Milestone 2: Contextual Inquiry


Contextual inquiry is a user-centered design (UCD) method, part of the Contextual Design methodology, that happens up front in the software development lifecycle. It calls for one-on-one discussion sessions wherein users' daily routines or processes are discovered so that a product or website can be best designed to either work with the processes or help to shorten or eliminate them altogether. Contextual inquiry comprises preparation, evaluation, analysis, and design phases. (



During our first phase of research, our team sought to cast a wide net to learn why people do or do not use public transit, and what the experience is like for them. We also believe it is important to learn the challenges transit operators face, so that our ultimate solution honors their constraints. We focused more on breadth than depth, and as we move towards defining the problems we need to address, this will shift to a focus on depth.

We primarily collected our initial data through semi-structured interviews of transit riders, people who choose not to ride transit, bus drivers, and operations managers. All told, we communicated with more than thirty people. In addition, sixteen people completed a survey based on our interview protocol. While the survey did not offer the same level of depth possible in an interview, it did allow us to significantly extend our data collection efforts.

Concurrent with the interviews, we completed a literature search. Public transit ridership is not a new problem in public policy and urban planning discussions, and lessons from this research will apply to our proposed solutions.

Our team then brought all of this data together in an affinity diagramming session, in which we worked to organize the data we had collected. During this session, we were excited to see that a number of themes discussed during interviews and in the survey were consistent with literature findings.

We are also constructing a series of photo stories for ourselves. These annotated stories help serve as a quick context reference, and will also help us generate personas and scenarios as we move forward.



Below are the results of our inquiry. We have picked out prominent themes and included a story board (PowerPoint)depicting a typical person's interactions with public transit.


Time use while using Public Transit (PT) is regarded as either a waste of time or a form of added productivity through work, sleep, reading, etc.

Control loss by using PT invokes anxiety in some users, however, driving invokes more stress. While many fear a loss of control the added benefit of a stress-free environment on PT seems to balance that feeling.

Ticketing and purchasing mechanisms appear to be slow and inefficient and in some way could be streamlined and less inhibitive.

Legislative incentives encourage certain "populations" of people to use PT while also making legislators and companies issuing PT subsidies benefactors. This ties directly into some of the socio-economic issues.

Socio-economic divisions and cultures create an enormous amount of issues. Social perceptions of other riders, disparities between expectations of people's social interactions, cost prohibitiveness, and cost effectiveness all weigh in. Cultural issues such as population density thresholds also play a role (acceptable personal space in India as opposed to Ann Arbor).

Community connections and disassociations dictate many users' perception of a PT system. People outside society's perceived norm, passive vs. active passengers, and shared experiences each help define a users' PT experience.

Safety and security are beginning to take root as major decision factors for PT use. Terrorism combined with the perception vs. reality problem (muggings vs. accidents) keep people away from mass PT.

Alternative transit options are becoming more prevalent, especially in metropolitan areas. Options such as Flex/Zipcars, slugging, bicycle lanes and bus racks, and "taxi circuits" all cater to different PT user styles. Taxi circuits and express busses give merit to Boeing's strategy over Airbus's strategy in the "long and thin vs. hub-to-hub" airplane manufacturing and routing argument.

Driving and parking issues continue to show a strong presence in people's decisions to use PT in metropolitan areas. Heavy traffic flow (or lack of flow) and limited parking resources create stress for drivers, possibly a cause in the recent increase in PT use.

Multi-mode transit is becoming increasingly popular as more park and ride lots, bike lanes, bus bike racks, and urban home options become available. Walking, biking, and sharing rides have shown both economic and health benefits for users.

Incentives along with service and system improvements may have a significant impact on society's future use of PT systems. These will have to be explored in more depth as our group begins to converge on a problem statement and possible solutions.


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