In search of a fresh perspective on their projects, more and more companies are calling upon young forward-looking student designers.
This is the case of a French company called Zenbus, well-known to travelers in Nantes.
Thanks to an iterative project conducted in late 2018, bachelor’s students in Interactivity worked with Romain Lebastard, the company’s in-house designer, and his management to explore the potential for innovation in their flagship application.
We look back on this partnership which was extremely instructive for both parties.
Zenbus – the travelers’ application
A pioneer in rigorous real-time data retrieval, Zenbus lets different mobility stakeholders access precious information. Its ecosystem consists of an application to which the conductors send data using their smartphone, monitoring interfaces for transporters (private or public) keen to manage their network effectively and an application for travelers giving them precise data.
Based in Nantes and Paris, the Zenbus application is used in 148 networks in several countries, which represents more than 50,000 users per month including 7000 in Nantes (the company’s original network). A figure which is constantly increasing thanks to the use of innovation and design in every phase of the projects, despite their highly technical nature.
“Zenbus made the decision right from the outset to incorporate design into all its product approaches. I’ve been a designer here since the very beginning and design and R&D are key areas which the company decided to focus on very early on. That’s what allowed us in the first years to test a lot of things with total freedom,” explains Romain Lebastard, in-house designer.
Knowing how to develop at the same time as your network and users
With the development of transport networks, the application must also develop to envisage future forms of mobility. Different types of network are proliferating: school, urban, regional, company shuttle buses, events, river transport, seasonal, etc. Similarly, networks of vastly differing sizes must be taken into account (number of lines, stops, vehicles, short or very long distances) as well as different types of network (one-way lines, loops, interchanges, common sections, etc.)
These different kinds of network cause disparities in access to information. “If you compare a school network and a company shuttle service for example, even though the technical core is the same, the way of accessing information is different,” explains Romain. “It was based on this specific challenge that the iterative project was set up between Zenbus and the students: how could we ensure that, regardless of the type of network, the information was always of the same quality, easily accessible and understandable by all…?”
Furthermore, particular attention must be paid to the customer path. In fact, from the outset, Zenbus decided to center the user experience on the map because it highlights one of the application’s main differences (the precise visualization of the vehicle). How could they best incorporate this specific feature into the user journey and offer ergonomic alternatives tailored to the contexts? These were the questions posed to students.
A fresh look, new avenues and concepts that can be used immediately
BDes Bachelor’s students in interactivity worked on this twofold challenge from 7 November 2018 to 16 January 2019, under the guidance of Édouard Durand, course leader for BDes Game Design and Florent Michel, course leader for BDes Interaction Design.
In terms of pedagogy, there is also a multiple objective: learning to manage an Agile project based on 4 successive sprints, mastering creative values, communicating your project and putting into practice the skills developed in class. Working in groups and in 3 phases, the students defined concepts, stakeholder charts, modes of interaction, interfaces and identity.
In order to obtain several usable leads for the next phase, Romain Lebastard guided the groups to ensure they weren’t producing the same thing and weren’t in competition with each other. “Each group produced a project that differed in its way of responding to our request. Some are applicable in the short term, others are more prospective and applicable in the long or medium term, and others are not yet applicable but open up interesting avenues to explore in the future”.
All of these paths proposed by the students impressed Romain and his management and they are already envisaging their implementation in the field. “We were in a prospective phase. We wanted to see what kinds of fresh ideas they were capable of bringing to the product. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work produced.”
Romain, who is also a graduate of the school, never doubted the final result. “I know the students’ potential at this stage of their curriculum: it’s in the 3rd year that you find the most creativity but also the most rigor.”
Essential qualities for succeeding in their future career.