was then translated into a set of wireframes representing the screens of the website and thus giving a rough idea on how the task on hand will be completed by the user as she interacts with the website.
 

The design patterns were decided prior to beginning the wire framing that those design patterns were applied in the wireframes


Some of the wireframes are exhibited below

These wireframes exhibit Selection By State functionality and the case where a direct route was not found which was later completely changed based on the user feedback 

1. Landing Page / Entry point to the mobile website

 

  • Source Station and Destination Station

  • Journey Date

  • Booking Class

  • Booking Quota

2. Choose the Source Station using the State Finder Functionality:

  • Choose a State

  • Choose a station from the list 

3. State Finder Functionality

4. Choose the Destination Station 

Type the name of the station 

Auto Suggestions

5. Choose the travel date

6. Entry screen with Source Station, Destination Station , Travel Date selected

* Booking Class, Booking Quota is optional  

7.  NO Direct Trains found for the chosen source, destination and the date. 

ALTERNATIVE ROUTES option explained and suggested.  

8.  User selects a different date. User does NOT explore the ALTERNATIVE Routes option

 

Direct trains for the new date listed  

9.  Ticket Booking Quotas explained

10.  Detailed View for a particular train:

  • User can check the availibility for that date

  • Route Details 

  • LIVE Running Status

  • Coach Position

  • Reviews and Feedback

11. ROUTE Details view

Every Station along the route

Arrival time, Departure time and Halt at each stop

ROUTE MAP option

UI Design

A very vibrant palette was chosen since it reflects the diversity and the vibrant culture in India. At the same time, conscious efforts were made to ensure that the outcome is not gaudy, noisy and leading to poor user experience.

The palette was chosen from an illustration that has been used and incorporated throughout the design.

The illustration is designed by Chumbak Design Studio, India. www.chumbak.com

High Fidelity Design

First Iteration 

Search By State

Rationale:

Not make the user type in the station name as these names are very tricky, prone to spelling mistakes and even if typed correctly could lead to several stations in the auto population feature, having a similar name but being completely different places.

Once the user chooses the state, it lists down all the stations within that state: popular ones listed first, followed by the not so popular ones.

Interactive Map:

The state would be represented in an interactive map form also so that the user can interact with the state in order to find the city and station of her choice. Vice a versa, interacting with the list of stations, would dynamically change the map to show that particular station.

The user, hence, has two choices:

  1. To type in the station name

  2. To find the station in the map of India by choosing the Indian state

Mandatory Registration and OTP

Registration is mandatory in order to purchase tickets from the Indian Railways. Once the user registers and becomes a member of IRCTC, there is still a process of verifying user identity through the OTP - One Time Password Concept. In the existing product, the OTP will be sent to the user's mobile or email.

Some of the key screens representing this functionality are presented below.

This prototype and design solution went through a major change after the usability testing.

Usability Testing

Task

Find a train from Bangalore City Station to Durgapur station and book a ticket from the available train class and train quota.

Testing Goals

To gather data that will serve as an input for the successive design iterations and design decisions to make the design align closely with the end-user’s expectations and requirements.

    1.  To have a list of the user feedback associated to:

      1. Persona pain points that were attempted to be addressed via this design version

      2. Persona unmet needs that were attempted to be addressed via this design version

      3. New user pain points that surface during testing

      4. New user needs that surface during testing

    2. To find out how was the user’s overall experience of using this website with respect to features, interactions, content etc. to complete the task at hand:

      1. Extraordinary: A list of things the user found extraordinary

      2. Normal: A list of things that the user found normal (as in seen in every other clothing website)

      3. Frustrating, Confusing: A list of things that the user found frustrating, confusing or plainly did not like it.

    3. To obtain the end user’s perspective on the site’s LEMErS

    4. To uncover any areas that were not considered as pain points or unmet needs or in general while making design decisions

Test Findings

Each user testing session included two parts:
1. Use the existing IRCTC website
2. Use India By Rail mobile website

 

The responses obtained from the three users who tested the first iteration of the high fidelity prototype were eye opening. Detailed responses have been described through the affinity map as well as in the priority revisions section below.

Priority Revisions

The major priority revisions are listed here:

  1. Incorporate the landing page illustration into all the pages
     

  2. Remove the Find By State functionality:

    A very strong feedback I got consistently from all the users was that, whenever they travel to India, they first do a lot of research, by reading the blogs, seeing different videos like discover India etc. and hence they exactly know where they want to go - i.e. the name of the place and the name of the city. So, the need of attempting to figure out the source and destination during the time of booking does not arise.

    Yes, even if they know the city name and the station name, they would love to check it on the map while they are booking the tickets. This will ensure them that they are indeed selecting the correct state, the correct city and the correct station by interacting with the map.

    They can also double check the spelling of the station and find important nearby locations like banks, ATMs, food joints, hospitals etc.
     

  3. Keep the maps functionality and concept but change the way it has been implemented.
     

  4. Remove selection of train quota and train class on the main page. Do not show it to the user (even if it is not mandatory)
     

  5. Introduce sorting and filtering options on the page listing the train routes
     

  6. Remove mandatory registration with IRCTC.
     

  7. Introduce Guest checkout functionality
     

  8. Remove the OTP (One time password) verification process

Second Iteration 

1. Landing Page

2. Book Your Ticket

Booking Class and Booking Quota removed

3. Popular Stations in the drop down

4. As the user starts typing, Popular Stations and Popular Cities shown in the drop down

5. See on the map option for a station once selected

6. Station showed on the interactive map

7. If the user chooses a city, she is prompted with the popular stations within that city

8. Number of passengers to be chosen

9. Screen showing all the trains

10. The screen showing details of a  particular train

11. The screen showing the route details of a particular train

12. Map view of the route details

11. Screen for adding the passengers

12. Guest Login / Member Login / Registration with IRCTC screen

13. Screen showing the payment 

14. The final screen showing the ticket confirmation, ticket details and journey details

High Fidelity Prototype

Next Steps

1. To get in touch and obtain interest of couple of more foreign backpackers and travelers

2. Demonstrate the existing design and obtain their feedback

3. Work on the Alternative Route Design 

4. More testing and feedback

5. Connect and start conversations with few folks who might be interested in developing this design into a real product

Summary

This was a very tricky and complicated project to be completed in the fixed timeline of 80 hours! The Indian Railway and its ticket booking system is complicated and exhausting. Hence the research had to be exhaustive and extensive to get a satisfactory level of confidence about the problem space.

The entire process of conducting primary and secondary research, debriefing, synthesizing, coming up the the site map, interactions, branding, UI design and the High Fidelity Prototype was done in an extremely detailed and thorough way.

The priority revisions of the high fidelity prototype were significant in number, size and time!

I am very happy and satisfied that the users loved my product!

“India By Rail offers an experience that is million times better than the current IRCTC booking system” - Catherine

"Brilliant Work! - Stephanie

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