Have you ever wondered how a train journey would feel like if it was operated by a startup? Or if public transport would adapt to the needs of an individual?
We’ve explored the future of train travel experience in the UK through the lens of travellers. How might interactions with travel services play out in the connected environment of the future?
Running large infrastructure projects is quite different from developing digital services. Requests for planning permissions start early and the elements included or excluded from these plans inevitably end up defining the services when they launch.
Designing with uncertainty
Things we use are getting smarter—gathering our data and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help us make decisions about our health, finance or where we might travel next.
We don’t know the full extent of possibilities and implications of emerging technologies. Will travellers be using augmented reality to navigate? Will smart assistants gain more and more autonomy? We can only assume what types of services and products people will be using in 5-10 years, and only guess their expectations and the surrounding environment.
With so many variables and uncertainty, we focused our attention on things that are unlikely to change: the needs of travellers.
We believe in testing and validating our assumptions with people very early in the process. This time was no different. After a few weeks of work, our team had a wonderful opportunity to test with 40 people, diverse in their age, occupation, background and needs.
We wanted to understand people’s attitudes to flexibility, navigation, privacy, automation and control. These themes had emerged as relevant to people across all stages of their journey.
We created a series of scenarios based on moments experienced by people travelling by train. With technology not yet available, infrastructure not yet built and our workshop constraints, we decided to place our scenarios in the present day. We designed our concepts as things people are already familiar with—presented as mobile phone mock-ups and printed on paper.
This grounded our research in exploring people’s perceptions instead of asking them for feedback on solutions. It also removed the risk of asking hypothetical questions about the future.
After all, we weren’t testing our ideas or usability of these concepts—we were trying to spark reactions and start conversations to gain a better understanding of human behaviour.
5 things to consider when designing for travel
Our research revealed some universal themes worth considering when creating travel-related products and services.
People value their time and make decisions based on the time they have
Time awareness is a big factor throughout the trip. People want real-time information and updates. They want to know the time remaining before boarding, the departure time, the time needed to get to their train and destination, estimated time that accounts for extra activities at the station—and not waste time waiting.
This might seem obvious, but how many products or services you interact with help you with this information in a coherent and simple way?
“I’m always early to the train station and am often unsure of time left and what’s nearby. Suggestions would enable me to use time I have left more efficiently.”
2. Inclusive navigation
Travellers need a combination of tools to help them find their way
People’s perception of time and space is dependent on situation, familiarity, memory, accessibility and how they form mental models about their environment. Some prefer to glance over key information to quickly see where they are going. Others need details and will check Google Street View before they leave their house. Depending on the circumstances, people need a combination of navigation options, using visual, auditory and sensory guidance.
Door-to-door journey planning: a big concern among participants was door-to-door journey planning that would include all services they need during their trip—this is especially important to people with accessibility needs or suffering from anxiety.
Human connection: despite all the possibilities of connected things and environments, people don’t want to lose the humans delivering these services. At busy places like stations, staff should be there to help.
The majority of people are open to sharing their personal data if they receive something useful in return
Regardless of age, people were generally excited about emerging technologies and how new solutions could improve their lives. Most people we’ve spoken to were open to allowing access to their personal information if that would provide them with a seamless and personalised journey experience. Participants with accessibility needs were early adopters of tools that use their personal data to help them get around the physical environment which most often isn’t inclusive.
However, transparency and ability to control how this information is used, is necessary to build trust in the service or product.
“Will you always be tracking my location, or just when I’m about to travel?”
4. Automation & control
People are happy to be helped, but not dictated to
We wanted to test how people respond to varying levels of control. We were interested in their reaction to a smart assistant that connects to their personal data, tracks their behavior and location to anticipate, book and make travel arrangements on their behalf.
We found that having an autonomous assistant and not having to worry about planning your journey and updating your booking is perceived as positive—as long as we enable people with an option to override any suggestions. Services and products we design need to ensure that people have a choice at any time.
“I would want to be in control of price and timing as I would be paying from my pocket.”
Trust in the system needs to benefit the individual over the service provider
People we’ve spoken to were concerned that the systems making decisions on their behalf, such as an automated booking process, would prioritise a service provider’s needs over theirs. This was especially true when considering the potential difference in price of a train ticket. Transparency of an algorithm’s decision making process is necessary to build that trust.
“Would the system re-book in the best interests of me or the train company?”
While we can’t predict the future, we see overarching trends that are likely to accelerate over the coming decade, transforming society’s relationship with technology and travel.
Would you like to hear more? Drop us a line and let’s chat!