Are we there yet? Designing for people on the move

Louise Astley
Managing Director

Not so long ago, it felt like all of us were all tied to the traditional paradigm of car and bike ownership, and the usual mass transportation options. But now we’re witnessing a completely new breed of on-demand, personalized mobility services that are changing the way people move.

In the same way that Netflix, Apple and Amazon have transformed the way we consume media, a whole range of mobility companies are fundamentally changing how we search for, use and pay for mobility services in today’s world. The industry calls this evolution ‘mobility as a service’ (MaaS), and it is unlocking the potential for innovation across the wide range of sectors that wish to connect, personally, with people on the move.

To explore this complex and exciting space, we convened a panel comprised of some of the most innovative companies exploring the future of mobility, including:

  • Richard Balch, Director of Sustainable Mobility at Ford Motor Company
  • Gemma Ginty, Urban Futures Lead at Future Cities Catapult
  • Joseph Seal-Driver, Operations Director at oFo, UK
  • Jonathan Vaux, Executive Director, Innovation & Partnerships at Visa

Hosted by Smart’s Strategy Director, Nate Giraitis, the group introduced a wide range of ideas spanning cities, people and partnerships, as well as new areas of growth.

Take a human-centered approach, and don’t forget the city

Human-centered design thinking has long been embraced by the service sector. Banks, airlines, retailers and healthcare companies regularly put service design at the forefront of their customer experience strategy. Now, as mobility itself becomes a service and the customer relationship becomes personalized, design will be integral to improving the lives of people on the move.  But what about the city at large? How might we combat social, geographical and age-related isolation across urban communities?

The London Underground was the first classless transport system when it launched 150 years ago. It was designed for everyone; the disabled, the elderly, the people in the suburbs and even the poor. Access to new services is paramount, and technology can certainly enable this. “Technology is interesting. But what will make it successful is the human understanding and interaction it supports,” posed Richard Balch, Ford.  The postman has always been an asset to the community, especially for the elderly.  We must ensure that those human, 1:1 experiences are protected.  The sharing economy creates connections and interactions that weren’t previously possible, but the panellists agreed that we must look further; as new touchpoints emerge for the elderly and socially isolated, it’s critical to make those last-mile logistics work harder for everyone.

So, what does a healthy city look like? Air quality and congestion are key, but as Gemma Ginty, Future Cities Catapult noted: “You must look after the wellbeing of people.  We must ask important questions such as, how can we design for the wellbeing of people in cities?”.  Today’s data-driven world offers ample intelligence about how people are using cities, and where their functional, unmet needs lie.  But we must also address underserved needs. Here, design can play a role in connecting the needs of a city with the businesses, associations and communities that drive it.  Personalized services are indeed the new norm, but will only pervade and thrive when they solve challenges for the collective good.

Unlikely alliances will spur the mobility revolution

Automotive and technology companies have long been collaborating over multi-modal user interfaces (UIs), route planning and navigation. But what sort of unusual partnerships might we see emerge in mobility, and what opportunities will they create? With driverless vehicles on the horizon, and ever more solo and shared ride options available, there appear to be limitless services we could deploy to the connected traveler, on their route from A to B, especially for those free of driving responsibilities. If seamless mobility is the goal for a city like London, digital services were acknowledged as a crucial path to get us there.

This alone presents a huge opportunity to integrate other daily tasks whilst in transit.  Looking beyond the journey itself to the pre- and post- transit experience, we must imagine how other brands might offer more personalized experiences across the physical and digital world.  With various high street brands in the room, the panel suggested that there is a service innovation opportunity in mobility for all forms of retail.  Universally agreeing that personalization is a growing service expectation of every consumer, that highlights context, relevance, delivery, and timing, as keys to unlocking a successful offering.  Jonathan from Visa raised the prospect of passive forms of personalization, such as authentication in finance. “How do you pay for Uber? You just get out of the car. The best shopping experience should feel like shoplifting.”

 Brand trust is imperative to creating a seamless mobility service

As with any industry undergoing disruption, we see a whole range of brands from both public and private sectors, companies old and new, traditional players and new entrants to the sector, working hard to build a relationship with the traveler.  You plan and map your journey with one brand, pay for it with another, conduct it via several more, and may even experience multiple brands serving navigation, media and connectivity along the way.

Customer privacy and data protection sits at the heart of the opportunity here, as building trust in your brand is critical if you are to be the one to connect a person’s data across a cohesive mobility experience.  The room agreed that Apple, Amazon and the High Street banks currently hold the highest levels of consumer confidence here, but there are other ways to build loyalty and faith in your brand.  Jonathan from Visa talked about “the risk/reward ratio” when asking customers to share out more of their personal data, while Joseph from ofo UK asserted that, “understanding the value exchange is key to getting this right. Could we charge someone less to go uphill, than down?”  A gamified experience that encourages fitness and saves money could amount to wins for the consumer and invite loyalty to the service. Meanwhile the business benefits from a longer term relationship and richer usage data.

Build around what exists already

Evolving a product or service to fit into this new mobility landscape comes with endless opportunity, but to do so there must be an understanding of patterns of consumer behavior, and how to build around existing infrastructure and assets. Viewing service use through a generational lens alone, is an outdated concept. “There’s a judgement that older people won’t use a service. But actually, when they begin using something, they become its biggest users,” said Jonathan from Visa.  Brands and organizations must be wary of classifications and categorisations that limit the way we solve real mobility challenges. When it comes to understanding how your customers behave, defining them by age and income is a practice that should be challenged.

Design research, which always considers context, is an important tool here.  Get to know users in their natural habitat and use learnings to answer questions. “Mobile technology isn’t changing behavior, so much as we have to make technology work around existing behaviors.  For example, we [Visa] looked into designing a pay application for mums at petrol pumps, who didn’t want to leave their kids in the car and pay at a kiosk.”  Gemma also mentioned Good Gym, who recruit runners to check in with older people or help with community tasks, while on their regular jogging routes.

The lesson here is that conventional marketing personas can be dangerous.  Often, they arise from paradigms that need to shift, and hold back insight around the unclaimed value of what exists today.


A smarter future

Smart’s focus on the mobility sector started in New York around a decade ago, when we worked with Mayor Bloomberg and the Design Trust for Public Space on the Taxi of Tomorrow initiative to redesign the city’s ideal taxi experience. Ten years on, we have travelled the world exploring mobility services in both the developed and developing world.  As cities and transit associations are called on to connect their networks into new service ecosystems, we expect to see cleaner, more efficient cities driven by smarter technology, and crucially, a whole generation of young people growing up enjoying a new world where mobility as a service is the norm.  This is thrilling, but what excites us more is the future potential of mobile retail, mobile entertainment and mobile banking breaking away from the early confines of the digital world to the physical world of “spaces”, all connected and enabled by tomorrow’s seamless mobility services and real-time transit data.

Cleaner and clearer wayfinding through cities is on the way, but are we there yet? Let’s continue to work together on the human experiences that will benefit businesses, the city and everyday people on the move.


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