Urban spaces are evolving rapidly in our country and transportation will be a major issue. Bicycles provide a quick and easy way to cruise through traffic and cities all over the world are adopting rentals.

The aim was to design a bicycle for urban spaces. Locals and tourists can pick-up and drop their rented bicycles all around the city. Their usage will be counted in hours. Although this system’s been implemented by some, the experience still needs to be refined to delight users.

I challenged myself to be as rapid as possible and to figure out the experience of the core flow. This whole project was done in five days, and I’ve tried to be my most efficient through the process.

Understanding the scenario

I began with a considerable amount of preliminary research. A quick talk with the usual cyclists and some web surfing helped gain first impressions of the scenario. At this point everything was taken in to ruminate later. There wasn’t a problem I could find to solve, but instead an opportunity to create a better solution than the rest.

A person in the urban space chooses a bicycle mainly for one of these —

  1. Wants a quick and cheap ride (a little more than walking)
  2. Specifically wants a bicycle ride (health, ecology, cruising through traffic, all the advantages of a bicycle come under this)

The prime advantage of the renting system is it’s burdenless. Since bicycles are going to be circulated around the city, the user can use one, return it and forget about it. Compare this with the struggles of owning a bicycle.

Looking at existing solutions, it quickly became apparent that while the basic system was same, every implementation was a bit different — intentional or not, this lead to different mental models over time. For instance, Pedl links to your Paytm e-wallet, and manages payments seamlessly. Citi Bike requires you to buy passes and use it for the bikes, eliminating payments for the ride itself.

Over time, it became clear that the user doesn’t want a bloated app that lets you rent bicycles. They want an app to just rent a bicycle — as simple as possible. There are full fledged apps for other things like tracking fitness or getting directions to a place. This meant that every feature added above the core functionality should be critically considered.

One of the areas where a bicycle is better than a car ride

Defining the user

This is the kind of user who will first use the service and spread this to other people and make it a better system over time.

Ramanathan

An inquisitive youth, finance manager for a corporate company who travels between cities all the time. Once in a city he goes around meeting people, but also likes to tour the city along the way. He is also concerned about his health as most of his time is spent on being stationary.

He would prefer walking over taking a cab anyday, but it takes a lot of time. He has a bike back home, but he can’t carry it everywhere. He tried a bicycle rental service once, but it wasn’t as quick and easy, and ended up frustrated about it.

Ideation

It was a fairly straightforward product, so I started thinking about what the user faces at each step in the process. After a few rounds of brainstroming, brainwriting and lateral thinking methods, I had a set of ideas that can be merged together and made into a refined bicycle renting app.

The payment model needed the most ideation since it changes the way people use the app and the service. After going through a whole lot of sticky note ideas, some ideas were taken to the people who use existing bicycle renting services to choose what they feel is best. Between paying for the service itself versus paying for a token they could use for the service, majority chose to have tokens if they are going to use the service regularly.

Along the design process multiple ideations and user feedback were required to further refine the product. As the process was iterative, everytime a new idea enters the scene and enhances the rest. The exact set of final ideas is detailed in the scope section below.

The scope

What?

A bicycle renting app for urban spaces. Locals and tourists can pick-up and drop their rented bicycles all around the city. Their usage will be counted in hours. The app will focus on the user’s experience while using the service.

Where?

Mainly for city spaces where cycle docks can be setup all around with enough flow. Urban settings also ensures high frequency of usage due to high traffic.

When?

Right now. India has a rapidly growing urban scenario and generally a huge traffic. We might really benefit from a bicycle hared renting system mainly in fastly growing underplanned cities.

Why?

It is a time when New Delhi has made laws to regulate traffic based on registration number. There’s a lot of vehicles on road and people want a neat solution. Also, bicycles have numerous advantages over other vehicles.

How?

By making it as easy as walking or driving a car. People are ready to adapt an efficient lifestyle if it means they aren’t giving up anything — like precious time or peace of mind or money.

Who?

The urban youngsters mainly — they are the ones who are early birds in trying out things and taking it forward. After some time, others follow.

Assumptions

  • Self sustainable transport circuit — careful planning and strategic placing of docks for the cycles is needed to ensure smooth flow of cycles from dock to dock.
  • One bike for all — a standard well designed bicycle made specially for the urban spaces.
  • Locking mechanisms — electronic locking mechanism with NFC and solar charging.

Dependencies

  • Near Field Communication (NFC) modules to communicate between the phone and the bicycle. When this is unavailable, alternative methods like high frequency audio or QR code can be used.
  • Machine learning algorithm that runs on the cloud and calculates availability of bicycles and provides Accessibility Index, as described in detail below.

The map

As much as it’s about transport, it’s not a navigation app. The map is mainly here to show where nearby docks are, and give directions for the nearest dock to the user.

The map needs to be free of clutter. Google Maps API provides customisable maps to be used in third party apps. On top of that, the map will be simplified into basic shapes since minute accuracy can be traded in for sake of clarity and comprehension of the space.

Additionally, the map can show a few important details that will benefit the user. A tourist may want to know the nearest dock to the museum, but also a fairly nearby dock with a cafe nearby so she could grab a quick snack before going to the museum.

Things the user might want to see —

  • Roads and traffic
  • Major landmarks
  • Places of interest
  • Parks and recreational spaces

Payment system — Access keys

Keys are metaphors for access. The user buys keys, then uses those keys to unlock cycles and use them. While asking users what kind of system they would prefer, the majority chose a token system, and keys seemed to be the most related metaphor for unlocking a bicycle.

But why a token system? It settles the issue of remaining time. Services are to charge for the usage on a per-hour basis. It confuses sometimes as to a lack of relation between what you are charged and what you used. A token system solves this by bringing in pseudocurrency, a concept majorly used in games. Pseudocurrency also creates a sense of familiarity with the service and users are more likely to take these apps into their life.

A user buys keys from the service, and uses them to access bikes. A key’s lifetime is one hour — once it is used, it only lives for an hour. This is easier to comprehend than to say always the usage time is rounded out to hours.

An app becomes a part of a users life when they are able to integrate it with every aspect of their life. The keys metaphor makes a huge step in that direction. Imagine a user-bicycle system. The most the user could do is ride a bicycle. In a user-key-bicycle system, much more can be done with the keys. You could gift a coworker twenty keys or so, and that would make them try renting a bicycle. You could get free keys for being ecofriendly at a supermarket. Giving money would be weird, but giving free keys to ride a bicycle would be unmistakeably life-changing.

The key as a metaphor changes so many things about the product. It is not an extra feature that makes it better, but a deeper change that makes it unique.

Availability index

While testing the early prototypes with a user, we came across a situation he might face in a busy urban space. What if she chooses a dock, walks towards it and when she reaches it, the bikes are all taken? This poses an interesting problem. Although most of these cases can be avoided by careful planning for the dock locations, very few edge cases will be unavoidable due to high drop-low pickup docks and low drop-high pickup docks.

Availability index will be a machine learnt algorithm that’ll consider the following factors and suggest the best dock nearby

  • Distance from the user
  • Number of cycles available
  • Number of people approaching the dock
  • Number of cycles approaching the dock

The number of people approaching the dock is calculated by the number of people selecting the dock to view and moving towards it. This gives the user an approximate idea of availability, and this all happens under the hood.

What the user sees is a cycle icon that is green, yellow or red based on the availability. The planning and self sustainable circulation systems ensure the icon stays green most of the time, and the user only needs to make a choice when the icon goes red. This covers any edge scenarios and ensures smooth experience to all users.

Card sorting and Information Architecture

All the major features were made into cards and were grouped together based on general perception and how it affects the workflow within the app. There came a siuation where I had to decide between having keys and account at the same hierarchy as the home, versus hmoe being the topmost hierarchy.

A quick user research with card sorting gave the realisation that if the home is kept as the main feature around which every feature is organised, it makes the map (the home) the primary focus. We want the user to percieve the map as a part of the home where booking the bicycle is the prime action and the map takes the back seat.



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