jennifer allen
user experience
research & design
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The Beacon:
Reducing the Problem of Urban Traffic Congestion Through Human-Centered Ridesharing
Master's Thesis
Presented at the 2010 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference

Designer: Jennifer Allen

Design Problem

Each graduate student in the HCI/Design program is required to create an original work of design or research.

Design Process:

Through an iterative process, I conducted primary and secondary research, developed insights, narrowed the scope of the problem space and identified a target group. I developed many diverse concepts while conducting and synthesizing research. After selecting a concept, I conducted concept testing in the field with people who engage in dynamic ridesharing in Washington, DC. Based on feedback from the concept testing, I developed multiple iterations of low fidelity prototypes. I conducted usability testing on each iteration of the prototype. The pictures below document some of the activities that were conducted during the design process.

Research and Design Methods Used:

  • Literature Review
  • Interviews
  • Fly-on-the-Wall Observation
  • Rapid Ethnography
  • National Online Survey
  • Cross Cultural Comparison
  • Exemplars
  • Sketching
  • Personas/Scenarios
  • Concept Testing
  • Information Architecture
  • Prototyping
  • Cognitive Walkthrough
  • Usability Testing

Thesis Abstract:

Traffic congestion is a serious and growing problem in large urban communities throughout the United States. It impacts the lives of millions urban commuters each weekday. It fundamentally degrades the quality of life, as well as the health, of those who regularly experience it. It wastes considerable amounts of time, fuel, and money for the individual. It is detrimental to the vitality and health of urban communities. In addition, it is damaging to the environment because it results in the unnecessary production of greenhouse gases and pollution.

The problem of traffic congestion can be solved through carpooling or ridesharing. Ridesharing is the practice of two or more people sharing the same vehicle to travel to a common destination. Traffic congestion is at its peak when commuters travel to and from work. Approximately 80 percent of commuters drive to work alone. Therefore, there is unused seating available within each single occupant vehicle. The problem of traffic congestion will be eliminated if commuters utilize this unused seating capacity.

There are significant barriers that discourage the practice of ridesharing. Yet, a dynamic form of ridesharing, known as "slugging" or "casual carpooling", exists that overcomes these barriers. This form of dynamic ridesharing was created by participants for participants. While this system is successful, primary research reveals that it can be improved by enhancing the safety, reliability, and the efficiency of the practice. Once these issues are resolved, the practice will become more viable, and thus will have the potential to spread to new urban centers throughout the United States.

This design thesis describes an iterative process of design research and design development. It includes extensive primary and secondary research, design work, and concept and usability testing; these activities resulted in creation of the final design, the Beacon. The Beacon enhances dynamic ridesharing by improving the safety, reliability, and efficiency of the practice and thereby makes it a viable and highly desirable form of urban transportation.


Master's Thesis - The Beacon: Reducing the Problem of Urban Traffic Congestion Through Human-Centered Ridesharing


Dr. Martin Siegel and Dr. Erik Stolterman

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