The Iconography of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) - A Focus Group Study
Authors: Joy Richardson, Jisun Kim, Henrietta Howarth, John Preston
Abstract: Mobility as a Service (MaaS) smartphone applications (apps) are designed to allow users to plan, book, pay for and navigate journeys across a range of travel modes including own or shared car, active travel (walking, running and cycling), micromobility (e-scooters and e-bikes) and public transport. By giving the user trip-specific information about each mode it is hoped MaaS may provide a solution to increasing the use of sustainable travel options whilst encouraging active travel, thereby reducing car use. MaaS apps are being adopted to help develop healthy, liveable urban spaces worldwide.Typically in app design, due to the limited screen size of a mobile phone, icons are frequently used to depict physical artefacts such a vehicle types and items in the real-world environment but also to convey the non-physical such as instructions and waiting times. Icons are used for these purposes as they take up less space than text and should be able to be universally understood. In order to make MaaS accessible to all members of the community icons need to be easily interpreted without the need for prior knowledge or learning. As these apps are being developed concurrently by both commercial and public organisations in many countries it is becoming clear that the icons used within the interface by developers vary a great deal. Yet it is not clear which of the icons are most effective in conveying specific meanings. In order to determine which icons should be used in a new MaaS app currently in development six focus groups were held in which members of the public were asked to comment on a variety of icons from three MaaS apps. 22 participants were recruited of which 14 were women and 8 men. This followed a model which had been previously used in the icon design in interfaces for automated driving. The participants considered the icons out of context individually in workbooks and then in context as a group, explaining what they thought the meaning was, based on form, interpretations based on colour and the ability to be understood by a diverse population. Finally, in a group discussion, participants compared icons from each of the different apps that were intended to have similar meanings. This was in order to understand which elements they liked, disliked and their preferred choice of icon. The participant’s comments were thematically analysed and commonly occurring design aspects were identified. These included confusion arising from the use of almost identical icons representing different artefacts across different apps, for example a bus representing a vehicle in some apps and a bus stop in others. Findings suggested concepts such as multi-modal travel or all public transport were considered hard to represent graphically and needed text labels. The most commonly discussed topic related to the use of colour. Discussions indicated lessons learnt by the participants from other domains were applied to the icons in the MaaS app. This meant the use of colour was imbued with meaning even where none was intended, particularly the use of red where it was frequently interpreted this meant that there were problems with those services such as delays or cancellations. Results of this study were used to develop a set of design guidelines for future icon design within MaaS Apps.
Keywords: Icons, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), Interface, App Design, Future Transport
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