How thoughtbot helped the MBTA improve communication among train officials

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is the public agency responsible for operating most public transportation services in the metro- Boston area. It is the fourth busiest subway system in the United States, servicing over 1 million passengers each weekday.

When the MBTA came to us with an objective to improve communication between officials on the Green Line, we were super excited to dig in. This kind of exploratory work that combines the powers of Design Thinking with agile methodologies to make peoples’ lives better is our bread and butter. That, and working in Boston meant we were very familiar with the transit system (locally known as “the T”), which meant we had the opportunity to impact a system we knew intimately and experienced first-hand. What more could a product team ask for?

“How might we improve communication between Green Line officials?” is the sort of nebulous question that calls for a structured way to answer it. We decided to use Design Thinking to tackle the problem with its solution-based, user-centric approach. The five phases of the Design Thinking approach are: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.

With a small team of six thoughtbot and MBTA designers and developers, we executed these phases over the course of three months and put our designs in the hands of Green Line officials quickly to collect feedback and iterate from there. And iterate we did! After a month of interviewing officials, followed by a couple months of prototyping, testing, and building, our team released a mobile app that is still being used and iterated on today.

Our work with the MBTA showcases how powerful design is and how it is intrinsically linked to the people who use it. When you spend the time to really listen to your audience and craft a solution that speaks to their experience, you can create something that can be truly impactful and memorable.

When Design Museum got wind of our work with the MBTA, they jumped at the chance to publish our story in their magazine, for sharing it so aptly aligns with their mission to “bring the transformative power of design everywhere.” We were very excited at the opportunity to have our work shared to audiences beyond our own, and therefore collaborated with the MBTA and Design Museum team to get an article written and ready for print.

As a result, we are very happy to share that our article, "Gliding to Success - The MBTA and thoughtbot Launch an App for Train Officials,” is now published and featured in the Summer 2020 edition of Design Museum magazine. In it you’ll find a more in-depth look into our design process, from research to release.

In addition to Design Museum magazine, you can also read more about our work with MBTA on our website in our latest case study: "Improving Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority internal communication to ensure trains run regularly.”

Do you also have a nebulous problem that you’re looking to solve with Design Thinking? Or an idea on how to improve peoples’ lives but you’re not sure how to get started? Our expert designers are here to help!