Online retail of purchasing bicycles and accessories has yet to reach a satisfactory level of customer experience. The majority of retail activity takes place in-store, where a traditional salesman-customer interaction takes place. Sales are limited to local accessibility to store locations.
This project story documents the efforts of a team of students at to create an evidence-based prototype that solves for an identified user need.
Project: Timeline: Sept. 1st - Nov. 15th
Industry Partner: Atlanta Cycling (owned by Trek)
Identify a design opportunity in the domain of bicycle purchasing that’s justified through supporting evidence in the form of market research, industry insights, and user preferences.
Prototype a product/system for targeted user and/or industry need.
User Research Plan
This project was created inside an HCI studio which prompted our team to deliver an interactive prototype made for the world of retail for a user/product of our choosing. The team brainstormed multiple concept pursuits, discussing the factors such as stakeholder accessibility and other practicalities of setting up user tests within the project timeframe.
Eventually, the team narrowed-in on people who purchase cycling equipment. This group was picked because in the local Atlanta area an abundance of stakeholders are accessible through bike shops, riding communities, and local racing events. Next, the team set out to discover a problem worth solving…
Lean Qualitative Research
With only three weeks built into the project schedule for need-finding and analysis, the team planned a lean qualitative research effort through a traditional Needfinding approach (ref. IDEO methodology) that prioritizes ethnographic methods. While this approach yields large amounts of qualitative data that can be difficult to manage, the benefits of quickly orienting the team members to the problem space through empathetic inquiries was worth it. Efforts were focused on the following:
Semi-structured Interviews: used to discover the contours of the problem space, and inform question crafting for future interviews and contextual inquiries.
Contextual Inquiries: used to understand a process of high importance in context, and allow for informed questioning along the way.
Choosing stakeholders to approach for user research was a challenge. The team had a little over a week to conduct all research activities, and only a few day s of lead time for reaching out and scheduling with stakeholders. Outreach efforts were focused on successful bike retailers, and cyclist communities:
Successful Local Retailers
Successful Retailers were chosen for their experience with the precedent sales and customer care models, which if proven successful in the market over time contain are assumed to contain valuable insights about best practices and customer preference/behavior. Atlanta Cycling, is the number #1 seller of all bike shops owned by Trek in the South. The team built rapport with the companies management and salespersons over the course of the project and utilized their feedback repeatedly.
Atlanta Cycling Communities
Local Atlanta riding communities were selected based on their frequency of meetups and diversity of rider profiles (i.e. expert and novice). The team conducted ride-alongs during community riding events where many cyclists were engaged with during a short period of time with semi-structured questions.
Capturing Insights Systematically
To ensure contextual inquiries and interviews stayed on-track, the team. For every stakeholder research effort, the team formed into complimentary researcher roles. Both activities required the presence of a facilitator/questioner, one or several note takers, photographers, and a secondary facilitator in case of unexpected needs. For instance, when another retail salesperson joins an interview out of interest. I handled the scheduling, question drafting, and facilitation of interviews.
Power of Debriefing
After the conclusion of each interview session, the team met for a debriefing that involved each member sharing thoughts, notes, and observations while one member recorded everything. The team found time invested into debriefing sessions would produce valuable overarching insights, and isolate errors in the notes through discussions of two or more interpretations of the same comment.
Organization, AnALYSIs, & Synthesis
Organizing Qualitative Data
Affinity mapping was used because it takes in a huge amount of raw, open-ended qualitative data and processes it through meaningful hierarchies. Interviews were transcribed from audio recordings, notes, and videos into a system of insights tagged with a naming convention that identifies important source information (i.e. method, user (anonymous), date). Approximately 475 “bits” of information were captured in Realtime Board, a digital affinity mapping and diagraming tool. The tool was selected because it allowed the team to collaborate in realtime without needing physical materials.
The team then reviewed the concepts together with the goal of identifying the most promising evidence-based design directions based feasibility, strength of evidence, course parameters, and the team’s personal interest. A round of voting took place, and the top three distinctively different concepts were identified for future ideation:
Synthesis into design implications
The team unfortunately could not pursue every research lead. After every group member was given a period of time to review and study the affinity map, a team discussion took place to vet and select findings for further development. Each major theme was discussed in regards to the value it provided for Atlanta Cycling, the prototype’s feasibility during the project timeframe, and the sheer quantity of research backing. Three areas were isolated for ideation, which can be found in the next section
Findings grouped and marked for further development were used as prompts for an open sketching/ideation session. I led the exercise and guided the team’s sketching fidelity and strategy in order to ensure the output ideas were represented in a uniform manner. 60 unique concepts were produced, and used as a basis for discussion that led to a further refinement into three major concept themes that had emerged
Questioning the customer to learn about their needs (i.e. budgets, aesthetics, riding contexts)
Recommending a manageable group of bikes for the customer to consider based on their needs
Fitting bikes to customer ergonomic needs
Concepts involving innovative hardware for fitting and adjusting bikes to user ergonomics using augmented reality, a sensor suite, ,and information visualization displays.
User Insights: retail managers and salespersons expressed an absolutely essential need for the fitting process, else customers suffer a poor match and potential injury, and loose trust.
Part Value Proposition
Concepts involving the communication of true value of each part in relation to customer needs, a common point of distrust among consumers.
User Insights: customers often don’t understand the reasons behind expensive/affordable part pricing due to non-obvious technical details that effect performance and other factors. Sales persons often spend much of their time communicating these technicalities and price justifications.
Concepts involving recommendation systems that take in information about a user’s given preferences and needs, and produce a manageable set of suggestions.
User Insights: the most important point of interaction between interested customers and sales associates is a systematic downsampling of overwhelming bike options into something manageable.
The team eventually landed on a prototyping direction that involved two of the most evidence-based aspects of Part Value Proposition and Option Guidance.
Note on Design Direction not Pursued.
Of the three concepts, the at-home fitting experience had the most evidence suggesting a real design opportunity. Initially, the team began developing this concept (see storyboard below). However, after discussion about augmented reality prototyping tools available and concept relevance to retail, the team shifted focus on a platform that utilized concept #2 and #3.