Time: 2022 Spring
Team Size: 1
Role: UX Researcher, UI Designer
Tools: Figma, Interviews, Quantitative Research
This is a product prototype attempting to address the NYC Women Transit Safety concerns.
What did I do?
Developed an end-to-end mobile application iteratively;
Identified the user pain points and market needs;
Performed extensive user research using interviews, competitive analysis, observation studies, surveys, and other research methods.
Safety concerns for NYU women who use public transportation.
The safety concerns of women in public spaces have been an issue in a lot of countries over the globe, especially in New York City for the past year. We have witnessed a waning sense of safety for women in public spaces, particularly in New York City's transit system, which saw an increase in assaults last year, despite overall ridership being down (New York Times). Kristal Bayron-Nieves, Michelle Go, Dorothy Clarke-Rozier, and Christina Yuna Lee were all brutally murdered by strange men in the first six weeks of 2022. Every name encompasses a tragic story of women and a ruthless crime executed by men. "Textbook urban policy holds that cities thrive only when women feel safe in public spaces", but New York City has failed women when it comes to safety in public spaces (City Journal).
In order to empathize with target users (me being one of them), I decided to invite my female friends living in New York City, including students and professionals, to go on trips across the city using public transportation together. I asked questions along the way about their possible safety concerns and what they do in order to stay safe while commuting. I also went on solo trips myself across the city (including from/to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Bronx districts) and jogged down my feelings and concerns.
How might we solve the safety concerns of women in public spaces in New York City?
Based on the findings from empathizing stage, I created an empathy map of my target users, namely women living in NYC who rely on public transportation to commute (see left). A common phrase and mindset I found across different experiences are "there's nothing I can do about it" or "I have to use it even if it's unsafe". This pointed out a lot of constraints for this project. For example, how to improve the situation without changing the current infrastructure would be a major problem. More importantly, how to make users feel & be safer are two core tasks in order to address the problem.
The main problem women in New York City face is safety concerns in public spaces, especially in the transit systems, which leads to tragic outcomes. Today, their best option is to stay alert and take self-defense training. But if the criminal is determined to perform a crime, the chances of women being able to escape by themselves remain very low. With growing anti-Asian hate and the pandemic, the problem will only get worse over time.
Interviews, user persona, user journey map, and comparative research.
In order to ideate solutions to the problem, I conducted over a dozen 10-minute interviews in order to better understand user needs and go through the current user journey. I found my interviewees through a local slack channel. They are women living in New York City, students and professionals, who commute to school/work every day using public transportation. I designed 12 questions and selectively ask them during the interview according to the answers from the interviewee. An excerpt of my interview notes could be found on the right.
After synthesizing the findings from interviews, I created user personas (see left). My target user is women living in NYC who commute to&from school/work. This group of users commute to and from school/work using the public transit system; and most of the time they need to travel around the city alone. Also due to the uncertainty of school/work, they cannot always guarantee to leave school/work before sundown.
For fringe case users, I define it as women who drive to commute because there is one case in my interviews who expresses interest in using such a product even if she drives to commute.
Field Study & Journey Map
In order to better understand the needs of my target users, I carried out a follow-up field study on certain interviewees. I shadowed them throughout their journey before, during, and after using the subway and created this journey map (see right). I identified opportunities in each stage of the journey. These opportunities include physical changes (such as adding WiFi to the trains), and digital changes (such as sending notifications to the users’ family/friends about their arrival and real-time locations).
Before jumping into a solution, I performed comparative research on the current market. I discovered that the existing solutions are three-fold: policing, individuals and companies.
Policing: Kathy Hochul announced a plan to beef up police "omnipresence" in the city's transit system. The plan includes increased outreach to people experiencing homelessness by trained mental health professionals. But despite a year of pledges to improve public safety, Choimorrow was frustrated by a lack of long-term, "holistic" solutions to address the spike in gender- and race-based violence. "Policing is a whack-a-mole approach. They show up after the fact, " said Choimorrow.
Individuals: And a lot of other tips articles about how to stay safe in New York written by women. These efforts were made by individuals who wish to inform and equip women with the physical skills and mental ability to stay away from crimes in public spaces. The self-defense training and tips for staying alert and observant of the circumstances are helpful indeed, but it puts too much emphasis on the victims' own will. In Michelle Go's case, she did not even have a chance to fight the criminal -- he pushed her down the subway all of a sudden. If the criminal is determined to act, the chances of women being able to escape by themselves remain very low.
Companies: A few companies have developed APPs to address safety concerns, most of them could be categorized into location-sharing APPs and news-gathering APPs. Location sharing APPs including Life360, are one of the early attempts to address this problem. Life360 provides location-based services, including sharing and notifications, to its users, most of whom are families and friends. It allows your family members to see where you are, your battery life, and driving details and provides you with emergency assistance. However, the major concern for this APP is data privacy. An article by The Washington Post claims that parents are using the location sharing feature to track their teenage and adult children "in ways that resemble emotional abuse."
News-gathering APPs include a local APP based in New York, Citizens. It can send users location-based safety alerts in real time and allow users to read updates about ongoing reports, broadcast live videos, and leave comments. Its content is produced by the users and filtered by employees to generate alerts. I have been using this APP for a while, at first I check its notifications a lot, trying to know what happens around me. But later it sends out too many notifications and spams my contacts, so I stopped its real-time location tracking on my phone. Problems concerning this APP also include data privacy issues, and information authenticity problems. How to provide the users with useful and precise information is something Citizens need to work on. Instead of providing the users with the details of the dangerous events happening real-time, I think the notifications will be more helpful if they consist of suggestions and advice on which route you should take to arrive at certain locations, how to avoid these events, etc.
My Solution Statement:
The main problem women in New York City face is safety concerns in public spaces, especially in the transit systems. Today, there is a platform that combines the map database with real-time threat detection database, which can display the dangerous areas at the current time and advise the best route for users to avoid crimes. Furthermore, the platform can send notifications to the users’ family/friends about their estimated arrival time and arrival message to certain destinations.
Prototyping & Testing
User flows, rapid prototype, user test and iterate.
After extensive comparative research, interviews and coming up with the solution statement, I started to prototype. Starting by creating a user flow (see right), I considered all the possible features of this application and the crucial interaction the users could have with the application.
I decided to exclude a few other opportunities discovered during the interview process about the existing infrastructure because it won't be possible for my product to solve the physical problem. I focus my application on displaying the dangerous areas and advise the best route as a navigation tool, and sending reminder to the users’ company/school about their arrival & estimated arriving time. I want this application to blend seamlessly into the already existing user flow when commuting through the city, and by integrating map with real-time threat detection database, I hope this application could act as a substitution for Maps/Google Maps.
Low-fidelity Prototype & Testing:
Before moving things to Figma, I created low-fidelity prototypes using sketches (see left). I quickly tested it by asking a few people to interact with the low-fi prototype. I quickly discovered that using color blocks on the map covered the important details one would've acquired by looking at Google Maps. So I took that design out. Another important feedback I got is to add audio cues to the guiding process.
Iterate & Agile:
I iterated the process of prototyping and testing for a few more rounds while developing the high-fidelity prototype. I created an agile plan for the product development process (see below). A few other feedback I got from the testing are:
Street VR. Add street VR and audio guide function to aid people while walking.
"Why would I be looking at the screen while walking? Isn't it more dangerous?"
911 Button Wrong Touch? In order to preventing wrong touch, I added one more layer to the button.
"It's just the button is there all the time. I feel like I could touch it accidentally very easily."
SMS. Since there sometimes isn't signal in the train, I decided to use SMS to send notifications instead.
"Is this notification depend on WiFi?"
Report Threats. I added a report threats function for users to take pictures and share the real-time threats and create their own database.
"Where are all the information coming from?"
I presented this product to ITP/IMA at NYU and received several feedback. A quoteworthy feedback being, "I cannot believe there are not people who already created this". This feedback got me thinking about why. This application to me seems a very direct approach to a very concerning existing problem. We can see that Google Maps are trying to take over this part of the market by introducing "notify your family when you leave" function. But a truly comprehensive safety application is extremely needed in today's context and that big companies need to take the responsibilities to tackle this issue, even though it is hard.