The topic I had chosen for my winter sub-theme was winter travel. I chose to focus on the commuting aspect of travel, as I think that this area would have interesting and fun opportunities for change or improvement of related products. With this idea in mind, I went about the ASK, OBSERVE, and EXPERIENCE aspects of my ethnographic research.
In order to find an interesting area for improvement or innovation in the area of winter commuting, I interviewed three unrelated people about their winter travel habits, likes and dislikes. I came up with a simple 5 question interview to use as a base for all three, which made it easy to ask follow-up questions as I saw fit in the situation. Here are the interview questions I used as my basic structure:
1. What are the methods of transportation you use in the winter?
2. Of these methods, which do you enjoy the most and why?
3. Of these methods, which is the most frustrating and why?
4. What area of winter travel do you think could be most improved upon and why?
5. Can you think of an experience you had with a product or service relating to winter travel that stuck out to you as exceptionally positive or negative? Please explain.
For these interviews, I tried to get a variety of transportation usages so I asked a friend who drives/ bikes/ rides the bus to work, an acquaintance who only drives in the winter, and a local bike mechanic who rides his bike year-round.
Interview #1: Gregg, male mid 40's, message therapist. Gregg said that his only method of winter transportation was his car, and that the farthest he regularly drove was 7 miles. One of the things about winter travel he found enjoyable was his heated seats and steering wheel in his new car, as well as the power and acceleration. One of his biggest frustrations with winter travel was traffic congestion, and he thought that snow removal could be improved the most especially in the inner city where he lives. When asked what he thought caused this he said probably the logistics and priorities of different neighborhoods within the city. Other drivers in the winter were also an issue, as many people drive poorly in the winter.
Interview #2: Neil, male late 20's, bike mechanic @ Varsity. Neil was interesting to interview because he was definitely an expert on winter commuting, as he rode his bike year-round to work, and had some interesting tips for winter travelers especially as it relates to biking. Neil really enjoys that you don't have to find parking when you bike, and as opposed to public transportation, you can leave whenever you want and not have to schedule your trip. He said as long as you have the right equipment, winter biking can be quite enjoyable. A few of the products he mentioned being important for winter biking were studded tires, full-coverage fenders, and warm socks. Neil's big frustration was the massive variability in road conditions, both plowing and drivers giving bikers a negative reaction in the winter. Some equipment issues he mentioned related to bike equipment that wasn't designed to be used in winter because winter bikers are somewhat of an outlier. He would like if there was more winter biking clothing that was designed for the everyday rider/ commuter, because a lot of winter biking apparel is borrowed from other areas (skiing, etc.).
Interview #3: Nick, early 20's, sales representative. Nick had some interesting input in regards to winter travel, as he used several methods in the winter, primarily driving but also walking and public transportation (bus). One of his frustrations with public transportation was that you had to time it and schedule your trip. He enjoyed driving the most because it is the warmest and he gets to listen to his music. Nick mentioned clearing the sidewalks and bike lanes as being an issue, and one of the reasons he didn't bike in the winter. Two things he suggested that could be improved were windshield wipers and tire traction. He really likes when the snow removal people use the brushes rather than just plows, because they cleared the sidewalks much better and provided more grip and traction underfoot.
One of the things I noticed that all of these people mentioned as an issue was snow removal on the roads and bike lanes, as well as traffic congestion/ bad driving in the winter.
One of my immediate observations of winter travel as the weather is starting to get colder is that there aren't nearly as many bikers on the roads, and that means more drivers and thus more traffic congestion. I noticed early this morning (low 20s with a windchill of 7F), that the bike racks on campus were nearly empty. Contrast this to the first week of September, when you could barely bike through campus without running into to one another, and it's fairly obvious that the average person does not enjoy winter biking. I think that this stands as a glaring indicator of a product opportunity for change and improvement in some way. Another thing that I notice when it comes to public transportation, is that there are no immediate and obvious indicators when the next bus comes, important info if you're gonna brave the cold wait.
I am somewhat a combination of several of the users that I interviewed, as in the winter I utilize driving, biking, and public transportation as means of travel. I primarily bike, while also using the bike racks on the campus connectors when it is really cold or windy, or I am going to St. Paul campus from the East Bank. One of the frustrations I experience the most often in the winter is when the exposed skin between your jacket/ gloves or socks/pants gets cold and makes winter biking uncomfortable. Another frustration I notice quite often which Neil (bike mechanic) also mentioned, was that cars don't always give you enough shoulder room while biking, and especially when the snow piles up they start parking closer and closer to the bike lanes, making it dangerous to bike in the winter.
1/ Neil (late 20's, bike mechanic) needs a way to be able to wear everyday casual clothing that also protects him from winter weather and the elements while riding his bike to work.
During his interview Neil mentioned that there isn't much clothing that is both functional for biking in the winter while also being fashionable/ functional for everyday life. I have also experienced this in my own winter biking travels.
2/ Nick (early 20's, winter driver) needs a way to improve the driving abilities and road condition awareness of other drivers on his way to work so he feels safer driving in inclement weather.
All three people that I interviewed mentioned both road conditions as well as other people's winter driving abilities as being issues in winter travel, and these both could possibly be related in a way if something could solve part of both of those issues.