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Take Me Home

November — February 2020, 15 weeks

A phone application to aid the CMU Escort experience and provide safety to students who are going home late at night.

CMU Escort is a bus system that drops off the college community members home at night. Despite it being a safe way of going home, not many students are aware of the program due to its complicated system. Hence, we have designed a new app that aids the waiting, the riding, and the arrival status of students to make the Escort experience more approachable and desirable.

Skills ✨ 
UIUX Design + Research, Design Thinking
Tools 🖇
Adobe Xd, Figma, Google Suite
Collaborators 💖
Claire Yoon
Wenqing Yin

Project Concept

CMU Escort provides rideshare service from 6:30pm to 6:30am every day during the week. This system is in pair with the CMU Shuttle system, which provides rides to designated pick-up and drop-off zones from 7am to 11pm. Due to the lack of information about the Escort program, most community members think that their only option going home past 11pm is using the public bus, which is often crowded and expensive.

Through research, my team and I discovered that students who are unfamiliar with the system do not want to use the Escort because of the following reasons:

1. They are unsure where the bus stops.
2. They do not know where the bus is going.
3. They are skeptical about its safety.

As a solution, we designed an application that provides information about the four Escort zones, live-tracks the buses, and shares ride status to those around them. 

The App Prototype

Final UI
Click on the little arrows to see the different screens designed for the application. The app consists of three key stages: “The Search” for finding the correct Escort zone, “The Notification” for sending notifications when the bus is approaching the stop, and “The Ride Status” for estimated time of arrival and share-the-ride-information button.

The Search
There are a total of five Escort pick-up areas around campus. The ride service operates in the areas of Oakland, Shadyside, and Squirrel Hill, with four different geographic “zones” for the buses. The interviewees often expressed that it is extremely hard to find which zone they belong in, as the information on the website is verbal instead of visual.

As a solution, we designed a landing page that visualizes the different zones and a search button that allows students to search which bus they should take if they want to go home.

The Notification
Due to the nature of traffic, we realized during research that some buses do not come exactly on time. They are expected to arrive every 0 and 30th minute of each hour; but often times they were up to five-minutes early or late. Therefore, we designed a notification system that lets the user know when the bus they are intending to take is arriving in five minutes. This way, the user will be able to keep themsleves as warm as possible during harsh winter.

The Ride Status
Instead of searching through their bag to find the ID card, the user can now easily use a QR code on the app to access the Escort bus. Once they are on board, their set destination from the app is automatically registered to the system, optimizing the quickest route for the riders. From the app, the rider can then track their location, see the estimated time of arrival, and share ride status with their friends.

An Informational Brochure from the 2019 CMU Escort Webpage

Research Question

Since the beginning of the project, my teammates and I knew that we wanted to conduct a research project on the Escort system, one of the most confusing service the school provides for students. We looked through CMU’s webpage for concrete information that would help first-timers understand what steps they should take to ride the service back home. However, as we looked more into the system, we realized that the informations were not intuitive enough for students. How might we find ways to increase the first use of undergraduate students who have not used the Escort before?

User Research

Before jumping into target audience interviews, Wenqing, Claire, and I conducted a survey to collect general data about the students who use and do not use the Escort service. From the 56 responses we have obtained, more than half of the respondents said that they have never used the escort service before. Although this may not be an accurate representation of the entire school due to the small sample size, we gained a general understanding that a handful of students who live off-campus are confused with the way the Escort system works.

Observation Notes

Observation Studies
To familiarize ourselves with the Escort, we each conducted observation studies for three timeslots at an Escort stop. The notes above are my notes from the observation. Based on the study, I learned that most Escort users are graduate students and are aware that the buses are likely going to be late. They typically come out a minute to two minutes before the bus is supposed to arrive; but it is common for the bus to arrive late or drive through the stop if the car is already full.

Afterwards, we conducted interview with four undergraduate students who live off-campus but do not use the Escort. The chart above outlines the responses from each interviewee.

Affinity Diagram
Based on the interview, we listed the findings and categorized them into different groups to identify patterns. We then identified the main cause of undergraduate students refusing to use the Escort system: It is hard for new users to find concrete information about the service and people do not have the time or energy to look it up.  Lack of undergraduate students’ usage of the Escort also contributes to this issue. We also identified that the Escort may not be needed in some situations, especially when the potential user prefers walking back at home for exercise.

Mental Model
We then created a mental model to understand the different mental spaces that are related to the non-users. There are many reasons for students to not use the service, with the biggest cause being interviewees avoiding staying on campus because they do not want to walk late at night. Therefore, we decided to dig deeper into what students do when they are foced to stay on campus longer than their usual time. This has influenced us to generate the three different scenarios for the storyboarding activity below.

Storyboard Exercise
We asked the interviewees to complete a storyboard exercise with three different scenarios: What they would do if it is 11pm and they need to go back and would the result be different if they are going back at 1am? What would they do if they were to use the Escort? From the interview and the storyboard exercise, we learned the following:

  • Some students who already have experience taking the Escort avoid taking the bus at night because of the long wait time outside and then unpredicted estimated time of arrival.
  • Some students do not know who to ask when they want to ask about the Escort because none of their friends use it.
  • Some students think the Escort is unsafe and are willing to pay for their ride home.
  • Some students go back early so they do not need to use the services offered by the school.

Stakeholders Map
Before simply jumping into the design solution, my team and I decided that we need to have a better understanding of the different aspects that make up the Escort. We created a simple Stakeholders Map to visualize the relationships between people and services. While completing the exercise, we also looked into the existing Escort/Shuttle app named “Rider’s System.” The third-party tracking app made communication and live tracking of the buses a lot harder than it should be. This information was backed up by the information from the survey.

Solution Overview

Elito Model
We then organized facts and observations through categorizing, analyzing, and generalizing. The Elito Model helped us understand the values behind each non-user’s interview answer, even if the responses did not have a direct correlation with the Escort itself. Identifying the potential solutions has revealed that the primary issue with the Escort is the lack of clarity about the service itself.

As the Elito Model is long and had a lot of irrelevant information, we created a short value chart below to identify potential leverage and design points.

Value Chart
Based on the value chart, we noticed that some of the desired features are service-level, meaning that change will only be implemented through multiple stakeholders. As service-level changes may not be implementable at this stage of research, my teammates and I decided to focus on creating an application that helps the user navigate the Escort and sends notifications.

Scuplting the Experience

Information Architecture
My teammates and I set down and created the information architecture to visualize the different level of information this new app will contain. We ended up designing a simple app with four functions: My Info, Search, Notification, and Route (Ride Status). We decided to keep the features of the app simple and straight forward to prevent overcomplication and miscommunication.

User Flow
Afterwards, we designed a user flow chart to visualize the interaction process. This helped us understand what kind of actions we want the user to take at each step. After this step, we used Adobe Xd to design the screens as shown at the top of this page.

Final Thoughts

This 15-week research project had a “simple” solution than what we initially had in mind when started the assignment. We spent most of the time understanding the non-users’ intentions and narrowing down the project outcome to something that is implementable. I am glad that we went through these rigorous steps for a thorough understanding of the situation and not designing something for the sake of presenting. While working on this project, I learned how important it is to conduct design research and how much I enjoy research. I found my odd love towards organizing diagrams and maps — There is a great beauty to designing complicated yet clean and readable diagrams.

As of January 2021, I am skeptical towards the implementation of this MVP, as the coding process will be extremly complicated with the livetracking feature. But I am glad that we did not limit ourselves to what is possible so we can get creative. :)

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