A mobile app that provides navigation and transportation assistance for physically disabled people on CMU’s campus


Team: Marcus Greer; Lilan Huang; Jiasi Tan; Chuankai Zhang

My Role: UX Researcher and Designer, Prototyping

Context: CMU User-Centered Research and Evaluation Course Project

Methods: Contextual Inquiry, Think-Aloud, Storyboarding and Speed dating, Experience Prototyping


Problem Space

How can we improve the mobility of members of the CMU community who are disabled or injured given CMU’s: Old style buildings, Pittsburgh’s hilly terrain and the problems with the elevators

Background: Currently, members of the CMU community who are not able bodied rarely have their needs considered as deliberately as they should be. Because  injured and disabled people are less able to find viable work arounds, we believe that limitations in their mobility should be a high priority despite their representations as a minority of the people on campus.

Opportunity: As CMU already has the resources (golf carts, servers and IT talent) to help students who are in need, building an app to connect the students with CMU resources  and provide accessible route navigation will significantly improve the mobility experience of people who are injured or disabled. Our solution also targets other users including senior staff, expecting moms, new moms and campus visitors, etc. We believe that designing inclusively will improve the product experience for the CMU community as a whole.

The Solution

A mobile app and ride-share system that provides navigation and transportation assistance for physically disabled people on CMU’s campus with the following features:


Easy integration with SIO (Student Information Online) accounts.


Interactive 3D maps for guided navigation inside and between buildings.


Connecting disabled or injured CMU community members with a golf cart service for increased mobility.

Potentially helps larger groups of users such as senior citizens, lost visitors, expecting moms and parents with strollers. 

Group 36 Created with Sketch. Lost Visitors Expectant Moms New Moms Senior Citizens


In this project, the overall goal of our research is to find solutions and ideas to help the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) improve the service of student transportation. The original prompt was broad and we were asked to identify our own focus area. Through the whole process of the project, we actively engaged the target user population by conducting contextual inquiries, secondary research, prototyping and multiple rounds of usability testing to understand their pain points and needs to inform the design decisions.

Group 3 Created with Sketch. Final Design Prototyping and Testing Ideation Generative Research Background Research Reframing Stakeholder Analysis Contextual Inquiries Survey Storyboarding Speeddating Paper Prototyping 5-Second Testing Iteration Experience Prototyping Iteration Wizard of Oz High Fidelity Screen Micro-interaction Observe Reflect Make The Loop 05 04 03 02 01


Background Research

To identify a meaning area that currently overlooked by CMU, and requires further research and improvement to help GSA to provide better students transportation service, we started by broadly looking at different aspects, including usability issues with existing navigation apps, bus-riding experience, shared-biking system, etc. Upon non-formal research (informal interviewing, guerilla research, and asking around CMU students, walk-the-wall activity), we found:

  1. The buildings on CMU’s campus were built to accommodate Pittsburgh’s hilly terrain, and therefore building navigating on campus is complicated.

  2. Many CMU students and faculty members mentioned it took months to gain familiarity with CMU’s campus because of its buildings’ unique architecture and labyrinthian connections.

  3. Visitors often get very confused when navigating through the campus. 

  4. We also recognized that injured CMU students have to navigate with the help of a scooter, and therefore need to change their navigation habits. The vertical circulation on campus makes it difficult for students who use scooters. 

We think the complexity of CMU campus and it’s building is a salient problem for CMU students, especially for students who have a disability, therefore we feel it worth our research and design an intervention to improve the mobility of CMU students with disability or physically injured. 

Stakeholders Map

To identify the stakeholders who have the greatest impact to our focus area, we created the stakeholders map.

Group 21 Created with Sketch. CMU students with physical disability I want to know how to get from A to B in without any stairs quickly. GSA Representative I want to ensure a high and equal quality of life for all of our graduate students at a reasonable cost CMU Parking & Transportation I want to ensure a high and equal quality of life for all of our graduate students at a reasonable cost CMU Police I want to ensure all students’ safety, at anytime, any where on campus and near campus CMU students that are physically injured I don’t want this injury to change my ability to access my regular locations New moms Caring my baby needs lots of effort, I want to know easy ways navigating on campus without climbing staricases Expected moms Caring my baby needs lots of effort, I want to know easy ways navigating on campus without climbing staricases CMU visitors CMU campus is very complicated, buildings are connect in a mysterious, there are entrances on multiple levels. I want to know easy routes from where I am to shere I want to go on campus. Senior Professors Target Users Potential Beneficiary CMU departments who’re capable of doing actions CMU office of disability resources I want to provide reasonable accommodation to faculty and students I want to help distribute the Ride System app to all current students and prospective students CMU HUB Representative Help Help Help Provides service Protects Support Teach Collaborate Cooperate Collaborate Collaborate Teach Visit Visit Visit Visit Secondary users Primary users CMU Community I don’t want to climb too many staircases and going up and down across buildings.

Selected Stakeholders for Research

After further looking at the potential stakeholders that’ll be involved in this project, we plan to conduct research with both the target users (CMU students with physical disability, and CMU students that are physically injured), and the CMU community.


Generative Research

In order to better understand the pain points and frustrations people have while trying to find an accessible route on campus, and to find potential ways to improve current transportation condition for people with a disability, we conducted four contextual inquiries with CMU students who have physical injury and launched a survey to the whole Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Group 22 Created with Sketch. Contextural Inquiries Survey

Contextual Inquiries

We conducted four contextual inquiries by accompanying our target users on their daily routine around campus, with four CMU students who either have physical disabilities or has injury on leg or foot. By conducing the contextual inquiries, we wanted to know more about: 

Group 4 Created with Sketch. How physically disabled or injured people choose their routes when trying to reach different buildings on campus. Group 2 Created with Sketch. What are some major pain points they currently have traveling on campus? Group 6 Created with Sketch. What kind of accessibility service are they using or they wish CMU could provide.

After the contextual inquiries, we held an interpretation session and and created an affinity diagram, to hear about the interviews and discuss what was learned, as well as to find congruence across our contextual inquiries. We were able to gather a series of meaningful insights through our affinity diagramming session. Some insights debunked hypotheses that we had previously, while others affirmed hypotheses that we had developed, and still more insights raised points that we had not considered. 


Key Findings from the Contextual Inquiries

Finding 1

Poorly designed elevators, doors, and steep paths pose the largest obstacles to people’s commute on campus.

"What if you don’t know about like the inner circle around? So felt like when you first came here it would have been really confusing."

"Um, I feel like, finding a route in this building, is the most difficult thing. There are a lot of stairs, and you never know where they are."

"This campus is complicated. Um, and so again, like I look at maps a lot. Um, so how do we distinguish like the level that the vertical differences?"


Finding 2

Certain steps in the travel process are very difficult if not impossible without the assistance of other people.

"It’ll be nice if I can contact the golf cart drivers for help, but I don’t think I can. The stairs are impossible for me to climb"


Finding 3

Newly injured people are often unfamiliar with the departments and resources that are present on campus.

"I am unfamiliar with the resources provided by various CMU departments."



After we conducted the four contextual inquiries, we designed a survey to further gather more quantitative data to make objective evaluations of the difficulty of finding on campus locations and to collect more thoughts to help us generate insights.

Insight 4

More intuitive ways of referring to buildings and clearer navigation showing vertical circulation are needed.


of participants ask friends, classmates or coworkers when find the way to a new location on CMU campus.


of participants clearly indicated that they had trouble using elevators or other vertical circulation. 


of participants ranked complexity of campus structure and connections between buildings the biggest confusion navigating on CMU campus.


of participants who have been injured while at CMU indicated they’re not familiar with any mobility resources provided by CMU.

Insight 5

The complexity of CMU campus make the navigation for students with disabilities or physical injury even harder.

From the open-ended questions, participants showed various frustrations experienced while traveling on campus:

  • The complexity of campus structure and connections between buildings confuse the students.

  • A lack of effective signs and understandable building names provided to students pose a hindrance to students finding classrooms.

  • Lastly, students want to know the shortcuts to navigate from one location to another, which are not easy to find out.

We’ve also find that even for people who have been at CMU for more than two years, many of them still find that finding new locations on CMU campus is very difficult, see the graph below.

How difficult was it for you to find locations on CMU's campus when you first arrived?

Group 5 Created with Sketch. 1 2 3 4 5 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 How long have you been at CMU? Fewer than two months More than two years O n e y ear t o t w o y ear s Six months to one year Two months to six months 1 very difficult) - 5(not difficult at all) Response count

With these insights in mind, the design challenge was defined as:

How might we:

Provide a navigation system that could easily navigate around the three dimensionally complicated CMU campus with clear labelling of building, and with easy access to CMU provided disability services.



After the generative research, we conducted a ‘Walk-the-wall’ activity (placed all our research materials on the wall) to identify breakdowns, needs, design ideas and questions. Then we created 12 storyboards based on customers’ needs we identified and conducted 15 speed dating sessions for the purpose of need validation and ideation.

Group 29 Created with Sketch. Storyboards Speeddating

Need Validation

Through the ‘walk-the-wall’ activity and our further discussion, we identified the following four most salient needs:


Need 1

Easier Navigation on CMU campus with easier understanding of vertical navigation.

Need 2

Finding the shortest viable route on campus.


Need 3

Transportation service for physically disabled/injured people.

Need 4

Better Access to CMU disability resources.


We then sketched 12 storyboards based on these four needs (3 distinct scenarios based on one user need), for speed dating sessions which help us on further need validation.


Feedbacks from Speed dating sessions

The speed dating sessions were very helpful in developing an appreciation for how our ideas would be received by our core demographics. In each session we asked these individuals to what extent they related with the needs we had identified and whether or not they were willing to accept the tradeoffs associated with each proposal. 

Through the speed dating sessions, we found that our participants are very optimistic about the ideas of navigation extension on SIO (No 1-1) and gold car service (No 2-1). After our voting session, we decided to develop an application that could provide accessible route suggestion, navigation, transportation service hotline for physically disabled / injured students and normal route navigation for students and visitors.


Prototyping and Testing

Through our ideation phase, we gained better understanding of what users need, which guided us on the prototyping and testing phase. We had in total three rounds of prototyping and two rounds of testing which are 5-second testing and experience prototyping. The second round prototyping was an iteration of first round based on the 5-second testing, and the third round prototyping was an iteration of the second round based on our experience prototyping.

Group 36 Created with Sketch. First Round Prototyping Second Round Prototyping Third Round Prototyping 5-Second Test Experience Prototyping

Low Fidelity Prototyping

Our prototype aims to display the features for injured and disabled CMU students to find accessible routes and facilities and get assistance from the golf car service, as well as features for all students to find on campus locations. Moreover, our prototype shows a clear user flow when navigating through each interface. 5 key screens are:

#1 - On-boarding: asking users if they are CMU student or visitors (For non CMU students, they will be directed to the screen of find places for the seek of navigation)

#2 -  Find locations via classes vs. directly find places.

#3 - My classes, showing students’ classes schedule and locations. 

#4 - Class detail information

#5 - Navigation map (different transportation options)

#6 - Pop-up window for requesting golf cart service

first round two rows.jpg

5-Second and Iteration 1

After we finished our first round prototype, we ran seven 5-second tests to get feedback about interface and design flow. We also got constructive feedback and suggestions which helped us got lots of insights and findings. The major insights and we got and improvements we made fell into three categories: Design flow, information redundancy and interface details.


Design Flow: Users mentioned it took too long before it reach the actual content. As an app designed mainly for physically disabled / injured people, it took four screens before it actually move to the map. Furthermore, even users feel that all the screens are simple, the overall goal seems vague when user reaches the first few pages. Improvement: We combineD the two pages into one and set the login interface as a pop up screen. We removed our question on screen #1 and put two buttons on the screen instead: ‘sign in as student’ and ‘continue as guest’. Also, we added illustrations on the on-boarding page to let the users know the functionality of the app immediately.

Information Redundancy: Users mentioned that in screen #3 and #4 seemed irrelevant from our research focus. After discussion, we think that the class schedule is already provided in Canvas and the class information is not important except from its location and navigation information. Improvement: To address this issue, we completely got rid of page 3 and page 4 of the original prototype and embedded the classroom location as a widget in the final map interface.

Interface Detail: User mentioned that on screen #5, although the wheel-chair icon caught users’ attention, the request for golf cart service button (the little red ‘i’) on the top right of the wheelchair icon is not obvious. Improvement: Instead of pop-up, we set the golf cart service as an independent icon. In addition, we also built a slide menu at the bottom of the screen and embedded three functions: events, place of interest and most popular places.

The first round iteration can be find here.

Experience Prototyping and Iteration 2

After the first iteration, we conducted experience prototyping. We used low-fi prototype to simulate a live experience with our product for the participants. After the experience prototyping, based on the notes we took during the sessions, we reiterated our lo-fi screens.

experience prototyping2.jpg

The changes are as follows:

  • Added a ‘Continue’ button in the login page

  • Added a preferred navigation setting page right after login page, user can set the default preference to either wheelchair accessible routes or not

  • Added the profile page, so user can change settings of navigation preference if they need

  • Added building floor information, users can select which floor they are in the building

  • Added an estimate waiting time before requesting

  • Added cancel button on all popup windows so users can closeout the popups

  • Added real-time location update and time remaining of the requested golf cart after user request a golf cart


Login Through CMU Andrew ID

On Boarding

3D Map with Suggested Places

Setting Navigation Preference


Waiting Time Of Golf Cart And ‘Confirm’ Button

Navigation Based On Preference Setting

The Golf Cart Is On The Way

Real Time Update Of The Golf Cart Location



Final Design

CMÜth makes CMU smooth

A mobile app and ride-share system that provides navigation and transportation assistance for physically disabled people on CMU’s campus with the following features:






Easy integration with SIO accounts



Set Navigating Preference



Set Floor Level



Navigation showing where are ramps, elevators



Through integration of SIO, showing ‘my classes‘ as places of interest



For students with disability or physical injury, prompt if a golf cart is needed



Golf cart is on the way with remaining time to be arrived


Don’t make assumptions. Listen, observe and ask why.

A good designer does not just design whatever he/she wants to design. Instead, find what’s really needed is important. Try your best to see the world through the users’ eyes, to see what they see, feel what they feel, and experience things as they do.


Thanks for reading!