Transportation Futures

Project Investigators: Nik Bonovich

Project Sponsor: Jan English-lueck

During the summer I worked as an intern for SonicRim, a co-creation and research consultancy in San Francisco, with Uday Dandavate and Arvind Venkataramani. SonicRim has a long history with the Anthropology Department at San Jose State University and is a frequent partner. During my time at SonicRim I participated and contributed to projects around the future of transportation technology.

I participated in co-creation sessions with various stakeholders and performed ethnographic consumer research. Ethnography is a wonderful methodology to use in design research because it includes real-life observations and interviews that dive deep into understanding a culture. By observing and interviewing consumers as they interact with new products it creates a rich and deep story of everyday lives and experiences, which provides empathy and understanding to aide in the development of products. During the co-creation sessions we spoke with various stakeholders that were part of our client organization. Those targeted interviews elicited interesting perspectives from different employees in the organization, allowed us to dig deep to better understand the organization, and allowed them to tell us what was important for us to discover in our research. The interviews helped us better understand what connections or lack of connections existed within the organization, what their perspective was on the product they were creating and what needed to be addressed through consumer research. Through those co-creation sessions we had stakeholders participate in an exercise where they took pictures of objects in their home they could identify with and were important to them personally. The pictures were then shared with the group to help the client understand how individuals identify with important things and how they reflect on important activities. The activity was used so the client could understand how research is performed with consumers, to better understand personal identity, what is important and how someone could imagine future improvements. The consumer research included the recruitment of consumers who participated in a transportation activity. The recruitment was performed by an outside vendor. We provided the vendor with a screener to obtain the type of participants we needed. From there the chosen participants received guidance and instructions on how to perform a transportation activity, while filming themselves on their smart phone. Participants took rides in vehicles around town. Through a questionnaire and video, they documented the process of getting picked up, the experience in the ride, including features in the car, how the car operated on the streets and finally the experience reaching their destination. They provided feedback on their expectations, surprises, things they went well and things that did not.
After the first phase of research, we selected a subset of the participants to meet with us for inperson participatory design sessions. We designed a discussion guide in conjunction with the client for three, two-hour participatory design sessions during weekday evenings. I assisted SonicRim researchers with client logistics and as a videographer. These participatory design sessions allowed participants to introduce themselves, discuss their current transportation experiences and the future of transportation. During the participatory design sessions, we had a moderator who facilitated the discussion. Participants not only answered questions but participated in activities with paper to illustrate their activities using various forms of transportation.

The participatory design sessions also included a small simulation exercise where participants could play roles, act out planning a trip and participate in a trip with new transportation technology to better understand how their lives may change in the future. Following the participatory design sessions, I began the process of coding the transcripts and videos for relevant themes to present the client with recommendations and insights for the development of their product. I worked with SonicRim staff to develop a codebook that organized the participatory design sessions by both structure of the sessions and important themes. It was interesting digging through the data to understand some of the similarities and differences of participants. There were themes that popped up repeatedly, while others were more unique to individual participants. Some things were expected, while others were quite surprising The project was a very illuminating experience. I was able to work on a design research project that included steps of understanding the client, building a research plan, performing the research and analysis.

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