Urban mobility has been a hot topic for several years. New opportunities created by emerging technologies and more efficient ways to utilise mobility data have been at the heart of the mobility buzz. While this technology-driven approach has indeed created some truly remarkable innovations, eventually many of them end up failing because user needs – and more specifically, emotional barriers for adopting new solutions – are not given enough attention.
At Hellon, we find it important to design future mobility solutions not by asking the question “What could be possible with this technology?” but rather “What is needed / what do people need, and how might technology help?”.
In addition to the challenge of creating truly desirable mobility solutions, we are also dealing with another challenge in urban environments. At this point in time, our cities are challenged by the many problems created by our current mobility systems. Among these are, for example, greenhouse gas emissions from road transportation, our vehicles taking up a lot of precious urban space, and car commuters reporting higher levels of stress and lower levels of job satisfaction compared to other means of commuting. So while customer centric design can help organisations create more desirable mobility solutions, we are also dealing with another type of critical challenge beyond the simple desirability aspect that requires a completely different type of design approach.
How can organisations uncover future mobility related needs on user level?
A major problem for organisations regarding designing for the future is that their understanding of their customers tends to be very limited to how things are today. For example, many organisations collect a lot of data about how their current services are being used and how their customers feel about them. While this type of customer understanding is undeniably important, it provides little support or guidance for designing for the future.
At this point someone might raise the famous quote from Henry Ford when he allegedly said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” So instead of revolutionising the automotive industry back in the day, customers would have more likely focused on improving something that was more familiar to them.
There is indeed a wisdom in this quote: customers should probably never be in the position where they do the designer’s actual design work. However, it is also important to notice that Ford does not dispute the importance of having insight of your customers when designing something new for them. In our view, the key take-away here is that you will get irrelevant answers, if you ask the wrong questions. For this reason, design research always needs to be framed in a way that we get relevant output from customers - and for that we need to give relevant input for them. So instead of just asking what your customers would like to see in the future, you should use other types of insight acquiring methods.
The most relevant type of insights that you should be looking for are understanding how people make their choices and what matters to them in the context of mobility – and for this purpose you need deeper insights on what happens internally, in the customer’s psyche by understanding their needs, desires, fears and values. To reach this level of customer insights you often need to utilize insights acquiring methods that help your customers think beyond today and to envision what the future might look like. This can be achieved, for example, with future illustrations - such as storyboards, service samples and videos - that make the potential future more tangible for the customers.
With these types of future research methods, you remove your customers from the burden of imagining the future themselves from scratch - and instead, place them into the position of reflection and projection. When done right, this enables the customers to reveal their deeply rooted needs, values and fears that can be relevant for the new future mobility solution that you are designing - and either validate its desirability or reveal tacit emotional barriers for adopting it.
Solving collective and systemic challenges requires cross-organisation ownership
While designing desirable future mobility solutions is already challenging, arguably it’s more difficult to design mobility solutions that create collective value for everyone.
Urban mobility is a great example of a systemic design challenge where multiple organisations operate within the same urban ecosystem. Regardless of their individual set of business targets and value propositions, a special feature of this shared context is that the different mobility organisations, with their solutions, have an impact on the same system.
These impacts can be difficult to predict at times. Let’s take e-scooters as an example: They are an absolute joy to ride, the service itself works great and it is undeniably user-friendly. However, when inserted into the city context, this service has caused many unwanted side effects - in particular, they are a real problem for cyclists and pedestrians when they are left lying around on the streets. So user desirability check, systemic desirability not so much.
How to tackle these systemic challenges related to mobility then? As we aim for more sustainable and liveable cities, we need more innovative mobility systems - and for more innovative and disruptive mobility systems we need more co-owned models. To make the needed changes, the problem again is not the lack of technology – it is the lack of ownership or desire to work together towards a common goal.
For the past few years, it has been a trend to remove silos between departments and functions with the aim of creating more customer centric and agile ways of working. This has been achieved by introducing cross-silo collaboration models and multidisciplinary teams. What is needed now to solve these systemic and collective challenges is to have similar movements happen on a systemic level between organisations through cross-organisation collaboration, where each organisation brings their unique expertise to the table.
This sort of ecosystem collaboration requires a good understanding of the different players' roles and targets, from private to public sector, municipalities, technology and data experts. It also needs strong leadership, collaboration and a joint ownership of the problem, and not to mention, a common vision - rooted in the idea of shared value - for the different stakeholders to work towards.
Without this kind of collaboration, it will be impossible to disrupt current mobility systems in a way that is basically a necessity in order to secure sustainable population growth in our cities.
Key take-aways from this article:
- Designing future mobility solutions requires a unique set of insight acquiring methods.
- It is often more fruitful to have your customers in the position of projecting and reflecting on the potential future, instead of actively designing it.
- In the context of new urban mobility, the concept of user desirability should be expanded to also cover systemic desirability when designing new mobility solutions.
- Tackling systemic challenges within the urban mobility context requires cross-organisational ownership and collaboration as well as a shared vision.
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Lead Business Designer
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