A real-time transit guide for autistic adults.
We learned how the mental models of autistic adults require greater contextual information to understand public transit etiquettes, and more importantly, how their misunderstanding of these etiquettes leads to their heightened anxieties and resorting to other modes of transportation. My team and I worked through the design process to address this problem.
By providing autistic adults reassurance before and during their transit ride through the use of location-based and contextual guides, we reinforced our users' confidence to ride independently to their destination.
Besides receiving real-time alerts, users can review contextual transit etiquette guides before and during their ride to be better prepared for their transit journey.
Calling for Help
If in a high-stress situation, users can call for help from other Infinite Transit users, who will respond to the emergency by assisting with their immediate transit issue.
After successfully arriving at their destination, users can share their experience by commenting on guidebooks and submitting posts, growing as a community contributor.
"Hey, Cheyenne, limited public transportation resources leave autistic people hesitant to ride on their own. How can we help autistic adults to achieve independence when riding public transit?"
Because Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological cognitive disorder, certain environments or scenarios, like confusing bus routes or delayed bus arrivals, are triggers for people with autism. This leaves autistic individuals anxious and confused about what to do next. Since existing solutions only address an autistic child's challenges, I discovered a gap in the market and an opportunity to help autistic adults navigate a ubiquitous space that everyone relates to but is not always accessible to everyone: transportation.
Researching academic writings, statistics, participant surveys from online autism communities, and expert interviews with the University of Washington's Autism Center's psychologists and autistic adults, we learned the difficulties users face when riding public transit.
3.5 million Americans live with Autism Spectrum Disorder
½ million autistic people will enter adulthood in the next year
Autistic people are constrained by limited transportation resources
*"I did not know to signal the bus to stop at first. I didn't know if I was supposed to say anything to the bus driver or not. I didn't know that you're not supposed to put your bag on the seat next to you."
— r/autism Reddit User
Primary Findings and Observations.
Many autistic people actively engage and share experiences in online platforms such as Reddit and Twitter
In our survey, 67% of participants shared they are relieved once getting off their bus ride
Their mental model requires explicit, clear instructions in any scenario
Though autistic people may want to give context to other transit passengers, exposing their condition may be uncomfortable
Sympathizing with our users' need for explicit instructions, we identified a great number of pain points. I narrowed the list to provide a succinct representation of participants' obstacles in their transit journeys to streamline communication between stakeholders.
John, Autistic Adult and Inexperienced Rider
Fascinated by technology,
Easily nervous and disoriented in public settings,
Has only ridden the bus 5 times to get home
Wants to reach his new destination,
Wants to learn how to ride the bus throughout the city,
Wants to independently ride public transit
Doesn't know what to expect on his public transit ride,
Doesn't know how to ask other passengers for help,
Panicked, and doesn't know how to request for the bus to stop
After identifying the critical pain points, we ideated over 90 different concepts then downselected, storyboarded, and wireframed through three concepts. Afterward, we formulated design principles to utilize as a framework for our future design decisions and as a way of rationalizing the value add we were eager to bring to our users.
After ideation, I held a brainstorming session with my team to understand what users lack from existing transit applications while also reinforcing why independence is critical for our solution.
Provide users contextual information of the anticipated experience
Help users obtain the freedom and ability to travel without assistance
Give the autism community their voice to support other autistic adults
After refining our new concepts, we each developed wireframes to represent each user flow. The three flows represent each part of the user's end-to-end journey through contextual guides, gamified tasks, and community forums.
Wireframe sketches by Mehul Shah.
With the need for explicit instructions, users would be able to reference contextual guidebooks before their commute.
Wireframe sketches by me.
With gaming, users can complete tasks through their commute to learn and build memory on what to expect during their transit journey.
Wireframe sketches by Xue (Miki) Bin.
Engaging with the community, users can like, comment, and share posts on and about contextual transit guides.
We had challenges recruiting participants so we relied on testing with autistic individuals from the online Reddit community while also gathering feedback from family and friends of autistic adults. Continuously learning of their need for explicit information, we reassessed our design response.
All participants expressed their dislike for the cartooned visuals, being both childlike and vague in context
Though gamifying the experience was fun for some, participants expressed worry about it being a distraction
Majority of participants, who engage with their community, strongly favor sharing opinions and ideas with others
*"The first person form comes off a bit childish [...] But I do think it helps visualize the steps which you need to take with using the bus"
*"It seems entertaining and interactive, though I worry about safety or it becoming distracting"
*"It makes it easier if you have a question or problem. You won't need to go to ten apps/websites to find an answer"
While developing our rough prototype, we simplified the user journey into a flow chart. Now focusing on three main actions, the user can use the app to learn about their commute, track their journey with a guide, and contribute back to their community.
First, we built out our user flow with post-it's so we can easily rearrange or conceptualize alternative flows that best fit our users' needs.
While translating the flow digitally, I continued to challenge our initial decisions to assure they align with our design principles.
Now knowing more, we implemented our insights into one unified design. Comprising elements of the three concepts, we developed the first pass of our location-based guide that allows for community engagement and real-time transit etiquette information.
I took the lead in building out the product design, converting each element from the user flow into a simplified interface.
Then we created our visual identity, represented by the infinite icon as the symbol of the autistic community and a reflection of our design principles. Utilizing simple, clean components, highlighted by our color scheme and explicit visuals, our app makes it easy for autistic adults to navigate and learn throughout their journey.
I took the lead in building out the design guide and spec documentation.
Throughout their transit experience, autistic adults will gain reassurance from contextual guides and location-based notifications to achieve a level of confidence and independence. Then, autistic adults may share their experiences with their community, become a contributor, and modify existing guidebooks on the platform and provided more precise information to other autistic users.
Reflecting on our product, one component I believe could be better optimized is the request for help. Without time to conduct proper usability testing on this specific feature, we continued our design based on our assumptions. For the next steps, we are looking into connecting our user group with allies of the community while also thinking about inclusivity. Since it’s unrealistic to expect two autistic people riding the same bus in the same direction at the same time, we need to think of other stakeholders to be a resource when in need of help. Allies of the community are one group we would like to test with.
As well, we believe achieving inclusive design means that we arch our scope to anyone who easily makes errors on bus rides and how we can help them, including anyone with disabilities, non-native speakers and first-time riders. For the following projects, I plan to take more time in analyzing different stakeholders to see how they can not only be a contributor but also be a user of the product.