STBY helped the city of Amsterdam and Dutch Rail to make the use of indoor bicycle parking facilities more efficient and convenient through the use of new technology. This improvement is essential, as the number of bicyclists and bicycle types is already exceeding what the current infrastructure can handle and is expected to grow considerably in the near future.
Two fully working prototypes of of semi-automated, doorless entrance gates were developed. These new gates use a combination of sensors to detect the type of bicycle and user, and to offer the right signals, and registration and payment options. They are designed to work not only for local, regular users, but also for visitors and for incidental users who are much less familiar with the routines of bike parking in the city. STBY’s contribution was to pro-actively model and communicate the total future experience of the users during the creation of the prototypes, thus ensuring a user-friendly result.
A step towards national standards
The immediate aim was to make bicycle parking faster and easier for everyone, and less work-intensive for the personnel in the garages. But there is also another, broader aim: avoiding a proliferation of different, non-interoperable, municipal and regional systems that would form an obstacle to intercity and interregional travel. Working together with software developers and industrial designers, several banks and municipal agencies, the team was simultaneously developing practices and standards which can be broadly adopted by other regions and cities. This paves the way for users to be able to use the same common identifier (such as a debit card or transportation pass) to access all the same bicycle facilities and services anywhere in the country.
Representing the user: mental model and customer journey
With sixteen partners directly involved, technical issues can quickly become so complex that they completely distract the team from the consequences of design decisions for the end-user experience. This was further complicated by the differences in the locations for the pilot, chosen to reflect the vast differences in context of use throughout the city and country.
We therefore began by creating a fundamental, technology-agnostic mental model of the steps involved in gaining entrance to a facility, including the moments at which a boundary is recognised and assessed, and permission is granted to cross. This was expressed as a simple customer journey map containing the main perceptions and questions of future users, their expected attention focus, risks and suggestions. This document provided a framework within which to elaborate on specific moments in the journey. It was also used to analyse the user experience of existing gates in other facilities.
Prototypes and scenarios: creating shared understanding
Several prototypes were created of the gates, beginning with a functional prototype to test the various sensing technologies. However, there were so many permutations of bicycles, people, screens and signals, expressed in different terminology by different disciplines, that it quickly became obvious that a common language was needed to enable the participants to understand exactly what we were making.
To untangle the muddle, we created a special scenario template with standard terms for the components in the gate, a visual overview of the screens, bikes, people and other elements, and standardised summary of the perceptions, actions, and expectations of the end-users. This was continually updated, shared and referred to to make sure everyone shared the same understanding of the current iteration of the gates.
During development, we also involved the personnel working in the garages to ensure we took their needs and interactions with users into account.
The complexity of a simple interaction
The gates are now installed and will remain in use until late autumn, when the pilot ends. To create a fluent interaction which takes only a few seconds per user, a large number of systems had to be coordinated and a great number of design decisions had to be made within margins of tenths of seconds and a few millimeters. The first round of user research is underway and initial results reflect a very positive response by most users. This pilot is one step towards a renewal of a bicycle infrastructure that is now under stress. This is of great significance for the creation of an infrastructure that is in the broadest sense sustainable.