DES INV 15: Design Methodology Final Project
Group project with Andrea Lin, Jun Zhong, Katherine Qiu, Manisha Ponniah
Visual communication (aka Art Master)
After three cycles of practice with the design process — observe and notice, frame and reframe, imagine and design, make and experiment — students have tackled the wicked problem: "How might we improve commuting?"
We reimagined the riding experience of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), targeting specifically young commuters through improving the interior colors and lighting. We have also developed a supporting business model that includes installing ads in the form of art/murals inside the BART.
I participated in all stages of the design process, from defining our problem space, conducting research and interviews, ideating, prototyping, to user testing. My main contributions were:
- Constructing a persona Risha that represents our target user
- Imagining Risha's experience riding the new BART with Brightn implemented and writing a short story to communicate the main features of our project
- Creating the digital prototype to visually communicate our project
- Putting together all visual materials, including name tags and our final pitch.
We started off with some online research regarding commuting and public transportation. Here is the summary of some of our key insights:
- Worn down public transportation contributes to traffic.
- Health and hygiene are big concerns.
- What affects transportation: colors & art
- Increased numbers of commuters: New York and San Francisco had the strongest transit commuting.
- The average commute time in the bay area is around 30 minutes.
- Driving sucks
- Current status of the BART: workers + commuters
- 61% of Bart riders ride the BART to go to work
- A quarter of all commuters use the BART
We also conducted interviews with commuters in the age group of 18-30, trying to understand their experiences with the BART. Some common insights from our interviews:
- Safety seems to be a concern - people wants to feel comfortable
- The interior seems dull and depressing
- What can we learn from the public transport systems in foreign countries?
defining the problem space
As we progressed with more research and interviews, starting with the initial prompt how might we improve the experience of commuting, we continued to reframe and refine our how might we question. We narrowed down our target user group to young adults entering the workforce, and we came to set on the question: How might we improve the visuals in BART to help improve abstract elements of BART?
During the diverging phase, we used various methods like brainstorming, journey map, AEIOU, and system mapping to help us diverge on coming up with different ideas.
Here are some of the ideas we've had:
- Change the BART's layout to enable more passengers to reduce traffic
- Redesign handles and poles on BART to make efficient use of the space
- Propose new policies regarding time schedule to ease traffic
- Enforce policies on fines and tickets to improve safety
After using various methods to come up with different ideas, we used the decision matrix to narrow down our options, evaluate its effectiveness, and converge on an idea.
Based on our evaluation of each ideas based on the cost, profitability, visual, functionality, space availability, cleanliness, storage capability, accessibility, and comfort, comparing the BART with public transit systems in other cities, we decided to change the interior design of the BART, with a specific focus on visual elements like colors and lightings to improve other aspects like safety, comfort, and cleanliness.
To further develop and support our idea, we did more research specifically regarding lighting and colors. Here is a summary of our findings:
- Lighting and crime may be related
- More on safety
- Natural lighting benefits: efficiency + productivity + health
- Illuminate: a business that completed an LED light art installation on the bay bridge
Building a persona
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Recent Cal grad, Bio-E and Cog Sci major
Current consultant at a biotech consulting company
Daily commuter between Berkeley and San Francisco
Using photoshop and 3D printing, we created digital and physical prototypes of our project to test out the differences it would make.
We photoshopped a before and after of the BART interior to show the differences between with the current and improved colors and lighting:
We also 3D printed a mini model of the BART interior, with colored seats, and a mini circuit to demonstrate how the colors and lighting would be installed.
Unfortunately, someone paused the printer in the middle of our printing, so the prototype didn't end up the way it was CADed, but it still served its purpose of visualizing our idea.
We also developed a business model to fund and support the revamp of BART interior using a business model canvas..
The idea is to install murals in the interior of the BART, with logos from our corporate partners (companies in the Bay Area), so that the young commuters can enjoy the art and feel empowered to work towards their goals.
We also conducted a competitive analysis investigating other options such as having corporate partners co-naming stations, and setting up billboards for ads.
It turns out that installing the murals is the best option in that it's the most visually pleasant and would generate the most revenue from increased ridership.
To better communicate what Brightn does and what changes it would make, I wrote a short story imagining Risha's experience riding the BART:
Risha is a 23-year-old, recent Cal grad. She currently works at a biotech consulting company in San Francisco, and she commutes between Berkeley and San Francisco via BART on a daily basis. She usually takes the BART to San Francisco at 8:30am in the morning, and it takes her 30 minutes to get to work.
On an ordinary day, she steps into the crowded train in the morning, and the glaring light above her gives her a slight headache. She looks around, only to find the dark turquoise seats and the off-white walls around her suffocating and depressing, reminding her that she still has a long day ahead. Here goes another stressful day of work. Risha finishes her work at 7pm, and after she grabbed dinner with her co-worker, by the time she gets to the BART station, it’s already 9pm. There aren’t a lot of people around, and the dim light in the station doesn’t make her feel safe. She tries to stay alert as she steps into the train, but a wave of fatigue hits her as she sits down. The dull colors around her definitely didn’t help, and she is constantly trying to fight off the drowsiness during the ride back home. As a daily commuter, this happens nearly everyday.
After the BART revamped, Risha’s commuting experience completely changed. A great day starts off when Risha stepped into the train, greeted by the softened light, which soothes her angst and stress about starting to work. The orange and blue colors around her are bright and refreshing, lifting her mood, and charging her with the energy to go on and conquer the day. Feeling refreshed and energized at work, Risha always puts a big, confident smile on her face, and she aced her presentation to the client. After work, Risha tried out the new restaurant with her co-worker, and when she takes the BART home, the colored lights wrap her in a feeling of safety and peace. In addition, when she looks to the wall, she sees logos of prominent companies in the Bay area, and colorful murals on the wall, bringing her an appreciation for the location she is in. She steps off the BART, feeling accomplished about the day, and ambitious about her dreams for her future.
We created an online survey, and distributed through our social media so that we can test out our prototype and collect feedbacks from our target user group, which is young adults from the age of 18-30, who are about to/just entered the work force.
We asked questions like how often do they ride the BART, their main reason of travel. We also asked how strongly do they agree to some statements regarding BART:
- The current color scheme of BART puts me in a positive mood
- A different color scheme of BART could put me in a more positive mood
- A different color scheme of BART could make me feel safer riding on BART
- A different color scheme of BART could make me ride the BART more often
We also asked them to choose a preference of a new color scheme from the following palette. Most people preferred color theme 1.
From the 70 surveys that we've collected, we got an overall positive feedback on a new and improved BART interior:
- 78% agreeing that a different color scheme will put them in a better mood
- 76% agreeing that brighter lighting will put them in a better mood
At the end-of the class, we presented our project to students, faculties, and industry professionals at the 2016 Jacobs Winter Design Showcase.
We had the opportunity to speak with a representative from BART, who recognized the problems that we've brought forth, took some notes down, and gave us some feedbacks on the feasibility of our project.
I really enjoyed working with my team. We came from different academic backgrounds, but we each had a unique set of skills and knowledge that contributed to the project. For example, Katherine kept us on track as the project manager, Andrew helped us build the survey as our technology "intern", Manisha CADed and 3D printed our prototype as the engineer, Jun "handled the business side" and constructed a business model, and I put together all the visual materials.
We also explored different design methodologies as we diverged. Most importantly, I got comfortable working with ambiguities as we iterated through the design cycle, and I was proud to present our final result at the showcase.
Starting off with the broad, wicked problem "how might we improve commuting?", our team struggled trying to find a proper problem space. In fact, we went through two cycles of iteration, first targeting specific physical components of the BART like handles, poles, and seating arrangement. It turns out to be too specific, and rendered few options that were neither cohesive enough to form a final solution, nor strong enough to stand alone.
After a pivoting moment three weeks before our final showcase, we abandoned the first plan and decided to focus on improving the color scheme and lighting on BART. It created a lot of stress for the team, and we camped out in the library for a week trying to finish our final pitch. It was another bummer when someone paused the machine that was 3D printing our prototype 30 min before it's done, and it would take another 20 hours to re-print, so we had to work with what we've got.
We would continue to improve and refine our final prototype, and collect more in-person user testing feedbacks had we had more time. If I were to do it all-over again, I would spend less time diverging during the ideation phase, and start testing out the ideas through prototyping.