Today is the 11th Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a day to talk, think, and learn about access and inclusion for all, no matter our needs. To mark this occasion, we’d like to draw your attention to the design process of our latest e-scooter model. The Voiager 5 was developed with feedback from underrepresented groups and communities, leading to the integration of new inclusive features. But how progressive are a few small design flourishes really?
Ever wondered why your office is either too hot or too cold? That’s because it was designed based on the body of a 154 pound male. This, according to disability rights activist Jay Timothy Dolmage, is one of many failings that occur when we concentrate design principles around a single individual and apply it to everyone. (Academic Ableism, 2017)
Men, designing for men
“We live in a world designed by men.” writes design historian Philippa Goodall. (Design and Gender, 1990) What is true for the world is no less true in the world of transport. Industry products and services have almost always been designed by men with one client in mind: other men.
After less than four years, Voi operates as a key transport provider within the public sphere, changing the way people navigate their cities, and hopefully changing the way people relate to their cities. This is an incredible responsibility and a great opportunity to create positive change.
But, if we don’t engage with the members of our communities, if we don’t acknowledge the problems that our products may introduce to those communities and look opportunistically on what problems our products may have the potential to resolve then we are simply, ignoring the temperature in the office. Nathan Ashley, Strategic Policy Manager for Voi, explains:
“The things that happen to us in our day-to-day lives are shaped and written by policymakers. If there aren’t enough diverse voices in the room, things start to happen to you, rather than by you. When you haven’t been consulted on a public space, or product – and it impacts your life – of course you get angry and frustrated. Because then you find out that the people who were consulted fail to recognise your lived experiences of the world around you.”
Left to right: Nathan Ashley with MP Ruth Cadbury and Voi colleagues Jack Samler, General Manager UK, and Matthew Pencharz, Head of Policy UK, Ireland and Netherlands.
Co-creating solutions for a more inclusive service
“One of the reasons I chose to work for Voi was the reputation Swedish companies have,” says Nathan. “Sweden’s approach to equality and inclusion compared to other parts of the world is very progressive. Here, you can come up with ideas and get the support you need to carry them out.”
But what becomes of a product – a very particular type of product – when you try to accommodate more and more conflicting wants and needs? If necessity is the mother of invention, and there’s a whole bunch of needs, whose gets to win?
“Obviously we can’t be everything to everyone” says Nathan. “In the same way you can’t ride a scooter over the river Thames, our product is not designed for every circumstance, every situation.”
“But, if we’re trying to create cities for living, which includes all types of people, we know that we can’t come up with all the solutions by ourselves. We have to ask. Because when we don’t consider something, inevitably, two years down the line, it becomes a problem and we have to start thinking about retrofitting solutions. Imagine if we’d just engaged with the people from the start? Not such a novel idea but often ignored.”
Designing the Voiager 5
We didn’t imagine it – we did it. In the development of our newest generation e-scooter, the Voiager 5 (V5), we wanted to engage with as many groups as possible, working specifically with representatives of groups whose mobility needs are often ignored.
In partnership with organisations like Open Inclusion and Women in Transport, Voi coordinated roundtables, hackathons, interviews, and surveys with more than 1,000 people, including women, people with disabilities, senior citizens, and those caring for young children. It was a level of engagement so far unprecedented within the micromobility industry.
“The workshops didn’t just create the opportunity to hear from a wider variety of voices, they created a new framework from which to view the design process. “It’s given us a bigger picture and helped our engineers understand the barriers to a range of mobility needs,” says Nathan.
Image: The Voiager 5 includes new features that were requested by groups that are normally underrepresented in the design process of new vehicles.
Andreas Prosell is the Engineering Manager for Hardware at Voi and is a member of the design team leading the development of the Voiager 5. “At the inspiration stage, there were many ideas,” he says. “We have incorporated quite a few of them into the model – like the handlebars, for example.”
The handlebars on the new Voiager 5 are smaller, closer to the indicator switch, and more grippable. The thinking behind the design is this: women, who typically have smaller hands, are able to grip the handlebars and reach the indicators more safely and easily – to feel that the product was designed for them, not for someone else. That’s what inclusive design is about.
The new, larger front wheel of the V5 was developed following feedback from riders that trips could be smoother – helping to create a more comfortable ride experience – particularly for those with knee, joint, and back conditions.
Image: Voi’s Engineering Manager Andreas Prosell is part of the design team that developed Voi’s latest e-scooter model, the Voiager 5.
Inclusion is about intention
The frustrating thing, says Andreas, is that it’s difficult to build every idea or opportunity into a new design. “There were lots of things we wanted to do with the V5 but of course we can’t do everything at once. Instead, we will look at integrating some of those things into the Voiager 6.”
It’s a process. And with each new iteration, we improve on the last. More sustainable, safe, and inclusive. It’s why seemingly small changes like the handlebars are meaningful. They positively impact the people that we previously failed to reach, marking important steps in the design process of our services and vehicle.
“More importantly,” says Nathan, “with each new iteration is the intention to do better.” And that is what we will continue to do – of course – with a little help from our friends.