The Drawing Board: Commuter Buddy

Here at Cooper, we find that looking at the world from the perspective of users and their goals makes us notice a lot of bad interactions in our daily lives. Being solution-minded designers, we can’t help but pick up a whiteboard marker to scribble out a better idea. (Just ask our partners and friends—we really can’t help ourselves).

This sort of thing makes a fun thought exercise, so we thought we’d share it with you as a series of narrated slide shows we’ve called “The Drawing Board.” These aren’t meant to be slick, highly-produced demos—just some ideas we’ve thrown up on the board to stimulate thought and discussion.

In this edition, we thought a bit about public transit. It's great for the environment and pocketbook, but it isn’t without its own headaches. Managing departure delays and worrying about getting off at the right stop make commuting less carefree than it could be. So how can we make the experience better? Meet Commuter Buddy, a concept application that lets commuters sit back and enjoy the ride. So…enjoy.

Credits: Suzy Thompson, Emma van Niekerk and Alex Long.


Dominic Willems
Excellent concept! The funny thing is that, since we are about to move to a house that might require my wife to take a train in order not to waste too much time driving, that could be spent on reading, I was just last weekend thinking of making her a little app that would run on her workplace PC. In order to avoid her having to keep an eye on the clock once past 5:30 PM, I thought of putting a horizontal bar on the top of her display, with color gradations between green and red, and a little vertical bar moving along the line. When the little bar is in the red, she needn't get up to walk to the station. While the bar is in the green, she can get up and comfortably walk to the station in order to catch a train without having to wait long. Once in the red zone again, better stay put. Etc.
Ben McKenzie
I love it! In Australia, one enterprising soul has written iPhone apps which give timetable information and can find nearby train, tram and bus stops; it's pretty good but it doesn't come close to this. There are separate, localised versions for Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, which means I can't use mine when I travel to Sydney (where I'm much less familiar with the transport system). There are some decisions that complicate things, too: it forces you to choose which mode of transport before you can look for stops or lines, for example, and until the recent 2.0 overhaul the "favourites" system (allowing you to save the stops you use most frequently) was frankly awful. Your idea shows there's great room for improvement. All the basic information and required technology are available in this app and the iPhone - all that's missing, as is too often the case, is a killer design. On a related note, the metlink Melbourne web site ( has a great trip planner: you can put in where you want to travel to and from (either as a stop, an address or a landmark), and when you want to leave or arrive (the default is "leaving now"), and the system presents a list of various routes that will get you there, including directions for the parts where you need to travel on foot.
Tiago Cruz
I think this guy should change his lifestyle... Don't you think It's a bad sign when we feel the need to put the control of our lifes on the hands of an app...?
Dominic Willems
Change his lifestyle? The app doesn't control him any more than the watch on your wrist. Instead of having to check that watch every five minutes and having his brain partly preoccupied with keeping a schedule, he can concentrate on what matters -- sounds like an improvement in lifestyle to me. This app is making him deal with worries that already exist, and reduce stress. Changing his lifestyle to do away with those worries would mean quitting his job and staying home, I'm afraid.
Tiago Cruz
Yes, the problem with this guy is having to look at his watch every 5 minutes. But what causes this?! Creating an app to overcome this issue is not solving the real problem. Sure it's going to improve his lifestyle, but it's not going to fix the base issue. This reminds me the idea we have about the oriental vs occidental way of dealing with disease. The oriental fixes the origin of the problem, while the occidental gives some pills to deal with the symptoms. This app is the pill to deal with the symptom. Probably this guy is already an workaholic and, as soon as he gets rid of this issues, he's going to find another ones and then you'll be developing some other app to deal with that new issue. Ok, I'm a designer too. I think it's great to have this apps to help us on our everyday activity. But I want to play the role of the opposite guy. I want to see this in other perspective. Why not thinking of an app to deal with this guy's REAL problem...?
Ben McKenzie
In response to the posters above, all I can say is that a little utility like this, if it worked, would have sold incredibly well in Melbourne over the past fortnight, when a heatwave caused a staggering number of trains to be cancelled or delayed. Think of the benefit to the local economy if people could hang out in pubs and bars or restaurants until they knew a train was going to arrive? Instead, they have to sit at the station, doing nothing productive or fun, and making the platforms dangerously crowded. On a less "taking this all too seriously" note: I can't wait for another drawing board. Perhaps I'll try my hand at it?
Dominic Willems
While I fully agree with striving to find the root of problems instead of patching their symptoms, applications are not always a cure-all, sadly. The lad in the video can be perfectly happy, and still stumble into stressful situations, which *can* be reduced by an app, in this case. You could, of course, suggest that he works from home, and uses a holographic conferencing solution to give his presentation, totally eliminating his commuting worries. But one step at a time. :)
I love that Commuter Buddy gets to have his own beer at the pub.
Pittsburgh's deeplocal built an SMS-based service that allows bus riders to access bus arrival times from their mobile phones. They are hinting at adding GPS tracking to give riders real-time info on bus locations, which starts to get close to the commuter buddy idea.
Vicente Sanchez-Leighton
Interesting how thinking about 'normal' people as if they had disabilities can bring nice ideas...This kind of buddies have been actually proposed/designed for people with intellectual or other disabilities.
Marcin Ignac
There is a guy called Martin Frey that already did that using gps enabled mobile phone and bluetooth connected watch.
@SoupKitchen: Thanks for noticing! Commuter Buddy had been such a good friend to him all day, it seemed only fitting that Josh would buy CB a beer at the pub. : o)
I just ran across this. I really like these videos. You guys should make some for 2014!

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