Escooters, dockless, powered stand-up scooters rented by the minute, are revolutionizing the way we travel short distances in cities.
Convenient and affordable, scooter sharing services let you avoid traffic congestion and skip the wait for public transport using only your smartphone. Less polluting than cars and easier than riding a bicycle, it might seem like escooters are the perfect solution to city transportation and air quality problems.
Sadly, that’s not quite the case. As a relatively new development, regulation on the use of escooters is lacking and users face confusion as to where they can be legally ridden, which means that driving misconduct is rife. With a number of serious injuries now associated with this mode of transport, safety is another serious concern. Parking is also an issue, as some inconsiderate users obstruct sidewalks, doorways, and other busy places when leaving their scooters. On top of that, there is a growing debate around how environmentally friendly escooters really are.
Escooter sharing services are increasingly coming under fire from critics, which calls into question the long-term viability of this micro-mobility solution and threatens the future of the companies behind them. Many cities have already banned escooter sharing services completely, while others have cracked down on the number of providers licensed to operate.
At Netguru, we wanted to help change this situation. We set out to investigate whether we could use our expertise and technology to preserve the benefits of escooter sharing services, while working to reduce or eliminate the downsides. Here, we share how we approached this project and the results of our work.
Our Product Design team started the Lime concept project in the depths of winter, looking forward to the warmer days, when we would be able to zoom around on scooters. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic happened and the only zooming we get to do is during the online meetings. Please, bear in mind that some of the business and trend predictions appearing in the text below relate to an alternative virus-free reality.
The burgeoning market for micro-mobility
The micro-mobility market, which includes shared electric scooters, electric bicycles, and electric mopeds, has mushroomed since 2018 with the emergence of dockless, shared escooter services. Companies offering the service have sprung up all over the world and are attracting large capital investments.
The market is showing no signs of slowing down. Recent figures by McKinsey estimate that the micro-mobility market across the US, China, and the European Union is expected to be worth between $300bn and $500bn by 2030.
Companies like Lime and Bird have achieved exceptional growth since their inception, even making history as the fastest ever US companies to achieve billion-dollar valuations – both reached this impressive milestone within a year of getting started.
As Lime is one of the largest and most successful escooter sharing services in the world, operating in over 120 cities, we decided to make it the focus of this case study.
Identifying the challenges
Despite the explosion in escooter sharing services over the last two years, the success of the market has been overshadowed by the negative headlines, in the worst case prompting some cities to ban escooters altogether. When we investigated the situation, we discovered that the main challenges contributing to a negative perception of the services are:
- Safety concerns. Accidents involving escooters are becoming increasingly common, particularly falls, collisions, and being hit by moving vehicles. To make matters worse, many riders do not wear a helmet, and some even use escooters while intoxicated.
- Parking issues. Although there are guidelines on where scooters should be parked and left once the rental period has finished, some inconsiderate users leave them obstructing walkways, doorways, and crossings.
- Unclear regulations. There is a lot of confusion around where escooters can be ridden, particularly whether it is legal to ride on sidewalks, in bus lanes, and on the road.
- Problems affecting user experience. Users raised issues with locating escooters, starting the ride and returning the escooter. They have also complained about difficulties with navigation.
Overcoming the issues – Our process
To gain a better understanding of the underlying issues and develop effective solutions, we went through the following process:
We started investigating with thorough desk research. We looked at the available statistics about the market from sources like Statista and Jama Network Open, and investigated the public’s opinions and attitudes towards escooters. This gave us some insight into the reasons people use escooters as a means of transport, and also highlighted concerns around their safety.
We then explored the situation further with in-depth interviews (IDIs). We spoke to five escooter users to develop a greater insight into the challenges they face, as well as how people use escooters, and what the pros and cons of using them are.
Armed with all this information, the team set about brainstorming ways to address the issues we had discovered. From what we could see, the main areas where we could add the most value were in encouraging certain behaviors from users, introducing certain features to improve user experience, and enhancing the user interface.
We did a product review of the current solution, which identified a number of usability issues. Some of them were considered critical or harmful to the general usability of interacting with the app. The main purpose was to diagnose at least the most visible issues that might affect user experience.
Crafting wireframes and a creating a beautiful user interface
Solutions in hand, designers then sketched wireframes. Exploring possible approaches and making iterations is easier and quicker on low-fidelity sketches. The sketches were ultimately turned into beautiful, user-friendly interfaces.
To make the overall experience as smooth and pleasant as possible, designers leveraged interaction design. This takes a holistic view of how users interact with the product and looks at elements like the text, graphical elements, and media such as animations and sound.
Our approach allowed us to:
- Test and refine new interface early on
- Visualize the structure clearly
- Clarify the features of interface
- Put in minimum effort to get a prototype quickly
Recognizing that the app is an integral component of the overall user experience and crucial to meeting the needs of users, we focused many of our changes here. In particular:
Changes to the user interface. Using AR, users are guided to the location of the nearest available escooter in real-time, using the best route possible. When they arrive, users can easily unlock the escooter using only their smartwatch.
Speed limit. To improve the riding experience, first-time users are restricted by a speed limit. This allows users to become familiar with operating the escooter without compromising their safety or the safety of others.
Navigation. In addition to the easy navigation to an available escooter, riders will also be able to take advantage of guidance during their ride to help them reach their destination. This feature would require the use of a smartphone holder, which we would recommend be added to the escooters.
Parking. Although the escooters are dockless and can be parked anywhere, the app will show to users some ‘virtual’ parking spots that are safe and convenient. This feature makes use of the real-time AR navigation functionality.
Helmet. The app can be used to encourage riders to wear a helmet by requesting a selfie to show that they are wearing one. Riders are then rewarded with discounts and free rides to boost motivation.
Sobriety. The camera of the user’s smartphone can be used to assess whether users fit to ride by allowing users to complete a sobriety test. Alternative suggestions are provided if the user is not sober.
Gamification. To further encourage positive behaviors like wearing a helmet, using bike lanes, and even exploring the city, users are rewarded with Lime coins. These can be exchanged for free rides, discounts, and merchandise.
Bringing everything together
The popularity of escooter sharing services has changed the face of how we travel around cities. While the services have given rise to a range of benefits – from faster travel to less congestion – cities are struggling to deal with the negative effects such as poor riding behavior and an increase in accidents. Users are also feeling the frustration of the teething problems associated with the design of the newly introduced services.
Focusing on Lime, we attempted to overcome the challenges faced by the market through a combination of solid user experience research and design. The result is a series of enhancements to the app, which could encourage users to avoid negative behaviors, along with new features that improve the overall user experience.