Design Thinking: Easy public transport with UrbanGo

Jordin van Deyl
Oct 24 · 6 min read

You are standing at a ticket machine. Behind you is a line impatiently waiting for you to buy your public transport ticket. You can feel the tension and a bead of sweat runs down your back. What is the problem? You can not read what is on the screen. It is in a foreign language...

Image by Madaleine Ragsdale (Sydney, Australia)

The problem UrbanGo tries to solve

Not all countries have a unified public transport system where a user can use a single card or app to pay for all services. This can make it hard for travellers to make sense of what tickets options they have, and decide what would best suit them. Especially if they are tourists and are not familiar with the language or the public transport system. UrganGo is a (fictional) public transport and mapping startup based in Silicon Valley. Their goal is to solve the problems of urban mobility by offering the quickest and cheapest public and private transport routes to their users. The application already provides different multimodal routes including a time estimate and the cost. However, the frustration of having to buy different tickets is still a problem they want to solve.

In this article I will try and solve this problem using Design Thinking. First we will get to know our users, then we will define the problem, brainstorm solutions and finally create a prototype to test our ideas.

Getting to know our users

I interviewed five people who all had experience using public transport in their home country and abroad. Together they have travelled all over the world, including: Japan, America, Canada, Spain, Poland, England, Portugal and more. This gave me a general idea of the systems used in each country. During the interview I first asked them about their experiences at home and then asked similar questions about their experiences abroad. This way I could compare the differences. I closed the interview by asking them what would have made their trip easier.

I made a mindmap to group the pain points I found during the interviews and discovered a trend. All of the problems they seemed to experience abroad came down to a ‘lack of knowing’. They ‘did not know’ what types of tickets were available. They ‘did not know’ what services a ticket covered. They ‘did not know’ how the validation of a ticket worked. Besides these and other questions the main struggle to find answers to these questions was generally the language barrier.

Based on these findings I formulated the following design challenge: In what way can we make it easier for users of public transport to buy the right ticket?

Working towards a solution

I started brainstorming based on the earlier mindmap. I discovered that generally travellers ‘do not know’ the things they need. To solve this we can go two ways: 1. We take away the need to know, or 2. We provide them with what they need to know.

→ Option 1: Taking away the need to know. Finding out where to buy the ticket and learning how to use the vending machines are examples of where to simplify. By integrating the purchasing of the tickets into the application we make the proces of buying tickets shorter and easier. This has another benefit. If the app knows what tickets you own (or what other trips you might have planned) it could advise on certain tickets/routes to safe money. As a finishing touch it would be impossible to lose the ticket. However, the downside is having to integrate the application with a lot of different systems worldwide. This would require a lot of programming and collaborations with public transport companies.

→ Option 2: We provide them with what they need to know. Going to Spain and having a simple guide would make it easier for users to prepare. The app could give an easy overview of tickets (and to who and where they apply), a picture/video of the vending machine and a short explanation on how to use it, or show a simple map of a station and where to find the bus/train/tram the user is looking for. However, though it is easier to program it would still require users to put in the effort and buy tickets themselves.

In this fictional scenario it is easy to choose the best option if time and money are not a factor. Option 1 provides a shorter and more personalized customer journey. (For example by already taking into consideration that you are a student.) It also provides more business opportunities and will help UrbanGo expand in the future. (For example by charging either public transport companies, or the user, a small fee for handling the tickets).

Option 1 best combines the user and company goals to create a win-win scenario.

The solution

In the real world we would probably be looking at a combination of options 1 and 2, previously mentioned. However, in this case I will focus on how option 1 might look turn out.

Below are the first of four screens. At nr. 1 we see an easy interface for the user to input their current location and the destination they want to go. I have taken inspiration from the Dutch ‘NS’ app. Then I supplemented this with the easy icons to choose which type of public transport you would like to use at nr. 2. This is a feature that is used in the ‘9292’ public transport app.

In the second screen we move on to choosing the time of departure/arrival. Note that at nr. 3 a user can easily see the length of the journey, the number of transfers, and the cost of the trip.

iPhone template by Matthew Stephens

In the third screen things get interestion. Nr. 4 shows an easy interface for users to increase or decrease the number of tickets they would like to purchase. Also notice the small ‘*’ that indicates this ticket is special in some way. At the bottom of the screen it tells the user the application has taken into consideration that the user is a student. It automatically took the discounted ticket. If the user wants to browse and compare other tickets we have the option under nr. 5.

This fourth and final screen shows as an overview of other tickets the user might want to consider. At nr. 6 there are examples of tickets that can be used for several days and shows what the user might save. Finally, at nr. 7 we see that the user has chosen to see more information about the specific ticket. The box unfolds and shows more information about the duration of the ticket, the uses and (like the other tickets) has an option to immediately add the ticket to the basket.


UrbanGo aims at making public transport easy. To do this we first had to go out and listen to what users had to say. Based on their feedback we could determine ‘why’ buying tickets was such a hassle and come up with solutions.

We found that it is mostly a matter of ‘not knowing’ what to do. In this simple prototype I tried to demonstrate how UrbanGo might solve this by providing the appropriate information at the right time. The app can also simplify the customer journey by removing the need to physically go and buy a ticket by offering the option right in the app.

Final note on Design Thinking — Empathize!

Doing user research is always a treat. I tend to be very creative and start thinking of solutions before I have ever spoken to a user. However, pushing these thoughts aside I get great value from speaking to users with an open mind. They always provide me with valuable insights. This approach is so important, because at the end of the day we are designing for others. Not for ourselves. If anything I would recommend designers (and business owners) to empathize with their users/customers. There is no greater waste than working on the best solution in the world and not having anyone want it…

If you liked this article and have questions or suggestions, please leave a message below. Thank you for reading!

Jordin van Deyl

Written by

I’m a UX designer with a background in work- and organizational psychology and an interest in all things neuro and behavioral



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