Mobile application design developed for ferry riders in the Seattle region to standardize scheduling, increase visibility of schedule changes, track ferries in real time, and lower the point of entry for new riders.
Timeline: July-August 2022 (6 weeks)
Role: UX Designer, UX Researcher
Skills: Desk Research, User Interviews, Prototyping (low-fi & high-fi), Illustrating, UI Design, UX Writing
The following project was inspired by a few design research projects that some classmates and I conducted about public transit during my Master’s degree at the University of Washington. Evaluating mobile navigation applications and current public transit methods used around the Seattle area such as the Sound Transit Link, King County Metro buses, and the King County Water Taxi route servicing West Seattle and Downtown Seattle, I produced this conceptual design for a mobile application to test the idea of how ferries could gain more traction as a method of public transit.
Washington State has the largest ferry system in the United States, with Washington State Ferries operating 21 ferries around the Puget Sound region as of 2022. With the population growth that the Seattle metropolitan area has experienced within the past 10 years and Seattle being one of the fastest growing cities in the country, the state has looked to improve its public transit services to match the region’s growth. For ferries, this has included renovations of aging ferry terminals and increasing passenger-only ferry service across the region by 2050 at the latest.
The unpredictability of schedules, weather, limited vessels, long waits, and cancellations have strained how people perceive ferries, which has become a concern for Kitsap County and King County’s Vashon Island whose economies depend on consistent ferry service.
Since the introductions of passenger-only ferries across the Seattle region through the King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Fast Ferries however, residents of Kitsap and King County alike have quickly gained appreciation of these ferries for convenience, avoiding traffic, and gaining the ability to consider relocating across the Puget Sound in favor of more natural surroundings and a reduced cost of living. This in result has induced demand to increase ferry service around the region.
As the ferry system around Seattle continues to improve and expand to meet the goal of their 2050 plan, reducing the negative perception of ferries and the unpredictability of ferry scheduling is key for the following:
- Growing the number of ferry riders and commuters across the Puget Sound;
- Gaining sustainable funds that can help ferries improve service and increase access to and from Seattle;
- Retaining and increasing the number of maritime workers who run the ferries;
- Strengthening the relationship between ferries and the communities they serve; and
- Building interest within the public and private sectors for the continued investment and innovation of Washington State’s ferry and maritime services – such as developing cutting-edge technology for greener and faster vessels, for example.
Establishing Goals & Deliverables
My primary goal for the design was to establish visibility for the scheduling of ferry sailings, with the long term outcome of creating a sense of consistency and reliability for those that use Washington’s ferries, regardless of familiarity with the service or schedule. With this in mind, the primary audience for the application would be passengers who do not own a car, and would need to rely on the ferry regularly to commute around the Puget Sound.
Ensuring the scope did not get too large, I chose to have the design focus only specifically on ferry routes serviced by Washington State Ferries, King County Water Taxi, and Kitsap Fast & Local Ferries with a primary or secondary connection to the city of Seattle.
With real-time transit information having become a popular commodity amongst users, as seen in mobile rideshare applications (Uber, Lyft), local public transit app OneBusAway, and WSF’s VesselWatch web application, Washington’s ferry systems in the Seattle region can take advantage of this need for providing information in real time to bring more control back to the riders in their decision-making, which can save the amount of time spent waiting.
Structuring the Information & Content
Using inspiration from WSF VesselWatch, King County’s Water Taxi Watch, and doing a competitor’s analysis of mobile transit applications OneBusAway, NYC Ferry, and San Francisco Bay Ferry, the primary features that needed to tested with the prototype of this design included:
- A map displaying ferry terminals and vessels in real-time
- A listing of all ferry routes, their next departure, and whether the ferry will arrive early/on-time/late
- The full schedule listing all sailings for a specific day
- Tracking one specific ferry on their route
After conducting user testing with 2 participants with an initial prototype, I established the map as the central component to keep the design grounded due to its highest importance of viewing ferry activity in real time, and structured the remaining critical functionality around that.
Prototyping the Information & Content
Dynamic Map Icons
The primary objective with these icons were to establish a quick recall for what each dynamic object represents within the map. To distinguish vessels from each other, each ferry organization’s branding is represented within the color of each ferry icon.
To distinguish ferry terminal locations from each other, visual branding was also introduced to help improve commuter recall when identifying which is their target destination. For inspiration I referenced Sound Transit‘s iconography used at its Link light rail stations.
Viewing Terminal Information
Can quickly view terminal information. On the map, this includes viewing the address and ferry services operating from the terminal. Accessing the terminal leads to a list view of the routes available from that terminal.
Outside the map view, I also established a more list-oriented view categorized by county, where each terminal is identifiable by a unique icon. This way the user can navigate quicker to find their terminal of interest.
Tracking a Vessel
On the map a designated vessel can be centered on, while providing quick details about the current route the ferry is or will be servicing. The information about the vessel and its sailing include:
- Departure and arrival destinations
- Time of Scheduled or Actual Departure
- Remaining time left to board or remaining time until arriving at the destination
Viewing Route Information
These screens display information pertaining to a specific route, such as:
- Total crossing time
- Remaining sailing schedule for the current day and their estimated time to departure
- The scheduled times for all sailings on the route based on the day
- Terminal descriptions, and access to directions and more information
From this screen the upcoming or current sailing(s) can be tracked within the map. This is based on the number of vessels running upon the route.
Receiving and Viewing Notifications
After favoriting a route or a specific sailing, a user can receive notifications about any reminders, updates, or changes to the route’s sailings. These notifications can range from a low to high level of urgency depending on the impact on the user’s commute and personal preference.
The low urgency notification example reminds the user that their ferry is arriving soon, while the mid-high urgency example alerts that an additional sailing has been added for their route.
Future Features & Next Steps
To confirm this proof-of-concept is on the right track, user testing will have to be done. The easiest way this can be accomplished is by conducting interviews and tests in-person with commuters at high-traffic ferry terminals (Vashon Island, Seattle, Bremerton). Recruiting and shadowing commuters familiar and unfamiliar with Washington’s ferry systems using the proof-of-concept would also be beneficial to get a more in-depth analysis if the design is matching commuters’ mental models.
Overall, how the application would be developed and maintained must also be taken into consideration. Currently WSF’s Vessel Watch and King County’s Water Taxi Watch are both hosted by WSF – with the map rendered by ArcGIS (assumedly). Each ferry system has their own separate rider alerts, and Kitsap Fast and Local Ferries share notifications with other services under Kitsap Transit. Since primary stakeholders of this design would involve multiple groups such as ferry organizations and the cities they serve, determining who would be responsible for overseeing the design and development of this application would be essential for this project to move forward successfully.
What I Learned
Remembering that I do not need to reinvent the wheel.
As I researched mobile transit applications for ferries, I began noticing repeats in design patterns – especially with ferry systems utilizing Hornblower software (San Francisco Bay Ferry and NYC Ferry both run on this software). By understanding, leveraging, and building upon current patterns, I felt more confident in using my own research and design capabilities to conceptualize and innovate on essential features specific to Seattle’s public ferries.