Western Carolina University recently received state funding to accept local students for very affordable tuition. Many students commute to campus and find it difficult to find a parking and the demand is only going to rise with the increase of commuting students in 2019. Infrastructure improvements are a distant reality and thus a short-term solution for parking efficiency has been requested from many driving students. Engineering student, Tyler Mitchell, put together a concept web app for a software solution powered by real-time cameras. It was well received and the possibility to lease the concept to other campuses became evident. The next step was to improve the concept, ensure security and usability, and plan to bring it to market.
As the lead product strategist at our agency, I consulted with Tyler and his advisor to learn about the inside scoop and reality of parking on WCU’s campus. They had many questions and look to our team for insight. They wanted to know, what is technically feasible? What is an MVP software solution? What would be scalable for other campuses? What infrastructure would be required to access camera feeds? How might we make this safe for student drivers? And of course, “How much will it cost?” It was my task to discover some answers to these questions and look deeper into how might we reduce parking bottlenecks on campus. I was the lead strategist and the UX designer for the WCU app prototype
1) Discovery consultation
I had the pleasure to meet with Tyler and his Business Advisor, Ed Wright, over a series of consultations. I wanted to learn about the “on-the-ground” situation, and how are students currently managing and solving this problem. The team contributed many ideas. They imagined a video stream, a web application, and a view by lot type navigation. While a lot of the ideas were feasible, I noticed some accessibility, security, and usability concerns. I wanted to go deeper and explore more options.
2) Diving Deeper: Research and Understanding
With the assistance of some university parking research, I studied the data and reality of parking on campus. I also listened to what students were saying and trying to grasp what students are doing on campus.
From the user research, I heard some fundamental insights from commuting drivers.
Day-to-day commuting is challenging because every day of the week I am on a slightly different schedule.
Often I am working on an assignment up to the last possible minute before getting in the car to drive to class. Parking is a guessing game, although I have noticed patterns, like where the best place will be to park based on the building I need to get to, and the time of the day.
Each semester takes some time getting used to the parking situation, after a few weeks I start to figure out best options, however, there is never a guarantee. When events are on campus I am caught off guard by the unexpectedly full lots.
The key needs I heard from commuting students was,
- “I need parking information quickly”
- “The information should be clear and accurate”
- “I want to know the best option to park based on where I am going”
I broke down the user thought process to help inform navigational strategies for the mobile app UI/UX.
- “I want to find the best place to park based on where I am going”
- “What lot is closest to building ‘x’?”
- “My class in building “x” at this time, what lot will likely have parking spaces nearby?”
3) User Personas
After some informal interviews with current students and recent WCU graduates, I collected some themes a created two user personas that demonstrated some goals, thought processes, and frustrations.
4) Synthesize Project Aims and Goals
After understanding the budget for the app, the goals for stakeholders, the security concerns, and the student profiles, I synthesized the VRS 1 KPIs and application expectations to guide the development priorities and the user stories.
- 40% of commuting students adopt the app within the first semester of release.
- Commuting students can view and compare multiple lot options quickly.
- Receive relational information about the parking lot, ie, maps or nearby buildings.
- Mobile app backend server securely connects to camera feed via API and hardware.
- Mobile app load time of parking lot images is < 3.5 seconds on LTE.
- Safety memo is included for using the app when driving.
- Access to the app is restricted use for those with WCU passes.
- Token to save access to the app. (Does not require authentication every use).
- Allow multiple screens for larger lot camera views.
- Modular code for other campus licenses.
- Able to scale and modify lots and camera integrations.
- Simple administration backend to handle lot data, camera storage, and WCU pass data.
- Android and Apple compatible.
5) Interactive Prototype
With a defined product vision between myself and the team, I began to prototype various navigation scenarios for accessing and finding the right lot for each driver type. Engineering student, Tyler Mitchell, had already gotten a great headstart with a prototype after putting together this initial prototype for his school assignment.
From early sketches to low fidelity wireframes, I sketched some various options for the team to review.
With the team feedback, I was able to trim out excess information and provide valuable navigational options based on user situation. We decided on this as the best home screen for the annotated reasons.
More wireframe samples:
Students were very positive about the structure and simplicity of the Invision prototype and so we felt confident that we had developed a quality roadmap for MVP product development.
With a defined product vision and prototype for MVP release, I determined the user stories and product requirements to assist pricing and development schedule. As the lead Product Strategist and UX designer, I guided the stakeholders and advising the team to determine a product model that would be low-cost to build, sustainable for the new parking lot and student changes, and scalable to be leased to other campuses. Additionally, commuting students are eager to have such a tool reference with live updates.
The prototype and product plan that was prepared was well received and accepted by an angel investor. Western Carolina University, the first client to lease the app, accepted the proposal and agreed to invest in the parking lot hardware that would power the parking lot data.
“Working with Greta and her team was a great experience. Smooth, professional, and exceeded our expectations.” – Tyler Mitchell, Founder of Park4U Mobile App