At Carnegie Mellon University, students are provided with campus shuttle and escort services to bring students back safely and efficiently home. However, the CMU transportation services are seeing a significant drop in ridership. So, and they asked the User-Centered Research and Evaluation class to reexamine the needs of the CMU community and find other ways to improve upon the transportation experience of getting to and from campus.
Conduct user research and come up with a solution that improves upon the CMU transportation experience
Mahima Arya, Hanna Jang, Taruna Emani, Nupur Maheshwari
User Research, Prototype Design and Mockups, Visual Assets
User Research Methods and Process
Finding our Focus Area
As a team, our initial research focus area was “why is it so hard to get information about how to ride the shuttle?” At that time, we felt that the project scope was well justified because we saw a continuous pattern in users having difficulty finding information about the shuttle system. For example, during a previous affinity diagram activity, we found that accessible information was one of the strengths of the city bus system, and a weakness of the CMU shuttle system.
After receiving feedback to broaden our research scope, we decided on a new focus area: “why is it so hard to get information as students about CMU transportation options?” We felt this would better depict the real-life user context as CMU students don’t just take CMU transportation services. At this stage, our research hypothesis was that our end users didn’t have accessible information on transportation options- which is why many stuck with one preferred transportation option they used regularly. We therefore conducted all of our research methods below henceforth on the problem area of information dissemination.
We conducted 4 contextual inquiries with 4 different undergraduate students and we gained a lot of insight on the tasks and frustrations that each person had in their transportation journey. We followed students on-campus and off-campus back home to observe what hiccups came in their way and generally their behaviors. Students told us whether they lived on or off campus, how they go to and from campus, and we observed the kinds of information they encounter and how it affected them. This allowed us to follow a student and how they commute in their usual environment, which helped us understand what information was important to them.
One interesting insight was that students often looked at their phone to get live information about weather and would check constantly to see when the bus would arrive. Thus, live information at hand is important and weather influences how students would commute and what they would bring.
The survey was a good way to get mass amounts of data and get generalized feedback about the existing system.
We designed our survey to meet these goals:
Learn about the factors that contribute to students’ choice to use a particular transportation service
Understand the different needs/concerns for students on-campus vs. off-campus living
Determine the most important resources for information dissemination on transportation
After analyzing survey results, we found that cost is a huge factor in deciding what transportation to use. In terms of our solution, we felt that it was important to make our service free with nominal late fees. Furthermore, we found that walking and taking the city bus were the most preferable choices of transportation no matter if students lived on or off campus. We could think about improving on their existing choices of transportation.
We first used stakeholder mapping to visualize and understand what relationships each person had in the transportation system, including the students’ need for convenience, parents’ need of safety for students, and the administrators who want to keep students and the school happy.
We selected our target stakeholders as people who lived on campus (within one mile radius from campus) and off campus (one mile radius away from campus). Based off of previous research, we thought that these groups had the most promise within our focus area because we felt that the transportation options for on campus living differed than people who lived off campus.
Students are protected and given many resources from the school
Other transportation systems also rely on students’ business thus have offered competitive services that rival the school
After we conducted the contextual inquiry, we created an affinity diagram to clearly see the main trends that were happening.
One major insight we saw was that students stick with the same transportation options they have always used, not because of the lack of information about alternative transportation, but because they have little motivation to switch from their normal travel patterns. This shifted our focus area to creating more convenient experiences for students while they were traveling, rather than focusing on having them use other methods of transportation.
Students seem to only look for information related to transportation right when they need it or need to think about it (Eg apartment hunting, waiting for bus)
Students prefer information sources use platforms that they have previous experience with (Eg. Google Maps)
Students are less likely to look for information on transportation by themselves
Walk the Wall
We consolidated all of the data to the point and we were able to narrow down our problem space to improving existing ports of information and existing popular transportation methods. We wrote our design ideas and breakdowns/needs on post-its and focused on 10 needs including, Users need information related to transportation that is updated in real time, and users need specific transportation accommodations that are dependent on the time of the day (morning vs night) to create storyboards for to validate them
Prototyping and Testing
5 Second Tests
The 5 second test was a quick and easy way to get stakeholder thoughts on our prototype (the weather kiosk).
Here are quotes we received:
“I wouldn’t borrow boots or coats, that sounds really gross” This showed that we need to think carefully about what we offer to students
“What does the inside look like?” Users want a more transparent and friendly interface
“How do I return the supplies?” This revealed that the design of returning was highly flawed
“Why does this look like a bird box?” This showed that our prototype should be built in a bigger scale to realistically convey a real-life kiosk
All of these comments helped a lot when designing our experience prototype and next iteration of the prototype
StoryBoarding and Speed Dating
Speed dating and storyboarding helped us get quick feedback on our ideas. Some of our more risky ideas involved coming up with solutions that tackled getting information rapidly through a chip, as well as creating a “bubble” around CMU to control the weather. We found that users prefer to get information and solutions right when they are needed. Thus, we chose to move on with the weather kiosk idea because it allowed students to get information on weather right when they needed, as well as getting umbrellas right when they needed as well.
Here are some memorable quotes:
“I’m usually prepared, but this would be good if there’s unexpected weather or my umbrella breaks”
“Umbrellas make my backpack heavy, it would be nice to have a kiosk”
These quotes helped us hone in on our initial prototype.
After feedback, we iterated on our prototype by taping our screens and designs on an existing vending machine and using “wizard of oz” technique to make our product operate as it should in the real life. We then asked passerbys to test it.The experience prototype process revealed some issues regarding how users actually interacted with the product.
Here are quotes we received:
Users had trouble finding where to click on borrowing an umbrella. This revealed that we needed to emphasize the borrowing more than the weather information part of the screen, as well as make buttons more clear
Users didn’t know whether to insert or swipe the CMU ID, which is a wording issue and showed us that we need to make sure everything is consistent in our design.
This data led us to redesign the screens for our final prototype to add more clarity in instructions and an overall better product.
User Research Synthesis
After user research, iterating, and testing we came up with these design principles that our final solution must meet
Design should be accessible affordable to students on campus and off campus to increase impact
Information should easily get across to the users so they can make informed decisions on transportation quickly
Flow of the start to end experience should be easy and intuitive
When ideating concepts, I looked to address the problems found in the research. I always checked back to the design principles and implications, to see if my ideas fulfilled them.
4 Main Features
After analyzing user research and tests, we came up with 4 main features of the weather kiosk
It is pouring outside. Luckily the CMU Weather kiosk allows you to borrow umbrellas for free so you can comfortably walk home. Illustrations inspired by Alver Hothasi
Key Features of the Final Design
Borrow free umbrellas for your transportation journey
When you are unprepared and it is raining hard, you can borrow free umbrellas in centralized locations across campus to shield yourself. Because walking across campus and back home requires you to be outside in the transportation journey, this can prevent students from being drenched, unhappy, and perhaps opting for a more expensive option (Uber).
Show weather, time, and other information up front
Instead of checking on your phone all the time, you can view information about the current weather and future weather, and even bus times upfront in the kiosk (prospectively). This will help to easily inform students on what transportation to take and when they need to take it.
Return products easily in drop off locations
There is a map and list on the side of the kiosk to show you how you can drop off your umbrella in designated boxes located in centralized locations across campus. The accessibility of the location and the one-step process of returning makes it easy for students to borrow the umbrellas.
With this project, I gained a much more in-depth understanding of a variety of different and generative research methods and how to use them in the design process. With the kiosk design, if I were to iterate this project, I would focus on doing more user testing and research to see exactly what users need and want besides umbrellas to protect them from harsh weather conditions. We can think about items being swapped seasonally, for hot weather and cold weather. I would also want to further work out the logistics of how people return items, make sure they are clean, and the penalty process, including how much of our budget would limit our design choices. Furthermore, I would want to experiment with integrating more CMU design branding onto the kiosk.