Connected Cyclists: Design research

Learning by doing, design research methods

There is a lot of research out there on cycling and cyclists - academics and pressure groups collect a lot of data to understand the existing situation. Whilst this data is very useful, as designers we wanted to do some design-research of our own - experiencing, observing and talking to people about cycling in the city in a concentrated way. Noticing the surroundings that we move through on a daily basis (usually quite subconsciously), is a really important design-research method for the city. We’ve used film as a tool to observe, research and document cycling.

Whilst we gathered a lot of observational footage of cyclist behaviours, we also wanted to experience cycling new routes first hand, so devised a comparative experiment. Armed with Go-Pro cameras, two of us set out on a journey from the same point in South London to Kensington. I knew the route very well and Christian had never taken the route before. One might assume that using detailed navigation apps would make wayfinding fairly easy. However, our experiment suggests this is certainly not the case for cyclists.

In spite of using maps on his phone, Christian very soon took a series of wrong turns. The reason seemed to be that the transition from big roads to small cycling paths wasn’t clear on either the map or the road. City ID, a Bristol based wayfinding and information design firm, make maps and strategies designed for pedestrians, and point out that almost all online basemaps (bing, Google maps etc) are designed for drivers rather than pedestrians or cyclists. For Christian, the map design, combined with not being able to view it whilst cycling, proved very challenging.

After a while, he stopped relying on the map app and reverted to searching for familiar landmarks, such as bridges or buildings.

This experiment helped us to formulate the question: What is a cycle path? If a cycle path is un-continuous in physical infrastructure and difficult to read on maps, what exactly did it amount to? Was it a critical mass of other cyclists or was it more notional than real? Could technology allow us to fill the gaps and connect different kinds of cycle paths in a legible way? Watch our speculative design film which explores this question.

We want to hear from you if you’ve been developing research insights around cyclists experiences. Do get in touch via twitter @futurecitiescat

Claire Mookerjee
Claire Mookerjee

I'm the Project Lead for Urbanism at the Future Cities Catapult.