Innovation From The Edges: Using dscout to Learn From Users with Access Needs
How Motional conducted remote “ride-along” research to gather product-shaping journey data
Felice Ling is a senior UX researcher at Motional, a global leader in driverless technology. When she joined the team last year as the first UXR, insights gathering was owned by designers, whose research included remote simulation sessions, tactical prototyping work, and foundational work.
On top of continuing this evaluative practice, Felice and her team are tasked with buffering that foundational work, to deeply investigate the context around autonomous mobility.
One of her first projects utilizing dscout was exploring the role of accessibility and disability in the mobility space. In other words, how do people with disabilities manage, negotiate, and ultimately make use of transportation, from ride sharing to public transit? These insights would help support Motional's mission to make driverless vehicles safe, reliable, and accessible.
Motional's vision is to design a product for everyone...we want to increase transportation accessibility for all.
After conducting secondary research and interviews with accessibility and disability experts, Felice wanted to run a study to capture POV and journey data from people with access needs. Specifically, she and her team wanted to learn about the pre-planning, traveling, and arriving stages of a trip. She had leveraged video diaries before, and liked the broad reach, ease of use for participants, and the exclusive access such methods offered. A remote approach offered a way to "ride-along" with the participant and capture the context of their journeys.
Approach: Conducting a remote “ride-along”
Before the journey activity, Felice asked participants to inventory some of their favorite accessibility tools. This data was designed to get a sense of the broad (and specific) characteristics, features, and functionalities that people with disabilities find useful, for a range of tasks and behaviors. The exercise also helped participants feel comfortable with Felice specifically, and the remote research modality generally.
After the inventory, Felice asked participants to show moments along their typical transportation journey, including pre-planning, during their journey, and arriving at their destination. Along the way, participants captured highs and lows, describing what was important to them at each step, and what solutions—if any—existed to smooth that experience. Of particular importance to Felice was the perspective, the POV—that will lead to useful insights for Motional’s product development. Button placement, reachability, the twisting, contorting, and ease of motion generally were all themes Felice pulled from the data; all while capturing moments along the journey.
In addition to learning about specific mobility pain points when taking a variety of travel options, Felice captured critical information about the stages of the journey, which helps the Motional team focus on user experience solutions. At the end of the study, she asked participants to reflect on and describe the potential importance of new mobility technology. Because participants' own travel and mobility perceptions were top of mind (from the just-ended journey portion of the study), Felice was able to collect sharp, descriptive feedback from participants.
The reflection demonstrated that it was important to design for accessibility, and highlighted the opportunity for autonomous technology to improve their transportation options and thus, help them with their everyday lives.
The broad and diverse sample offered a window into different kinds of disability, both physical and cognitive. Additionally, Felice collected moments across a range of transportation modalities—from personal automobile and rideshare to public transit—which provided robust and diverse user experience data.
"...this research exemplified the many transportation challenges people with disabilities face - and what it means to create truly accessible mobility. You start to understand that accessibility isn't just about being wheelchair friendly."
Sharing the results
Felice spent most of her analysis time digging into the open-end and video data, which offered the most context for meaning-making within the transportation moments. Specifically, she tagged various access needs and aligned those with initiatives at Motional. Ultimately, her surfacing of needs led to a framework of design principles for accessibility which Motional can leverage as part of its ongoing product development.
Video is helpful in driving home and bringing to life the design principles. Our team is able to see as the participant did, in the moments they felt were important to share. Together this created a compelling and actionable package for my insights.
Overall, Felice is excited by the progress across UX generally in the areas of accessibility and disability experience, and believes remote video approaches can help support research and innovation. The data offered rich, personal information about a sensitive but critical aspect of folks' lives: their disabilities and mobility needs.
It was exciting because the concepts that we came up with for accessibility limitations very clearly were concepts participants were excited about ... even those without accessibility limitations. And this makes sense conceptually, theoretically: Designing for accessibility and designing for edge cases means innovating for everyone.
Felice represents the future of innovative UXRs, committed to access and inclusive design through empathic, qualitative research. She recognizes that designing for those at the margins means an experience isn't just accessible for those, but for all. Better experiences start outside and move in.
Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.
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