The Mobility Justice Design Guide

The journey of four design teams addressing mobility injustices using participatory design methods

Introduction

This design guide was developed in order to describe the journey of 12 students of the Interaction Design programme of Umeå Institute of Design. The project addressed mobility justice in the gendered landscape focusing on the city of Umeå. What are the underlying social norms and ethical concerns that are embedded in the way we use, travel, and understand urban mobility. The way we use public transport affects our perception of each other in the city. Who lives in the city? Who are the under represented or invisible users of the system? What are the gender norms? This mirror effect is at the heart of the power structures that are ever present in our urban infrastructure. In this guide various participatory design methodologies that were used to explore mobility justice are introduced and explained using examples from the different projects.

The outcomes of the project are:

Table of contents

A. Design Ethnography
Snowballing
Participant Observation
Prototyping in the Wild

B. Analysis
Breaking the norms
Roleplaying

C. Concept brief
Visual brief
The Kit

D. Concept phase
Aesthetics of interaction
Final concept development

A. Design Ethnography

To kick off the design process the four teams went out into the wild, speaking to people and probing to discover everyday stories about how people get around in Umeå. Through dissecting these, the power structures and injustices that exist around mobility in Umeå can be revealed.

Snowballing

The research started with the teams leaving the project studio and observing, talking and engaging with people in everyday transportation. Teams were spread out in different parts of Umeå, talking with bus drivers, elderly people, youths and adults. Having this, we can say, really shallow ethnographic research we realise in order to get deeper understanding of needs and injustices, we will have to create relationships with people. So we try to connect with them and setup second meeting. Knowing bit more about person open new sets of questions.

Here we could use our design ‘compass’ to guide the snowball, pulling at interesting threads to move past the facades and reveal genuine stories. Contacts made during these early interventions grew into lasting relationships throughout the project.

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Participant Observation

One of the parts in the ethnographic research was to “spend a day” and commute with our personas. The ideas was to meet with people in morning and participate in their morning routines: seeing how they start the day, what kind of methods, tools and hacks they use, etc. Shadowing a persona allow for a “backstage” perspective on how different people deal with their commute and how related and unrelated things affect their commute.

In this case, one of the teams was focusing on parenthood & children in context of transportation. They spend a morning “shadowing” a mother and her two children in their daily routine of preparation and cycling to their destinations.

Doing so provided them with thorough insight in the morning schedule of the whole family and the challenges that the different members of the family face. For example the mothers schedule is evolving around accommodating the wishes of the children, who in turn have conflicting needs themselves.

Prototyping in the Wild

As the research grew, more complexity was uncovered. Prototyping in the wild showed up to be good practice to break research into smaller pieces and blend insights in something physical and abstract. Prototyping in the wild took place over two sections:

  1. Firstly, teams practised ‘thinking with their hands’, building rough cardboard prototypes to gain a fast view on what could and couldn’t work. Through these, the teams explored how to make objects that invite, provoke and call for participation.
  2. Secondly, building prototypes to explore certain societal values. Each team came up with values that are related to their research brief, then created prototypes that provoked or evaluated these values.

One team played with values of Responsibility, Trust and Control, and how the relationship between these values correlate depending on the context. What is Control and how do people feel in control when some unexpected happens? Is it something we can impose or enhance? Below are four examples:

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RESPONSIBILITY — UMEA CROSS STITCHING: A cross-stitching kit, left in the wild to explore Responsibility. When do people feel responsibility in shared spaces, and what motivates people to contribute or take action?

TRUST — HUMAN STOP BUTTON: Human vs technology, what do we trust the most? When can you replace a human with an machine and how would that affect people’s sense of control?

CONTROL — BUS DOOR COUNT DOWN: In shared spaces there are many influences that we cannot always predict. How can you provide the sense of control in a shared space?

Placing prototypes in public spaces created a discussion that was later brought into the project’s concept development. Through stepping away from the project context and exploring abstract values, the probes were valuable in challenging assumptions and observing people’s behavior.

B. Analysis

To make sense of all the material collected during the first phase the teams started analysing and mapping all stories to find patterns and revealed injustices and power structures to go deeper into. This is done to get a deeper understanding on the situations that exist today and where these injustices occur.

Breaking the norms:

To make an impact with the design, we try and change people’s behaviour. To be able to do that there is a need to understand the current behaviour and why we are behaving the way we are. The teams explored this behaviour through norms. By identifying the norms in society injustices can be revealed more easily. “The norm” which is perceived as a fact “it is how it is”, can be discriminating without the people who are a part of the “norm” noticing it, only the people outside of it would realise. The teams explored injustices and how to talk about them by putting themselves in the equation, and seeing where and how they are “over-privileged” or underprivileged in that situation. (“underprivileged” and “overprivileged”, the later being a word which doesn’t really exist in our vocabulary.) From the previous research and snowball challenge each team identified different norms that they saw in the society and public transport. After that they rotated these norms so that each team got a new set of norms to give feedback on and ask questions about. The questions could be for example “Where do you think this comes from?” and “How is this visible in the society?” Each team then got back their initial norms. Now they started to think about how the identified norms could be flipped, and how they could be broken through interventions and prototypes in the wild. Discussing the use of the word norm versus the word injustice, which is heavily loaded with negativity, was useful to create a new way of thinking into the project to come up with an example in which the “norm” can be questioned.

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Mapping out and linking the norms that been identified.

One team highlighted a norm they called VOLVO, VILLA, VOVVE ( a swedish saying, Car, House, Dog), showing the aspirations or what people should aspire to if they want to have a good life — The questions was then, how to break this norm and open peoples eyes to other ways of living. The other norms we spotted are linked to this one in some way: Being a parent means having to own a car, the norm of having to live in the city and the decline of rural life, and the idea that buses are for commuting (also cars), but cars, bikes and walking is more for pleasure. Based on this the team designed a probe that they called the hitchhiker stop. They put up a hitchhiking sign at the bus stop to try and see if people would pick them up.

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Hitch hiking sign at busstop to try and break the norm of (car) ownership within the norm of Volvo, Villa, Vovve. Having the probe in the wild initiated curiosity and discussion with people passing by.

Another team developed a probe that highlighted the norm of being “temporarily able” and not having to worry about having enough place in the bus. Based on this they designed an intervention/probe. The probe was to divide the whole bus in areas reserved based on physical abilities, for example:

  • 5 spots for people in a wheelchair
  • 4 spots for people who can walk 5 km
  • 5 spots for people who can run 5 km
  • 4 spots for people walking with crutches
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Roleplaying

To get an better understanding of situations that each team had experienced or heard during the research they staged these situations through roleplay. By acting them out it allows for a deeper understanding and awareness of the details, emotions and experiences that occur in that specific injustice/situation that is played out; they then explored future scenarios in these same situations. “How could this situation be different?” or “How could we change it?” After each iteration of the future scenario a reflection was held upon how each of the “actors” in their roles felt in this new situation. “How would you feel in this situation?” or “What would make you feel different in this situation?”? This was helpful not only to get into the different roles and see the different perspectives of a situation, but also to push the creativity and create fast iterations/ideas which could be tested on the spot.

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C. Concept brief

During the research process, each team has developed a visual brief and created a kit that is supposed to bring research material to life and give other people a visual understanding of the focus area, target groups and user stories. They were used together during a workshop with different stakeholders, teachers and other students.

Visual brief

The visual brief was introduced at the beginning of the workshop to give a full picture of each groups focus area. It makes a statement of “what we want to find”, “how things work now” and “what question we want to solve” in a dynamic way rather than an analogic one. Therefore, each team can on-board participants on the same page, start discussions and add on their perspectives, which triggers the creative process and challenge the assumptions. Meanwhile, the visual brief is constantly updated along the process, as the project continues and getting more narrowed and specific along the way.

One team created a visual brief of a journey map based on geography, which points out three possible gaps to focus on. By giving participants the overview they could quickly, with help of the visual brief, get a better understanding. In this case, the comparison between past and present life (urban / suburban) for the young and the elderly (digital gap & location gap). Thus, they can see the possibility to bridge the gap by combination (generation gap).

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Figure 1: Visual Brief

The Kit

The kit allows different groups and people to have a common reference point where they can engage and participate together. It is a visual play board for the participants and can be used as supporting material to create and explore the current situation and how a possible future scenarios could look like.

One team’s kit is wood puppets attached with quotes and thoughts from users during research. It is used together with the visual brief (explained above) printed in a A0 size. The puppets visualize key findings from the research together with users thoughts and feelings related to each puppet. For example a physical home phone attached with the quote “I am not technical at all”. The puppets could be used both to act out current scenarios but also as as support when acting out possible future scenarios. The attached thoughts and feelings will help the participants to understand how a future scenario would affect the user. Also “what if frames” along with “what if questions” were created. Thus, it zooms into specific areas or touch points, as well as triggers and challenges the conversations during the workshop.

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Figure 1: An overview of example kit; Figure 2: The kit in action

D. Concept phase

Aesthetics of interaction

Interaction designers design dynamics of behaviour in interaction between humans and products. When designing behaviour for intelligent products and services, designers need to deal with the user’s recurring responses as well. How can we incorporate this performed interplay between user and product and simultaneously elicit pleasant, appropriate and beautiful interactions?

Lectures revolving around the Aesthetics of Interaction prepared students for value prototyping. The method value prototyping helps us to think beyond efficient and optimising-driven interactions and instead getting confronted with our implicit assumptions, value systems and power structures we design in. We created provocative interventions in order to make value propositions through physical prototyping that further explore and express various other qualities of interactions.

For example, one of the teams attempted to elicit the behaviour of helpfulness and responsibility, with the purpose to get people acting around those values. In order to do so they designed Loki, a foam-board made cute and harmless looking being, that invites for interaction with strangers. The goal was to find out if somehow Liki could rely on communal help.

Loki was designed with a little flag asking people to get him to his home, a nearby location. Several people picked up Loki and brought it to its home base. When putting it on the home base, people often hesitated what to do next with Loki. It seemed like they felt responsible for Loki and were wondering if it was going to be fine if they just left it there. Some people had gone astray just to bring Loki to the home base. During short interviews with the participants, some participants said that Loki looked cute, and therefore was inviting to interact with it. Also they felt good helping it, as if they would do a good deed.

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Aestetics of interaction: Loki eliciting helpfulness, trust and communal collaboration

Final concept development

After this final phase of trying to elicit behaviours in community the different teams went into the final phase of the project, developing a concept. when doing so all findings of the previously mentioned methods have been taken into consideration. Also some of the methodologies have been applied again. The goal of this was to ensure a high level of participation in the process and ensuring that the final concept does justice to the participants needs and desires.

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The journey of one of the teams towards the final concept; usertesting with children, a creative session engaging a mother and a feedback session with RISE Interactive (design research institute)

Thanks to:

Umeå Kommun, Ultra, everyone that participated in interviews, conversations and activities throughout the project and Rise Interactive

Mobility Justice

Mobility Justice projects from the MFA Interaction Design…

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