This was the most challenging and complete project I've ever done. It was my final graduation project which I had the opportunity to develop together with Questtonó - the design consultancy that I work for - and lead the team to come up with a systemic solution in a one-year-long process to solve this complex and important problem.
Bicycle commuting is increasing a lot in the past few years. We have some classic examples like Amsterdam and Copenhagen where almost 50% of citizens commute by bike every day. And, because of that, many urban planners in megacities are discussing how they can incorporate the model of walkable and bike-friendly cities in order to solve the high-level congestions caused mainly by cars. So cities like New York, London, Paris, and São Paulo are incorporating infrastructure changes in order to encourage more people to cycle to work.
Therefore, despite all these efforts, cities like São Paulo still face many barriers to encourage more citizens to commute by bike. Lack of infrastructure, robberies, climbs and long distances are some examples of difficulties that people face when trying to use a bicycle to commute. So we came up with the following challenge: how can we create a solution that encourages more people to bike commuting in São Paulo?
With this challenge in mind, we immersed ourselves in field research to understand the barriers that people face in this journey and what opportunities we could come up with to improve this experience.
An innovative service that encourages more people to try for the first time to bike commuting, as well as a prototype of a new modular bicycle that is integrated with the service and adapts for different user needs.
The first phase was about diving deep into the challenge to understand all the important aspects of this complex problem. To do that, I participated in co-creative workshops with experts of the industry and I read books and articles to understand the discussions around the theme and the high-level impacts bicycles can provide to cities.
After that, understanding the user-perspective about the topic was fundamental. So I immersed myself in the world of cycling: I tried some days of the week to bike commute in order to understand the feelings and pain points in this journey, I applied online questionaries for both cyclists and non-cyclists, I made in-context interviews with people cycling in bike lanes and also in-depth interviews with users, and I went to bicycle stores to become a mystery shopper to understand the first-time experience of looking for a new bicycle.
Based on all this data, I started a mind-mapping process where I could identify six main barriers that people face when using a bicycle to commute. These barriers generate many tensions in the experience that make most people not consider a bicycle as an option to move around the city.
To guide the overall design process, I created a strategy-diagram to summarize all the learnings gathered during the research phase and to show what should be our goals for the project. This simple-synthetic overview map helped a lot to easily communicate with the whole team the key aspects and pillars that our solution must have.
With the pillars well-defined, we started the ideation process. At this moment, I started the partnership with Questtonó, so I could count on a team helping me in this process. So I put together a cross-disciplinary team - researchers, industrial designers, visual designers, communicators - to generate the maximum of ideas based on each pillar.
The result was more than a hundred ideas, from products and interfaces to services and infrastructure improvements. Therefore, to create true impact in people's lives, we knew we need to come up with a holistic user-centric solution, so we started to combine some cross-disciplinary ideas together to build a better and seamless user-experience, thinking in every touchpoint in the customer journey.
The resulting solution, Umabike, is a combination of service and a bicycle. Both together make a human-centric and user-friendly experience that makes it easier for first-time users to start their journey as bike commuters.
The user can download the app, add his daily routes and the map will show him the best bike route according to his needs.
Based on the suggested route, the system sets up a personalized bicycle. To try it, he can just simply sign up for a monthly plan and start using it, without having to make a high-cost investment right away to buy a bicycle. He also receives the bike at home together with a user-friendly introduction guide with tips and important information about how to bicycle commuting safely and also safety equipment.
To make the biking experience even more comfortable, the system provides partnerships with several establishments spread throughout the city. The Umabike subscriber can go to partner gyms to take a bath, park the bicycle safely in partner parking lots, and do simple cost-free maintenance in bike repair shops. In this way, we provide cyclists a collaborative infrastructure scattered throughout the city.
If the user wants to change components or try a different setup, he can order the change by the app and a service staff goes to his home to make the exchange. Also, periodic maintenance is done in the same way, so people don't need to worry about the boring stuff related to own a bike.
To synthesize the experience, we created a user journey and storyboards to explain each customer touchpoint in the service. It's a good way to have the overall picture of the experience and visualize users interacting with the solution in real life and their emotions.
With the service well-defined, we started to explore solutions in a new bicycle. The main reason is that we identified many opportunities to be improved in the bike design that could enhance the experience, making it a key part of the service.
To me, the best way to start an ideation process is by using pen and paper. In this way, I'm able to free my mind and care less about the quality of the sketch and more about the number of ideas that I'm generating. I explored many rough ideas - and every day I used to put them on the wall so everybody on the team could see and give their inputs - and the ones I liked the most I would go to photoshop to refine and add more details.
I really like to show this part of the process because it's when you really demonstrate your process-thinking - even that impossible or crazy solutions - and make sure you really explored different alternatives before come up with the final solution.
After hundreds of sketches and many design reviews, we came up with the final design.
The key features of the bicycle are to be totally modular, simple, and user-friendly, adapting to different people's needs. The name - Umabike - means "one bike", referring to a single bicycle that adapts for several users.
Despite many functionalities, we tried hard to keep the design as simple and iconic as possible, differentiating from the current e-bikes in the market.
I 3D modeled the surfaces using Autodesk Alias, and my co-workers Mauricio Freitas and Alberto Bordasch detailed the project using SolidWorks.
The white part of the frame is the main structure that embraces the front and the back tube. In this way, we were able to modularize the size of the bicycle, creating a unique frame that adapts for different sizes of users.
Also, it's possible to attach different modules in the front, in the middle, and in the back, creating many possibilities for use. By choosing to add a bag or a battery in the middle area and exchanging the front wheel, the user can choose to have an electric or non-electric bike.
This was the most challenging phase of the entire project, but also the one I learned the most. It was the first time I was responsible to lead the team to come up with a full-scale functional prototype. That means I had to face many challenges about the schedule, budget, quality - both aesthetic and functional -, partnerships, and resources.
The hardest part was the main bike frame (white part). It has an unconventional shape that is hard for most processes to make. And assuming that we had a very tight budget, we had to come up with many ideas on how we could manufacture it with good quality (not only aesthetically but also functional) and not spend the entire money on that single part. So our approach to this was to 3D printing - making a partnership with 3D Systems to do it for us - and then apply carbon fiber through lamination to give the necessary strength. The modules (lights, battery, controller, etc) were 3D printed as well.
After that, we needed to build the "common" tubular parts of the bicycle (rear triangle, head tube, etc) - "common" however with special measurements and details for our design - which we found a local bicycle manufacturer - Bicicletas Galileus - that made for us.
Finally, the off-the-shelf components needed to be carefully chosen to fulfill our project requirements.
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