Envisioning a safe & personalized Gen-Z commuting experience

10 weeks, Aug—Jan 2018


Project Manager
Nikita Jain

Process + Methods 

User Research, Interview, Ideation, Conceptual Testing, Iteration, Rapid Prototyping, Usability Testing


Project Introduction


In the Fall 2018 semester through Berkeley Innovation, I worked with Leon Eng, David Aguliar and Jerome Wang with Suzuki Motors (World Innovation Lab) to help study the needs of the Digital Gen as potential auto-mobile owners in 5-20 years.

My Role

  • The project was separated into 4 major sprints – User Research, Synthesis & Ideation, User Testing & Iteration, and Mid-Fidelity Prototyping. The entire team worked during all sprints, and I served as the sprint leader for the second sprint, overseeing and synthesis and ideation phase for potential design solutions.



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The Problem

Suzuki Motors challenged us to identify pain points in the current digital generation's commuting experience, and reinvent a more delightful transport experience for potential future drivers and/or passengers. 

Suzuki has had a long history of success in the Asian markets, though as innovation continues in North and South America the opportunity to grow and become a staple brand in these markets is promising.

Opportunity Areas

Since invention, the commuting machines and cabin size and design have remained rather unchanged. Yet, the permeation of the smartphone and desire for digital interaction has changed users preferences and patterns of consumption.


With a particular focus on the interactions and consumption Gen Z users seek from the vehicle, in presence of certain access to their personal smart devices, we needed to understand their pain points in their current commuting experiences.



How might we design a space that gratifies the real need and attitude of Gen-Z users while they are transported?



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User Research

The goals of our research were to understand:

1. What are people’s general commuting routines?
2. How does commuting fit into people's schedules?

3. How do people view their experiences with different transportation?

Secondary Research

To begin our research, we wanted to learn about innovation in the automotive industry as well as how those trends would affect consumption habits of Gen Z.


1. Gen Z users desire a personalized way of interacting with both technology and reality

2. Gen Z may not want cars, and instead, prefer other modes of shared transportation like urban rental bikes

3. Gen Z preferences and interactions are heavily impacted by social media and digital platforms

Primary Research 

To gather more insightful first-hand research, we conducted ethnographic research, contextual observations, and guerrilla interviews with high school, college and graduate students in the Bay Area. Our team interviewed 8 undergrads, 17 high schoolers and 4 graduate students. We wanted to compare and contrast commuting rituals across different age groups.

Ethnographic Research 

Our team took to the streets and observed how people interacted within different forms of transportation.


1. Bear Transit: UC Berkeley bus system, mostly used by students at night as a safer transit option.


  • Students are generally quiet during the trip and seldom interact with other commuters.

  • Most students prefer listening to music on their phones during their commute. 

  • Students rest their backpacks on their laps, on the adjacent chair, or on the ground.

  • Students tend to occupy more space by placing their belongings onto empty seats

  • This occurs especially when the bus is relatively empty/ non-peak hours.

2. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART): Public train network that runs all across the Bay. 


  • Student passengers decrease after 10:00 am/ the morning rush hours.

  • Most passengers consist of post-grad workers or seniors.

  • Most passengers listen to music, podcasts, and have eyes fixed on their phone screens.

  • Some passengers look up to check the respective stations that the BART is approaching.

3. AC Transit: An Oakland public bus system that established routes in the Bay Area.


  • Most students engaged with their phones and headphones. 

  • Most students prefer standing than to sit and maintain distance from other passengers. 

4. Uber:  Ridesharing service that provides personal/ group customized destinations.


  • Students only use it when destinations are out of reach e.g SF, Oakland, and Emeryville.

  • Students are price conscious thus prefers 'pool/poolExpress' over 'uberx' to save money. 

  • Service is more frequently used during night times due to safety concerns.




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Affinity Mapping + Research Insights 


After synthesizing the data from our research, we gathered and grouped the following insights regarding the commuting as a Gen- Z user:


  • Commuting is a time for personal rituals, most often disconnecting from the world, users enjoyed daydreaming or observing landscapes while commuting.

  • Social norms/cues surrounding communication in transportation affect the behavior of users. ie you don’t talk to your Uber driver

  • The quality of a commuting experience is highly dependent on the behavior of fellow commuters.

  • The shorter ‘The First/Last Mile’, is the more ideal the commuting experience.

  • Safety is top of mind, therefore certain modes of transportation (BART) are less desirable.

Categorizing different types of insights

Rearranging insights and identifying useful connections




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User Research 

After reviewing our key findings, we gathered the pain points and restructured the insights based on:

  • Inform: Sheds light on what people need and want

  • Inspire: Motivates us to do propose a solution 

  • Memorable: Unconventional and unnoticed insight 

We then decided to conduct a second round of interviews specifically targeted towards the pain points, with the aim to identify opportunities to design.

Journey Mapping

By restructuring our insights, we created two major personas and sketched out
the journey maps for both.


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How Might We's

1. HMW minimize the commuting time for users? 

2. HMW convey to people that their needs are being met in the car?

3. HMWcreate a safe physical environment that translates to psychological safety? 

4. HMW enhance a sense of inclusive/ personal space in the car?

5. HMW create systems that don’t disrupt existing practices? e.g using a phone, voice-calls, facetime etc.


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Focusing on insights that we gathered from research, we began our ideation phase to create a better space for Gen Z to commute in. 


To better understand the needs of the current Gen-Z commuters, we conducted a survey and gathered responses and/or further suggestions.

Our results of over 75+ respondents showed that users preferences fell under the scopes of:
(1) Safety/Physical and (2) Inclusive/ Personalization.

​Safety/ Physical​

  • Car system that reminds the driver of
    proper maintenance (i.e. Change of oil, specifics, pressure)

  • Interior lights that change according to driver's focus level (i.e Alerts when he/she is falling asleep)

Inclusivity/ Personal​

  • Facetime and video calling capable windows/ displays

  • Physical or digital implementation of personal pictures in the car (e.g Built-in picture frame)


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Low Fidelity Sketches

Using the feedback from both our ideation session and the survey went ahead and began to visualize the top recommendations.

Facetime setup in an autonomous car

Personalization of interior cabin with personal photos

Interior safety lighting system for drivers

Car system with maintenance reminders


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Mid-Fidelity Sketches

After a meeting with our client surrounding our initial sketches, we decided to continue with two recommendations: Personalization of interior cabin and interior safety lighting for drivers. Our final deliverable consisted of a booklet of research data and insights as well as these final sketches and interior cabin recommendations.

Interior lighting, positioned in three separate areas. Interior lights help keep the vehicle lit during nighttime, reducing drowsiness. If the vehicle detects drowsiness, the lights will pulse to alert the driver.

The instrument cluster will have built-in LEDs that pulse when the driver is falling asleep. It detects drowsiness via a driver-facing camera mounted in the gauge cluster.

A picture frame near the sides of the car can allow for personalized space. Since the car is a relatively dull space, adding a touch of personalization can improve the commuting experience.

Meet the Suzuki Team!

As my first exploratory design project, I've had the valuable opportunity to learn about user research methods with the guidance of industry professionals. I came to appreciate the value of studying the pain points of respective users and identifying design opportunities. The process also helped my team understand how to effectively communicate, analyze, and negotiate findings with the design team – it was was definitely an interesting scope of exploration that could not have been done through simple sketches or 3D models. 

We are working closely with the Suzuki World Innovation Lab team, and are excited to see where this project is going to take us!