App design for motivation
During the first quarter of 2018 I kept busy at Digital Product School, a program of the Innovation centre of TU Munich aimed at young professionals that want to advance their digital product building skills.
Our team of 5 consisted of 2 software engineers, 2 product managers who were working for a car manufacturer, and myself, the only designer.
Our main stakeholder, a car producer in Germany had discovered that the owners of hybrid vehicles (vehicles that have both a rechargeable battery and a combustion engine) weren't using their vehicles nearly as much in electric mode, as they were using the combustion engine.
The task of our team was to find ways to increase the charging rate of hybrid electric vehicles.
Discovery and Exploration
We kickstarted the project with a lot of brainstorming sessions, mainly to uncover the layers of the problem. We did desk research, read forums of car enthusiasts and drove around Munich in a hybrid and tried to charge it. We interviewed owners of hybrid cars and fleet managers of corporates that had hybrids in their commuter fleets.
Iterative clustering to uncover patterns. One of many charging stations in Munich.
Next we mapped all these pieces of information, aiming at uncovering areas of the problem we could focus on. 3 personas were identified, 2 main personas and 1 supporting persona.
Alex and Robin are the main personas, because a solution would target them directly, while Sebastian is a supporting persona because he would use and benefit a solution indirectly.
Type of Project
Multidisciplinary team, only designer
DPS, automobile company
Synthesising these pieces of information, we identified 3 possible reasons people don't charge their hybrid vehicles:
1. Infrastructure (many providers, bumpy services, little support)
2. Lack of information (lack of a single point of knowledge, cumbersome to get used to charging, very little assistance)
3. Lack of motivation (it is of little importance for the user to efficiently use the battery in their car, they have little or no motivation to charge their vehicle)
Hypothesis and prototyping
Iteration 1: Let's make it easier to charge a hybrid
Paper prototypes illustrating the idea of an app that assists the user throughout the journey of charging their car.
This first idea builds on the hypothesis that if the network is big enough (aggregated suppliers) and the experience of charging is seamless (single mode of payment, support while charging) users will start charging their vehicles more. For this, we built a simple paper prototype that walked the user through identifying the need to charge their car, finding the closest, most convenient location and actually charging their vehicle.
When we tested this idea and showed the prototype to people that fit the Alex personas, it was clear that even considering the technical difficulties of offering a one-size-fits all solution, it was not enough . Why? Because those who made a conscious decision to purchase a hybrid make the effort to charge their vehicle despite everything. Thus building this type of app would certainly make their lives easier, but most probably wouldn't serve our initial goal of increasing charging rates of hybrid electric vehicles.
Iteration 2 - Designing for motivation
While we were approaching the final month of the project, we had to switch gears: rather than the private customer, we shifted the focus to Benjamin, the corporate employee. Although Benjamin has access to good infrastructure (dedicated charging stations at work, subsidised energy) this persona is by far less likely to charge their vehicle, because they have no motivation to do so. Why? First, they most probably didn't deliberately choose their vehicle, it was given to them by their company, along with subsidised monthly fuel and very little supervision of usage.
How can we make Robins charge more?
One low hanging fruit is introducing company policy, but that is out of scope for a digital product. Another approach is gamifying to increase motivation for charging: make charging a game, where the more you charge the most likely you are to help your company's CO2 emission goals.
Final Solution : Formula Charge
The main mechanism behind Formula Charge is a virtual game, where the user has more chances to succeed when they drive electric. Each user is assigned a virtual car with which they race every Sunday; the more they drive electric and charge, the better race car they get, and the better the chances of winning a race. During these races, users earn points that they can convert to rewards or charity donations.
Except the game aspect, Formula charge offers advice and tips on charging, and an overview of the environmental and financial aspect of using an electric hybrid. The app syncs to the car and offers an overview of the rides and customised charging advice.
Screenshots of the Formula Charge app. Click here to view the full prototype.
What I learned
First of all, I realised that there is always things to learn, regardless of how long you've been in a field. Despite the program being targeted at youngsters fresh out of university, I learned quite a bit during the workshops and seminars, while also identified areas I need to further work on.
On the other hand, this was the first time I designed for mobile and my mockups weren't appealing at first, but after a couple of online tutorials and resources I got a jump start. As with everything, researching and practicing with simple projects comes a long way.