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Neighbourhood Car

Objective

Identify business opportunities in transportation with user-centered design methods, design a new service and its business model.

Duration

4 months

Deliverable

Digital service concept with validated user demand, showcased with clickable prototype and marketing landing page.

Role

The group consisted of 5 students of technical and design backgrounds. I did user interviews, sketching, prototyping, user testing as well as business model design.
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Challenge

The project was done for a product & service design course at Aalto University. The design brief was an open-ended challenge to identify unmet user needs in transportation of people or goods in urban environments.

Needfinding and research

We began by exploring the topic broadly by doing open-ended and semi-structured interviews with a wide range of people to understand how they move around in their daily lives, asking questions such as:

  • How do you usually travel? Why?
  • Between what places and how often?
  • What challenges or frustrations have you experienced in transportation?
After conducting our interviews, we analysed them and collected our insights on sticky notes that we combined into an affinity diagram and identified 4 major problem areas:

  • Lack of flexibility (e.g. Fixed public transport schedules)
  • High cost (e.g. Can't afford their own car)
  • Limited information (e.g. No real-time information in public transport)
  • Inflexible capacity (e.g. Buses full during rush hour)

We learned that many people would like to have the freedom and flexibility that a car provides, but cannot afford it. This guided us to focus on pain points related to car ownership and car drivers.

After doing more research and interviewing with car drivers, we learned that:
  • The overall utilisation of cars is very low, they are parked 96% of the time.
  • People often travel alone, e.g. when commuting to work.
  • Families with a single car use it frequently, but the second car is used less often.

Based on these insights, we became interested in the area of car sharing and reframed the challenge for ourselves to: "How could you get the benefits of a car without owning one?"

Ideation and benchmarking

We used brainwriting to ideate different approaches including:

  • "Drag and drop" cars (pick up/leave the car wherever you want)
  • AirBnb for cars
  • Carpooling
  • Carsharing sponsored by companies
  • On-demand cars
  • Carsharing in a community

Benchmarking was done to give us an understanding of existing services. We realised that although they may initally seem similar, the value proposition actually differs in several ways and cater to different use cases. The main differentiating factors we identified were:
  • Cost & pricing models
  • Quality & size of cars
  • Location of cars
  • Petrol vs electric motor cars
  • Overall user experience (product design)
Based on our research, we knew that people who usually rely on public transport have an irregular need for cars to do things like shopping, moving of things or going to destinations not covered by public transport. We also knew that these trips typically begin and end at people's homes.

However, existing carsharing services focus on providing large fleets of modern and luxurious cars that are dispersed throughout cities, creating a very high cost for the end customer.

This lead to our hypothesis that there is unmet demand for a low-cost carsharing service for irregular use with cars near people's homes.

Concept validation

We started developing our concept of a "community car" / "neighbourhood car" by defining a simple value proposition based on our hypothesis:

  • A car shared by residents in the same apartment building.
  • Bookable through a mobile app.
  • The car has a dedicated parking space where you pick it up and leave it.
  • Users do not need to worry about fueling or maintenance of the car.

Initial validation was done with a Google form (160 responses) to determine the level of interest, the potential use cases (destinations, durations), user expectations regarding cost and general comments. Although a survey is not conclusive, we received a lot of interest and useful feedback that indicated we were on to something.
To make it more concrete and real, we designed a storyboard of the customer journey and designed low-fi paper prototypes of the mobile application for making and managing bookings.

We tested these with interested users to gain more qualitative feedback about their needs.
We learnt that people would like the ability to share a car in order to save money, which also fit our vision of a car shared by a community.

We also set up a stand to market the service in person (and through online channels) and allowed people from a certain neighbourhood to make actual bookings. This data (~40 bookings) showed us real use cases and days/times of bookings.

Business model design

Next, more in-depth benchmarking of existing services was done to understand their cost/revenue structures and what stakeholders are involved in running a service like this, in order to determine the financial feasibility of the service.

We aimed to have a low-cost model, and by partnering with housing associations (we had meetings with them to confirm their interest) we could avoid the cost of renting parking spaces in the city. It would also provide us with access to electric charging points, allowing us to use electric cars that have lower maintenance costs. These business model tweaks would allow us to offer a competitive price point to customers and lower our overall risk.

UX/UI Prototyping

Finally, we dug into the details of the user experience of the mobile app. We identified the core use cases and designed the initial screens and user flow on paper.

At this stage, we also analysed various edge cases and how they could be treated, but we did not have time to prototype them all.
We then created a digital prototype using Adobe XD where we focused on interaction design to ensure that users understand the app and can achieve certain tasks.

4 usability tests were done with real users where they had to complete certain task scenarios. This uncovered issues and we used the feedback to iterate once more on the prototype.

Results

Our final service concept is summarised here and the (rough) mobile prototype is available here.

Overall, we were happy with the project and achieved several things:

  • Identified unmet user needs and pain points.
  • Created a matching value proposition.
  • Validated demand for the service concept.
  • Analysed the market and created a suitable business model.
  • Designed interactive prototypes and tested them to learn from real users.

I learned a lot about the early stages of the design process from this project, including needfinding, concept validation as well as improved my skills in prototyping and user testing.

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