The Pascal Heynol
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The Pascal Heynol

Electric Carsharing, Re-Imagined

Urban Mobility Int. — 2019

tl;dr
Designing the future of carsharing for Volkswagen as a direct competitor to BMW/Mercedes. Innovative service design and matching prototypes had the project greenlit by the board and accelerated resource allocation.

Role: Design and Prototyping Lead

Challenge

In 2019, the local carsharing market in Germany was dominated by two industry giants, BMW’s DriveNow and Mercedes-Benz’s Car2Go. Volkswagen, the worlds biggest automaker, hadn’t made a move yet. In an effort to kickstart the shift to more of a service company, VW’s sub-division Urban Mobility International approached us to design a carsharing service to rival the incumbents.

In order to succeed, we had to define a service offering that offers a superior customer benefit, greater than the switching cost from established providers. We then had to turn this service into a prototype to demonstrate the benefits and convince the Volkswagen board of directors to greenlight a multi-year investment for building the service.

Approach

For this project, we assembled an interdisciplinary team consisting of research, business & service design and experience design. We planned the project in two phases building on each other. That way we could adjust our plan in case of unforeseen holdouts and had valuable deliverables at fixed milestones along the way.

In phase one we defined the new service offering along logistical and economic conditions. Then, in the second phase, we went through rapid iterations of prototyping and testing to flesh out and validate as much of the critical paths relating to our service offering as possible.

1. Service Design

To get started designing a service that was not only able to compete but had a chance to win, we needed to understand the market and competitive landscape surrounding carsharing. We conducted a thorough analysis of players big and small, local and global, and build up a solid understanding of service offerings and their economic model.

Following, we conducted ethnographic research, interviewing current and potential users of local carsharing services. With that we got an understanding of how existing offerings are perceived, how users expect a service to work and what mobility needs are unmet at the moment.

Service blueprint mapping workshop at UMI

Now we were able to come up with a service blueprint matching user expectations and addressing existing shortcomings. Together with the team at UMI, we added technical dependencies and internal processes to create a cohesive and, most importantly, realistic image of how the service could actually operate in the near future.

Finally, we were able to flesh out a service offering based on two pillars:

  • Competitive core service, besting the incumbents
  • Added benefit, adding value to the core and creating network effects

(Service specifics and learnings are confidential.)

2. Prototyping

After defining the specifications of the service, we moved on to prototyping the core streams and validating our assumptions, both on service and UI level through UX tests with potential customers. In a matter of four weeks we went through four iterations of prototyping, testing and improving upon learnings.

Early on, we established basic UI paradigms for finding and booking a car. These interactions are standard for every carsharing app and just have to work. We used this to set up the scene of our prototype and test our service concept by incorporating the core elements already. Users were able to discover information about the service model and UI hints for features. With their impressions we were able to quickly adapt and improve the service design and move on to building out features in the prototype for subsequent tests.

Basic UI

Another element we tested was the users ability to plan a trip in advance and book a car for a later date. For this test we briefly moved away from our discovery based home page and went for a classic map as the initial view instead.

Plan a trip

Finally, the ability to earn money by renting your own car was an important step for us to test, both from the service standpoint as well as the UI implementation. Up front, there are a lot of open questions that need to be answered and steps the user needs to be guided through. Once signed up, it becomes crucial to know about the status or important actions to take at any give time.

Rent your own car

(Due to iterations and adaptions between tests some UI elements can vary between screens shown.)

Impact

Through our approach of multiple iterations of rapid prototyping and testing we were able to de-risk both, our service offering and the according user interface realization. Armed with a fresh and exciting prototype backed by a validated service concept and business case our passionate stakeholders at UMI were able to convince VW’s board of the service’s potential to succeed in an already crowded market.

With the new investment and an exciting long-term vision, UMI was able to build up a bigger team and launch the service as an MVP later the same year. Offering an on-par or better experience through electric cars at a better price and greater availability, WeShare quickly established itself as one of the top players in the field while the team at UMI is hard at work making our vision for the future of urban carsharing a reality.

Thank you for reading! Now go back to all cases or simply reach out!

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Pascal Heynol

Pascal Heynol

Designer, writer, researcher, engineer — computational product person. Loves art, paints all too rarely. Tries to talk to computers, but they just never listen…

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