Evolving User-Centered Design

Engage stakeholders. Ignore the customer...

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. ” -Suzuki Shunryu

As advocates for innovating the user-centered design process, we believe in sharing lessons learned. Here, we use ROAM, a product we have designed and built from scratch as an example.

The consumer is NOT king.

It takes humility and adaptability to learn. In user-centered design, the designer is the user’s advocate, the user is the source for concept direction. Design led companies have profited considerably using this approach. But, putting the user at the center can create problems. Ask a consumer if they want clean water at their fingertips? The consumer says yes and gets clean water in packaged plastic. Great. Then, the planet gets 11 million metric tons of new plastic floating in its ocean every year. The consumer wins, but the planet loses. We can’t keep this up.

Get smart quickly:  Find the right experts.

Delivering complex, impactful products today often requires technical subject matter knowledge a designer must include, not leaning on the user in totality. So, how can designers simultaneously get smart quickly and deliver products that are meaningful to consumers while also addressing broader realities?  We found connecting designers to the right subject matter experts early in the process expands creativity and quality with minimal investment.  Below are some of the lessons we’ve learned.

Create a universal way to communicate

ROAM began with a discussion about what we could do to resolve climate change. We quickly refined the territory relating the very wide problem (greenhouse gas emissions) to factors we needed to solve.  

Planetary Problem: To reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.

Possible Solution: Personal bike riding is a potent way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Desired Outcome: More people riding their bikes.

Consumer Problem: Bike theft hinders bike ridership.

Theory of Change: If we remove the fear of bike theft, people will ride bikes more, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.

Define “stakeholder experts” then have them define what the problem means to them.

We then used this universal way to communicate with a set of experts.  We asked each what “the meaning of bike theft” was to them, and gained unexpected insights the consumer likely never could have told us:

Government: Bike theft persists because we do not prosecute bike thieves. We win twice with more people on bikes:(1) lower GHG (2) traffic congestion.

*Universities: Bike theft persists because people don’t lock properly or use quality locks. We win with more secure bikes: (1) easier management (2) happier students.

Merchants: Bike theft is not our responsibility. We don’t want theft near us, however. We win if our customers have greater options in coming to us.

Lock Manufacturers: Bike theft can be solved if everyone buys a secure, personal bike lock. We win if we sell more physical hardware to more people.

*It also became clear that secure bike parking is not equitable. Secure bike parking is not available to everyone because personal bike locks are expensive, fallible devices that cost as much as 40% the price of an average bike. For the public-transport dependent, riding a bike is often an unacceptable financial risk. Secure bike parking at key nodes could vastly increase ridership by under-served communities, saving time, money and reducing congestion and public transport crowding.

Ask technical experts how they would address the problem.

We shared our problem statement and what expert stakeholders had said with technical experts to inform the creative design process.  This allowed us to understand possibilities clearly while defining constraints. Hardware Engineer: At some point a piece of hardware cannot get more secure. Other features on top of well-designed hardware are required to increase security. For some locks, the bike rack is easier to breach than the lock.

IoT Engineer: The combined functionality of low energy bluetooth, networked cloud communications and accelerometer generated tamper alerts are in current use. Software Engineer: Firmware controlling low energy bluetooth, networked cloud comms and tamper alerts can be built into existing bluetooth locks to shortcut a proof of concept. IoT Product Manager: The combination of the above technologies creates “passive” security which could put more eyes on bikes and therefore reduce a potential thief’s motivations.

Ask people who could block you.  They might become enablers.
Experts are defined as anyone who can help you define your operating environment. So we reached out to potential regulators, funders and even companies working in the bike security space.

Transport Regulators: There are current laws against leaving locks onto public bike racks. These laws can be waived. We are interested in collaborating. We are interested in subsidizing the use of these locks for public transport dependent people as well as those in lower income strata.

Potential Funders: Define what an individual consumer is willing to pay for a subscription, what a municipality is willing to pay for the hardware and for subsidies if any.

Define unit economics of building, maintaining a lock network at scale and total addressable market. Competition: We are building connected locks, and would partner to develop these locks for new markets. You will be low in our list of priorities, but working with a reputable lock company will increase your ability to scale quickly.

Micromobility Providers: What we found was micromobility companies failed in direct proportion to the level they did not work with local governments. Littering city streets with minimal regard for regulation, scooter companies were particularly guilty of either ignoring government wholesale, or making the government scramble to regulate them.

Don’t listen to the user in an echo chamber. Gather behavioral data. Then write a product description.

ROAM is designed to attach to existing bike parking racks and requires no incremental public land. Tamper sensors alert the biker, other bikers, nearby merchants and public safety organizations when a bike is moved or vibrated at certain frequencies. These passive security measures increase a thief’s visibility and increase the risk of being caught. Bike thieves also actively avoid registered bikes, which are harder to fence. ROAM automatically registers new bikers with national bike registries. This reduces a thieves’ potential return and increases the chances a ROAM user’s bike will be returned. ROAM also automatically insures bikes for their replacement value.

What we learned.

Powerful, original and even rule-breaking solutions must balance stakeholder requirements across three layers: environmental, community and consumer, elevating the planet over people and individuals to get to a more enduring, acceptable, impactful solution.  Widening your aperture to consider what your product means across this stakeholder group gives it the best chance of not becoming another plastic water bottle in a sea of bad solutions for life on our planet.

Appendix: Bikes are the most powerful micromobility solution.

The personally owned bicycle today remains the most efficient means of clean transport to address both problems. Bikes produce zero emissions and life-cycle CO₂ emissions drop 14% per additional cycling trip and 62% for each avoided car trip. More people on bikes is a solution that can be implemented in the short term.

The data in this article can be found on page 24 (labeled page 23) the OECD’s Environmental Outlook report.

This article was written by John Butler. If you’ve enjoyed reading it, we’d love your feedback. To learn more or if you’d like to get in touch, email us at  hello@industrialcraft.com.