Fast, cheap or green?
Exploring user value in mobility
Mobility is a really exciting and important area, and shifts towards electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and micro-mobility are helping to create a future that's more sustainable, accessible and safe. Looking at how we get around right now, the key value is time - it's what drives every journey planner, transport app, etc... But as our services and attitudes towards mobility evolve, is this all that users really care about?
I designed and prototyped a new journey planning app that let me test two things:
1. Are there user needs for travel values other than time?
2. How can we make travel planning more personal and effective?
In many sectors we are starting to see consumers becoming more value driven, and likely to make choices based on ethical, environmental and social priorities - Why do I think this? Currently, this isn't really reflected in the mobility services we are offered, so what are the competitors doing?
Google Maps: Discovery, search, info and directions. Time focussed and separated by transport type
Citymapper: Journeys on public transport in cities. Efficiency focus, with additions such as price, weather...
Transit: Super localised, real-time travel on public transport. Focusses on time as well as transit routes/lines
Whim: All-inclusive mobility platform that works around your travel needs. Has an 'eco trip' option
Who might these services be missing? One proto-persona I identified is the ‘Eco-Explorer’, and this is a user group who want to enjoy exploring their city in a free and flexible way, and also want to reduce the impact of their day-to-day activities (these are their jobs-to-be done). Looking at current competitors, these jobs are not really being satisfied in an effective way, particularly in regard to the impact of their travel. So for these users, I wanted to test two value propositions for a new journey planner:
Value Proposition 1:
Introduce ‘environmental impact’ as a major value driver, as well as time and cost. Users can use an understanding of this impact to make decisions on how they travel.
Value Proposition 2:
Greatly increased personalisation, with deeper, more personal input on how you want to get around.
Building the MVP
I wanted to find the quickest way of testing these value propositions with the user group. The aim was to see if there is demand, understand why or why not, and if there was, to learn more about potential users. My MVP would be an interactive prototype of a journey planning app - quick to design and build, but effective in communicating the value propositions for testing.
Design and prototype
The key focus of the prototype was the results page, as this is where the planner will be differentiated from other services. Most journey planners rank journey options by time, so I explored a number of new options for how the user could utilise time, cost and impact equally, trying to give them the same priority.
I also picked a name, ‘Kiwi’ (mostly because it’s a fun domain name extension), and put together a logo.
I arrived at two types of results pages to test in the MVP:
Ranked by value
Similar to a typical planner, here the results are ranked 'best' to 'worst'. The user can choose whether to sort by time, cost, or environmental impact
Here the user is first given the optimum journey for each value, i.e the fastest, the cheapest, and the least impact. The 'non-optimum' results follow after and are ranked by time.
Current journey planners are surprisingly general, essentially presenting the same results to everyone with few options for personalisation (I can only assume this will change soon!). With a higher initial level of input (e.g max walking time, preferred ride hailing app, available transport options...), the user can get more effective results that are potentially all relevant to them.
Is knowing the environmental impact of a journey a real user need? For my proposed user group, interviews and prototype testing revealed it to be a ‘nice-to-have’, rather than a strong need. Though it wasn’t their first priority, there was a real interest in the feature, and most particpants said it’s something they can see becoming much more important to them in the future.
The key question was “would you use this app over your current journey planner?”, and whilst the addition of environmental impact was very appreciated, it was possibly not enough to tempt people from familiarity. However, they thought they would use it if there was greater differentiation from current apps, and a more clearly defined use case with a richer set of features and services around sustainability.
Learning and future opportunities
Going forward, these are some of the key learnings and future opportunities:
Wellness and mental health are very important, but very underserved, user needs for travel. They’re why you might take the slower bus route instead of the tube.
There are big differences in the way we travel at weekends compared to during the week, and travel services aren’t exploring or accounting for this.
Motivating people to reduce their impact is long-term, requiring small, consistent nudges. Showing how a problem affects a user personally creates much faster behaviour change.
Travel is extremely personal and extremely variable. Any attempts at personalisation have to be very smart, context aware, and nonrestrictive.
I think there is space for a travel app that could sit beside Citymapper, covering very different user values, use cases, and travel scenarios.