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  • Filled Under: Entrepreneurship, Web Design, Past Startups,

Swyft is a transportation system provided by Universities to help their students get back home safely and quickly. The mobile application enables the student to schedule a pick-up, invite other students to ride along with them, and determine when their ride has arrived. Swyft also serves as a management platform for campus police and University dispatchers to determine nightly traffic as to optimize routes to keep the service efficient and safe.

The venture was born out of the #BBUM Movement List of University Demands, in an effort to close the student Housing inequality gap and provide students that lived off campus the opportunity to engage with on-campus activities.

The project was my first dive into mobile User-Experience development, from creating the wireframes, to designing the UI and animated video. Although the venture didn't quite take off, it taught me some great lessons in user/customer surveying/discovery, project management, and collaborative development with the right project stakeholders. All this, and I was only a Sophomore in College.

Our team started with two problems:

  1. University students struggle with the availability/transparency of nightly transportation services to get back home
  2. 1 in 5 women are sexually assulted while in college and 57% of sexaul assults occur between 6PM and Midnight

We first interviewed administration and campus police officials at the University of Michigan to better understand the management problems of handling a nightly transportation service like Safe Ride programs on campus.

What we found was that the University was using outdated systems in which student call volume data and frequented request locations wasn't kept or utilized, and campus police routes were more or less randomized (not data based).

We then began designing a wireframe for what this sytem would look like (in retrospect - UNDERSTANDING THE RIDERS FIRST was a huge mistake made here). Though we did conduct several rider interviews, and used the customer discovery data of a campus competitor, it's advised to always do intensive 100+ interview analyses on BOTH the customer (university) and user (student).

Which, later, evolved into this:

And we delved into the possibility of "rewards" features to further monetize the business..NOTE: Fully understanding the customer AND the user should always lead toward a natural business model. I learned to NEVER ARTIFICIALLY INSERT a business model into a business-to-user system.

...And we continued our feature hungriness into adding messaging as well...

Of course, after developing what I had thought was a superb map for mobile success, I began to focus on brand awareness and logo design - something that could clearly identify Swyft's image to the students on campus.

Suprisingly, I did conduct multiple rounds of user discovery and feedback to develop the company's logo via Facebook's survey tool, eliminating 5-7 alternate designs for the following:

More importantly than the logo designs however, was my growing ability to conduct user feedback surveys to intelligently choose the direction of my designs, in addition to learning how colors, like light blue for instance, have emotional implications that subconsciously communicate different values to the user (Ex: Why Facebook and Twitter and both blue).

We then began to really think about the User Experience of both the mobile application and the web-based management system. How would this actually look? What features are core to what we need? How are we going to pay for all this as broke college students?

These questions naturally led to a more detailed approach to user experience development before feature chaos and user interface romantacism. How can we solve the problem as effectively and cheaply as possible? This newly learned focus, with additional research and self-taught design skills, turned into something like this:

And for mobile..

Throughout this whole process, our team was also introduced to the importance of developing a cogent business plan to orient one's knowledge of the obtainable market value/size, projected venture expenses, barriers to entry in the market, and competitors within the market. This was my first business plan.

The latter introduced me to the importance of not only creating your product iteratively based off of client and user feedback, but also emphasized the importance of becoming a market expert within your venture's domain - and how essential it is to be able to consicely and persuasively communicate that knowledge to potential investors.