I had the pleasure of speaking at the Oregon Transit Conference this week in sunny Seaside, OR. This was the conference for representatives of Oregon's many transit agencies. Topics ranged from grant writing how-tos and leadership to the future of public transit itself.
I was part of a small panel dedicated to public transit smartphone apps, on account of my work on Transporter, a popular Bay Area public transit app I created in grad school. Also there were Steven Peterson of Routesy fame and Teague Kirkpatrick from RouteShout. The panel was a balanced mix of perspectives: Steven talked about what transit agencies can to do woo developers, Teague demonstrated the simplicity of their transit IT system, and I made the case for a user-centered approach to app design.
After attending several earlier sessions, it became clear to me that many attendees saw technology as something they needed to buy to keep up with the times. My goal was to get them to stop worrying about technology and focus on their customers' needs. Once they know what kind of experience they want to provide, they'll know what kind of apps to build and technology to buy.
The 20-minute talk was essentially an introduction to the power of a user-centered design approach, told through my experiences creating Transporter, which was designed to address the needs of riders I uncovered while doing contextual research. I showed them how understanding what your customers are thinking, feeling, and doing during a transit trip can help you uncover innovative features and inspire whole new technologies you wouldn't have thought of otherwise. A demo of Transporter sealed the deal.
It was clear from the discussions afterward that the talk was well received. People came up to me throughout the day to thank me for showing them something new. And that's the part that struck me. UX was new to them.
Here is an industry, integral to our society, that doesn't have the benefit of user experience practitioners, tools or methods. An industry that that spends millions on technology, but hasn't figured out a way to use it effectively in the service of improving the rider experience. And that's exactly what we in the UX community do. So how do we make it better? I'm still working on that. I invite your suggestions.