MacEwan students look at how design can help make Edmonton transit riders feel safer

A group of MacEwan University students set out to find ways better design might make Edmontonians feel safer on transit. 

Information boards coming to LRT stations

Associate professor Isabelle Sperano, right, taught the course to seven design students including Vik Chu, left. (MacEwan University)

A group of MacEwan University students have researched and produced design changes that could make Edmontonians feel safer on transit — including one that will be implemented at LRT stations in the near future. 

A course last semester at the university partnered with Edmonton Transit Services to look at design and rider experience. Students received presentations from city workers and did research to better understand ridership before producing projects aimed at improving interactions with the transit system.

"In digital experience design, we make things — the products — more user friendly," said assistant professor Isabelle Sperano. 

Sperano connected with ETS to have a real-world client for the program rather than some hypothetical scenario. It was the first time the course was offered and Sperano wanted students to take on something complicated.

"It was a bit of an experiment and I was really happy with how the city responded," she said.

Sarah Feldman, director of business integration and workforce development for ETS, said in an emailed statement that the city values partnerships with post-secondaries as they provide great learning and insights.

"Our key takeaways from this engagement was the help to identify some of the real challenges from a user's perspective and bring a fresh perspective based on their research," she said.

At the end of the course, students produced projects outlining possible design improvements for safety. One of these, information safety boards, will be installed in LRT stations in the coming weeks, Feldman said.

"We will continue to consider some of the students' other ideas, such as those that involve new technology solutions, and how they may fit into our future plans."

Student experience

Sperano said it was also important for students to think about how any product would fit within an ecosystem like transit. Students designed ecosystem maps, one of which was presented to ETS.

An ecosystem map designed by one of the class' students. (Dominic LaFrance/MacEwan University)

Students received presentations and reviewed documents from ETS. They also undertook their own research.

"You have to do a lot of research on [users] to kind of even know who, or what, the problem is that you're trying to solve," said third-year design student Vik Chu.

For Chu, that meant planting himself at Millgate Transit Centre or on the LRT to observe.

Other students took on other methods like collecting interviews, analyzing social media and creating comparisons to other cities.

Next came the projects with Chu and his partner designing a rider companion app that sends notifications to trusted contacts when a trip is successfully completed.

"We wanted a way for people to just feel like you know, they weren't alone while riding, that someone was always kind of watching their back for them."

Lisa Cox designed infographics outlining the many connected points of ETS' safety systems. (Lisa Cox/MacEwan University)

Fourth-year student Lisa Cox created infographics to outline safety tools available to riders as part of her project, a concept soon to be implemented by ETS itself.

She said speaking to riders during the research phase, many were unaware of protocols already in place. Her project looked to address that gap.

"It was kind of taking a holistic approach at all the different services that were already being provided, and finding a way to connect riders to them in a way that felt intuitive as well as easy to use."

Cox said she's excited that ETS will be implementing her idea.

"For a student, it was really cool to work on a project with a real partner and then also have them be receptive to my ideas."