A leading audio electronics company wanted to explore the near future of transportation. We began this project with what was initially set up as a comprehensive 2-month long phase of generative research. We were tasked with exploring the present and near future of transportation across multiple domains and identify if there were opportunities for our client to develop new products that would satisfy changing user demands across three modes of transportation; rideshare, carshare, and micro-mobility. For these first three months of generative research, I worked with four colleagues, all of us in taking a product strategist role.
Starting from foundational research, with an interim goal of presenting opportunity areas for client alignment, we conducted business research (including facilitating discussions with potential partners), user and immersive research (nearly 100 interviews and diary studies), and technical research.
1 hour, face-to-face interviews in Toronto and San Francisco
of immersive research where our team tried out various mobility services firsthand and evaluated the experiences
Completed diary studies. A 5 step mission over 10 days.
To help us with participant screening and research planning we established the following four customer segments. Our team worked in parallel across these three different domains. My focus was on our research into micromobility users.
Uses the rideshare services Uber and/or Lyft as a passenger.
Drives for the rideshare services Uber and/or Lyft.
Rents vehicles from a carshare service like Zipcar or Turo.
A cyclist or scooterist using their own vehicle or a shared service.
We conducted Immersive Research activities in Toronto and San Francisco that allowed us to experience the process of participating in the different mobility options, understanding the logistics, making observations, and informally speaking with other drivers and riders.
Our team used a framework to consistently collect our observations using Google Forms, and documented our personal experiences with photos and videos. These activities enabled us to further empathize with participant experiences and will help provide context during ideation and concept development.
Diary Studies were conducted using the tool Dscout. We used it to help us conduct in-context qualitative research by having participants record entries throughout their everyday lives through written logs and video logs. These differ from the information gathered in 1:1 interviews because they are collected in context and on an ongoing basis while the participant is engaged with mobility services.
We received over 800 applications to participate in our study and we hand-selected 57 participants based on our screener criteria. 47 of these participants completed the 5 part mission that required them to review their mobility experiences, reflect on what is important to them, and contemplate the future of mobility.
We conducted 28 in-person interviews with shared mobility participants that represented our target segments from Toronto and San Francisco. The purpose of these 1:1 interviews was to investigate the unique perspectives of each participant as they relate to our predefined experience themes of focus.
Each interview was conducted with a pair of researchers in a space that we hosted. The interviewer was responsible for leading the conversation loosely structured around discussion guides tailored to each customer segment. The notetaker was responsible for documenting observations in a tool called Reframer and flagging any compelling quotes and related insights. The interviews were also recorded using both audio and video.
To understand the potential business viability within these spaces, we structured our project to include a significant portion of business research. This included industry research and trend analysis across various sectors of the mobility industry, stakeholder interviews with leaders across four of our client's verticals, and subject matter expert interviews with leaders within Uber, Ford X and Turo.
We divided our business research across these domains between myself and another teammate. My focus was on gaining an understanding of the growing micromobility market, including personally owned micromobility vehicles in addition to bikeshare and scootershare systems. The term ‘micromobility’ refers to a wide range of small, lightweight vehicles that travel at speeds below 30 km/h.
We did a systematic literature review of studies, markets and growth reports and incorporated these into conservative market forecasts. By 2030, we estimated that the base case market potential might be worth $316B to $525B. The growth rate of the market and its size were both important factors in assessing business viability for our client.
To help us collaborate together in our synthesis, we compiled all of our findings into a database. We utilized Reframer, which is a note-taking software that allows for the collection of data and collaborative analysis with metadata, to manage session information and collaboratively collect observations.
Working within the value proposition framework our team synthesized our research findings into customer profiles for each of our customer segments, with our customer's highest priority pains, gains and jobs articulated as “how might we” Opportunity Areas. We do this to help us avoid our own biases and ensure our project team is making customer-centred decisions.
As well as our customer profiles we also expanded and documented our research into the behaviours and customer needs within each of the three domains.
Micromobility modalities such as shared bike and scooter systems offer users many benefits but also present significant barriers and pain points.
Users report cost efficiency, speed, health and wellness and entertainment as the main benefits while citing safety, driver awareness and lack of infrastructure as being their main points of concern and frustration.
- Riders give full attention to the road for safety reasons. Anything that takes their eyes off the road is considered dangerous.
- Safety is a top concern and dangerous traffic conditions, mixed-use roads, lack of infrastructure, and lack of supplied helmets are all pain points that need to be addressed in order to allay safety concerns.
- Bikes offer a great form of low-impact exercise and bikeshare systems make this active form of mobility accessible to wider populations.
- From a mental health and wellness perspective, there is general consensus that bikeshare and scootershare both provide fun, social or relaxing outdoor experiences.
- Bikes and scooters are used as a form of socializing, either as a part of an outing or an event unto itself.
- For groups of riders, communication is essential when coordinating navigation and alerting each other to anything dangerous on the road. In some acoustic environments, this can be challenging.
- Sustainability plays a significant for many riders in their decision to use micromobility transportation.
We used our customer profiles and research insights to create “how might we” questions that frame opportunities and challenges that we had uncovered, these questions offer us a collaborative and optimistic prompt to spur our ideation.
Across the domains of rideshare, carshare and micromobility we identified 7 opportunity areas that we presented and workshopped with our stakeholders.
Research shareout & moving forward
After two months of market research, user interviews, diary studies, and technical research, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of our three domains of mobility and the needs of riders and drivers.
Through this generative and convergent process we were able to identify an emerging opportunity space that was previously unknown to our client; micromobility. Just as importantly, we recommended that our client should not pursue further investments into the rideshare or carshare space at this time.
Our client asked us to move forward, extending the project into a new phase of four weeks of divergent exploration, convergent evaluation, prioritization and concept maturation. After which we would reach another milestone when our final concepts would be shared.
People riding scooters and bikes are struggling to navigate well and will oftentimes navigate on their phones, taking away attention from the street and occupying their hands. In addition to this, pedestrians and other people in traffic have a hard time hearing and identifying bikes and scooters in traffic.
How might we create a safer experience for riders, surrounding pedestrians, and vehicles alike while improving navigational awareness, visibility & safety?
How might we reduce the cognitive load of riders and encourage them to focus on the task at hand?
How might we help bike & scooter riders feel secure with their riding ability and feel safer on roads?
How might we reduce dangerous conflicts between riders, pedestrians and drivers?
Bikeshare and scootershare services aren’t only used for commuting or errands. Riders are often riding for fun, wellness or with other people. These uses have unique challenges, such as communicating with other riders. If we make more riders able to responsibly communicate and relax, we can make it a better experience for them.
How might we create new experiences for micromobility users in order to facilitate positive experiences that promote feelings of wellness, fun, exploration and adventure?
How might we promote social riding, increasing opportunities for further adoption and positive promotion?
How might we purposefully facilitate physical exercise and increase bikeshare usage for personal physical and emotional wellness?
Ideation, evaluation & concept development
I planned and facilitated a team workshop with several rapid ideation exercises that helped us generate hundreds of ideas in both of our opportunity areas. I took these initial concepts and evaluated and refined them into 15 distinct and developed product concepts, after evaluating these with our team and stakeholders, we converged on 2 product concepts that we felt had the greatest promise of being desirable to customers and also viable for our client from a business perspective.
After synthesizing our ideation output I developed our concepts across 15 themes using the value proposition framework to identify and articulate the value they would create for micromobility users.
This is like taking a napkin sketch and developing an 'advanced napkin sketch' that I could use to articulate, share and discuss with my team and also with our stakeholders. This process helps in evaluating and weighing the potential product impact against the scope and effort required to bring the concept to life.
I worked with my team to further evaluate the concepts against a rubric that weighed each concept for product risks of viability, usability, feasibility and desirability.
Final Concepts & Shareout
We converged on two concepts and spent a week developing the ideas further for a shareout with our stakeholders. We also developed our understanding of the potential market size and business value for both concepts so we could contextualize the potential market opportunity.
The Smart Helmet & RideAlong App
Multimodal HMI for shared micromobility services
The micromobility rider
To help our team, as well as our client, empathize with micromobility riders I created customer journies that would help bring our customer profiles, and concepts to life and ground our value proposition in the needs of micromobility riders.
Katie Alissor is a young urban professional who has moved to NYC to pursue her career.
She's given up on owning a car because of the rising costs of living in a major city, the traffic congestion, and the hassle of finding parking.
Since the switch, she’s also grown tired of the crowding on public transit, the unpredictable expense of rideshare and the fact that she still ends up in traffic.
She’s decided to join the global trend of urban commuters switching to cycling as their main form of transit. She enjoys the freedom, the exercise, the cost savings, and the social aspects of cycling.
However, she finds the chaos of heavy traffic, fear for her safety, and inability to use the navigation tools she’s grown accustomed to using to be both frustrating and challenging.
Katie’s city has an established and growing network of dedicated bike lanes, but sometimes they just aren't where she needs to go, and planning her journeys and navigating while cycling is something she struggles with.
The Smart Helmet & RideAlong App
The SmartHelmet is not just a safety helmet, it's integrated with open-ear speakers and noise-reducing directional microphones. In addition, the RideAlong mobile app powers new safety, entertainment, and fitness-focused experiences.
- turn by turn navigation with safer routing
- fitness tracking
- access to virtual personal assistant
- sound pairing and communication
Turn by Turn Navigation & Safe Routing
Bike lane networks in cities are built to facilitate the majority of cyclist journeys. Riders struggle with finding these lanes and navigating connected journeys.
“On certain roads, or during rush hour, biking can be stressful and scary” Audrey, diary studies participant
RideAlong helps by routing trips along connecting bike lanes, keeping them separated from traffic. The turn-by-turn navigation guides riders and helps them feel safe and at ease.
Google maps can provide bicycle-specific route suggestions, which are also available through the maps API.
Fitness Tracking & Coach
Many casual cyclists see the positive impact on their health as one of their motivations for choosing micromobility.
“It felt really good to get some exercise and get outside.” Kate, diary studies participant
RideAlong cyclists can engage with their virtual coach progress before, during and after their rides.
It also helps them feel informed and motivates them by helping them to set goals, giving them words of encouragement, and celebrating their achievements.
Strava provides a fitness tracking and gamified experience that motivates riders and promotes increased performance and fitness.
Smart speakers are the fastest-growing category of consumer technology. Today 20% of Americans own a smart speaker.
Of those 56% report that since owning one they have increased their usage of their voice assistant on their smartphone.*
“ I wasn’t able to do many other tasks while riding because I needed to put my full attention on the road ” Amanda, diary studies participant
With the Smart Helmet and assistant access, riders can access information or media without requiring them to use their phone, or take their eyes off the road. They are able to complete simple tasks during their regular commutes, making their commute time more enjoyable and productive.
People are becoming accustomed to interacting with their virtual assistants to help them with daily routines and simple tasks.
Party based shared sound & communication
When biking with close friends, family or community groups communication remains a common frustration point for riders.
Bike-mounted speakers are becoming more normal. And like everybody else, cyclists enjoy music too.
“ I’d try and yell to them usually or wait until we get to a stoplight” Jonathan, diary studies participant
With the RideAlong app riders are able to communicate with their friends while riding, keeping them in a group, and helping them make decisions about their route together.
They also are able to share their music, enhancing the social experience of riding together.
Mobile applications like AmpMe allow users to sync music playback using only their mobile devices.
Customers as city policymakers & service providers
From our research, we were aware that our client's direct or indirect customer in this space may also be a service provider (eg. in shared systems) an OEM, or a municipal government, all three of which their own unique needs. These systems were seen as disruptive, often introducing new challenges and pressures on cities, leading to contentious relationships between regulators, policymakers and service providers. It’s in this conflict that I identified an opportunity to create value and increase desirability and viability if we create value in these different customer segments' highest priority and overlapping needs.
In my research, it was common for me to find headlines like these. Service providers, particularly shared electric scooter systems, are creating new problems for cities, and subsequently are being regulated or banned outright. The problems of the city, become the problems of the service provider as strict regulation may make these new transportation models untenable.
Cities are struggling to keep up with the influx of dockless bikes and scooters. They are frustrated by safety concerns, inadequate infrastructure & poor utilization of existing lanes as well as discarded vehicles adding clutter to the streetscape.
At the same time, policymakers understand that shared micromobility services have many positive benefits including increased ridership of mass transit, improvements to public health, reduced carbon emissions, reduced traffic congestion and financial savings for individuals.
“We believe that integrating our services in partnership with the public sector will transform the urban transportation landscape, increase bike ridership, and make our cities better.” Steve Koch, Executive Chairman of Motivate
A New HMI for Micromobility
To help us understand potential new rider interactions we ideated on what new hardware configurations might be beneficial. I created some illustrations to bring to life what these different configurations might look like.
Keeping in mind the importance of keeping riders' eyes on the road we felt the integration of a multimodal voice-first interface, tactile and gesture-based touch input, along with haptic feedback would all support the type of safe interactions our customers required.
Creating mutual value through software
An effective HMI for micromobility needs to create value for not only riders, but also OEMs & Service Providers, and the Cities that they work within. It can do this through software experiences that can help all parties meet their goals.
This concept brings together brought four software features that we believe could create value for all potential partners and riders alike.
- Influence traffic flows
- Improving public health
- Carbon reduction incentives
- Safer interfaces
Influencing traffic flows
Create category-defining navigation that supports both novice riders, experts and tourists that incentivize bike lane utilization and responsible ridership through ‘carrot & stick’ pricing and journey tracking.
“I was riding it mainly on moderately busy roads with no dedicated bike lanes” Zach, diary studies participant
This helps riders save money (a major motivation for using these services) while feeling safer and more secure. For public partners, this will maximize the utilization of their bike lane infrastructure and incentivize responsible and safe ridership.
Uber users different service options and dynamic pricing to help regulate demand during rush hour times.
Improving public health
Provide a recreation mode that creates routes optimized for fitness and recreation Incentivize fitness utilization through tracking and rewarding through carrot pricing models. There may be opportunities to partner with health authorities to subsidize the pricing of recreational rides.
“So it was really a great experience. I will definitely try it again. It also showed me how much exercise I need. I need to do a lot.” Sonja, diary studies participant
Riders of bikeshare enjoy the benefits of exercise without the cost, maintenance and commitment of bike ownership.
For public partners it increases equitable access to active mobility options, increasing the health of the community and helping health and policymakers meet their targets.
Carrot is a mobile application that partners with policymakers to incentivize exercise through a subsidized reward system.
Carbon reduction incentives
Promote usage of shared micromobility by tracking carbon emissions savings and gamifying a reward system. Track and estimate CO2 savings at a municipal and regional level and predict savings overtime to help set and meet reduction targets.
“I do think more people will ride scooters or bikes as their primary form of transportation as it's more environmentally friendly, at least that's why I'm doing it.” Audrey, diary studies participant
Riders feel great by tracking and communicating their carbon savings and the reduction in their carbon footprint.
The public partners are benefited by being able to calculate and project savings that contribute to them meeting their reduction targets.
Each person using the CitiCAP mobile app receives a weekly carbon budget. If they do not consume their budget, by using sustainable travel choices, such as taking the bus or cycling, they earn credits for what they have not used. These can be exchanged via the app for discounts on consumer services, products or city services.
A safer interface
A multimodal conversational interface that minimizes visual and cognitive distractions by limiting the need for riders to take their eyes off the road or interact with a screen while riding.
“I needed to know my route before I left since I couldn’t check my phone while riding.” Ahmed, diary studies participant
Helping riders to navigate along safer routes enables positive changes to ridership without becoming an unsafe distraction. For public partners it allows them to better manage and influence traffic while keeping riders and pedestrians safe on the streets.
GoBike in Copenhagen uses a tablet to provide navigation to riders. There are concerns about the brightness of the display and the distraction it might cause.
Final concept showcase & Next Steps
After presenting several developed micro-mobility concepts to the client with client interest in both ideas; sharing that one or both could be taken further into a prototyping phase. Just as valuable as the final concepts, our team invalidated ideas in the carshare and rideshare spaces based on our user and business research insights. Early Invalidation and strong demand signals helped us to de-risk the client’s expansion into a new domain, giving them the confidence to double down on going to market while avoiding the investment costs and low-return in areas with little demand or opportunity. You can read about this project's subsequent 7-week phase rapid prototyping, conversation design, and hypothesis-driven validation right here.