CMU Transit Web Redesign

Context: Research Methods course
Client: Carnegie Mellon University Graduate Students Assembly
Timeline: 2 months
Role: Project Management; Research
Team: Charlie Abbott, Carol Cheng, Katherine Jiang, and Nina Yang


Carnegie Mellon’s Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) tasked my team with improvement of the CMU Shuttle and Escort services in an effort to provide safe and reliable transportation to and from campus for all students.

Our redesign of the Carnegie Mellon University Shuttle and Escort website redesign equips students with the information they need to navigate to and from CMU and throughout the general Pittsburgh area.


How might Carnegie Mellon students be set up
for success in using university transportation services?

CMU’s Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) tasked my team with improvement of the CMU Shuttle and Escort services in an effort to provide safe and reliable transportation to and from campus for all students. The CMU Shuttle and Escort information resources fail to convey important transit information to students and therefore discourages its use.


Our redesign of the CMU transportation website enables riders to better understand and use the CMU Shuttle and Escort services. Key features include making rider rules and procedures more visible, providing users with a more robust navigation tool, and modifying the route time table to be dynamic. These changes help new users find key information they are looking for faster to encourage CMU transportation usage.

Design Process

Why don’t CMU students use university shuttle and escort services? What could be done to increase usage? To answer this question, our team conducted research using both generative and evaluative research methods to explore the problem space.

Secondary Research
We conducted data analysis regarding annual ridership data and Google Analytics measuring web traffic to CMU RideSystems in order to identify patterns and potential areas of improvement. Our analysis found that overall university transportation ridership had declined across the previous four years, but had done so unevenly across routes. We found that most users accessed RideSystems through their mobile devices, suggesting that they are using the platform while on-the-go.

Generative Research
Our team conducted contextual inquiries and semi-structured interviews with members of the CMU community including students, faculty, and staff in order to understand how they use the Shuttle and Escort services and to identify any pain points. We interpreted each session as a group and built an affinity diagram from our observations.

Key Insights

Successful discovery of the Shuttle and Escort occurs via word of mouth
We surveyed a wide range of CMU students and found that a majority (>55% of graduate students and 51% of respondents overall) of respondents first discovered the CMU shuttles/escorts through word of mouth; only 21% of grad students reported learning about the system at orientation.

Students can’t figure out how to use CMU Shuttle and Escort services
While there are a wide variety of reasons for students to not use CMU transportation, 64% of survey respondents said they don’t use the shuttles/escorts because they don’t know enough information about them, and 57% say it’s because they don’t know how to use them.

In semi-structured interviews, interviewees stated, “Information about which shuttles serve which areas is not readily available online. I haven’t been able to take the shuttle because I can’t figure out how I’d use it,” and “I don’t even know where to board!.”

The CMU Transportation website is a major drop off point in shuttle and escort usage
Through survey data, we found that the most frequented resource that students turn to (44%) to learn more about CMU transportation is the official CMU Shuttle and Escort website, followed by word of mouth (43%). However, our interviews reveals that students found the CMU Transportation website confusing and unhelpful. Through think-alouds of the website, we found that users experienced difficulty in locating information on how to use transportation services and routes through the CMU Shuttle and Escort website.

Evaluative Research

After considering the insights gained from our generative research, my team chose to narrow our exploration of university transportation space to the problem of the CMU Shuttle and Escort website failing to provide sufficient and clear information for new riders.

Need Validation
Through speed-dating different transit scenarios with research participants, we found that while students experience a wide slew of issues around transportation, they are most frustrated by trying to understand the university transportation system. Users were frustrated by the current CMU Shuttle and Escort website due to either a perceived lack of information or the high cognitive load required to uncover relevant information. Many users expressed a desire for dynamic, real-time travel information rather than a fixed timetable. Users were also drawn to maps and turned to textual information to complement visuals.

Low-fi prototypes
Based on research insights and our speed-dating feedback, we created multiple low-fi paper prototypes using parallel design.

Mid-fi Prototypes
For our mid-fi prototypes, we decided to focus our redesign on mobile-only. Our research shoed that students access transit information on-the-go, and a mobile-first approach enabled us to strip away nonessential elements that may contribute to greater search times and cognitive workload.

We created a variety of home screens to use for Five Second Tests that helped us gauge how quickly our CMU Shuttle and Escort webpage redesign communicated its purpose to users.

The Five Second Tests garnered generally positive feedback but also revealed some issues: Across the board, testers appreciated the clean and simple layout with obvious buttons. However without any visual map cue, many were also confused by the button label “Navigate” and were unsure what that would lead to. Furthermore, users felt that the FAQ-style homepage would be helpful for first-time users but was too text-heavy and required too much time to read.

Final Design Concept
Feedback from our prior iterations helped us narrow down the final design features and layout.

Final Concept

Our redesigned, mobile-first Shuttle and Escort website emphasizes actionable information and critical usability features that scaffold a successful transportation experience for new students arriving on campus.

Key Features:

Robust Navigation Tool
Our redesigned website features a dynamic navigation tool that integrates with existing map tools to ease the burden placed on transit users in the current state. At the time of design, navigation of transit from the CMU Shuttle and Escort website placed a high cognitive load on users and discouraged use of the Shuttle and Escort services.

Website users are now able to search for their desired destination by address, and are presented with instructions about how to get to the nearest shuttle or escort stop, what time to leave, and how to get to their final destination after being dropped off.

Dynamic transit timetable
Users of the existing transportation site find the transit schedule valuable but also experienced high cognitive loads in attempting to understand and use it. Our redesign features a dynamic timetable that allows users to quickly look for bus schedules between specific transit stops, thereby reducing the burden of planning trips ahead of time.

Scaffolded Rider Orientation
Through our research, we learned that poor visibility of the rider rules and procedures on the current CMU transportation website poses challenges to new riders. We designed an accessible and prominent Rider Guide intended to empower new riders to access transportation with confidence. Information is organized by questions that new riders might have and also includes a search feature for users to quickly find information by inputting key terms.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s