• Son Luu

MTX - a Product Design Project

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

Class: Product Design - Design for People

Professor: Inna Lobel

Hello guys! I am dedicating this post as a weekly diary to show the progress of my team project for our Product Design class. I hope to share what I learn about product design process as well as ask for feedback from all of you who may also be new to product design and are interested in learning and exploring more about the overall process. Cheers 🙌🏼

The Challenge: Designing a product that solves an Urban Mobility problem

The Outcome: A removable safety handle design that provides NYC MTA Subway riders physical safety in most vulnerable standing spots inside subway cars where safety rails are not available.

My role: project/process management, research, ideation, prototyping, sketching


First class was full of anticipation for me. I have been doing a lot of research on my own to learn about product design process, but now I will be learning and receiving guidance from an industry expert while implementing on an actual product design project.

Product Design Theme: Urban Mobility

Team Project Topic: New York City MTA Subway

Team: MTX | Khen-su Ra ▪️ Helen Tang ▪️S.J. Zhang ▪️and myself

The Overall Process

Where Am I in the Process?

Activate Creativity

As part of the Problem Defining stage, we are encouraged to generate as many ideas as we can to discover problems and concerns within a specific scope or topic. From those ideas of problems and concerns, opportunities will hopefully be identified to address those areas.

So, we started the creative thinking process:

(1) Generate as many ideas as we can think of, related to Urban Mobility (designated by our professor), then our chosen focus area of 'MTA Subway experience' (team's choice)

(2) Come up with Provocations based couple of favorite ideas, and pick three boldest provocations.

The goal is to help all the team members activate our creativity and start thinking outside the box. Love this exercise! We were all inspired by all the "impossible" in the world, which was so much fun and helped bring out our inner creativity.

(3) Come up with three fresh ideas from those chosen provocations.

Develop Empathy for Users

The next step is to explore/discover situations and current user experience with MTA Subway.

Going into this exercise, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

(1) What current situation we would like to research?

(2) What types of people do we want to research?

Our research goals will be to:

(1) Understand current situation really well, as well as identify moments of tension and delight

(2) Understand/define our target user

In order to do this, we were introduced to different user research methods, but the most direct approach to obtain feedback from potential users is: to Ask People!

There are couple options: Observation, Intercept, Interview, or Contextual Interview

As we conduct some of these exercises, we needed to learn about users' Established Behaviors, their Pain Points, and Values while going through the experience.

Empathy exercise

Mainstream Users:


Late 30s | Mother of 2 children: 6 and 11 | New York


25 | Student | New York


27 | Student | New York

Extreme User:


38 | Student | New York

Visually Impaired Individual

Eco-System User:


60 | Manager | New York

John would not use the subway if he has other choices. He currently walks to everywhere and avoid the subway as much as possible.

Contextual Observation:

Helen was also able to go to a subway station and spent some time observing users' activities.

Externalize Our Research

We learned to use post-it notes in all of our group sessions to express everyone's ideas in a concise manner, then organize them into categories with relevant supporting details and photos. Finally, it is an effective way to document our process from beginning to end. We were able to trace back our notes when required.


Now that we have conducted our observations and interviews with different types of users, it is time to look back at all the feedback we received and identify if there are themes to such feedback.

Design Research Approach

Identify Themes of User Feedback


Identify Opportunities

Finally, the team created a persona - a character that we would like to target as users for our end product. However, by designing a solution for this user persona, we believe our solution will also be able to address a larger user market.



Where Am I in the Process?


We went through the ideation process again, but this time, for ideas of an actual product to address the opportunity our team chose to focus on:"Provide users a safer and more sanitized experience while riding the subway train."

Then to start the ideation process, we asked ourselves the opportunity question:

"How might we provide users a safer experience while riding on the subway train?"

As a team, we went through Random Entry brainstorming exercise in class to practice generating ideas inspired by random objects (our team were given a duck bath toy and a bag of gummy bears) 💡. These ideas include provocative ones to stimulate our imagination and creativity. Then, from those provocations, we came up with fresh ideas, all related to how we could help one achieve more physical balance while riding subway train, especially when the subway car is overly crowded during rush hour.


Storyboarding was the method we used to describe the user situation or scenario we are trying to address and design a solution for.

Our team discussed the user situation, and even though we felt like we had a good understanding of what the user story and situation, we could have done a better job at telling our user story through this exercise.

Here are our initial sketches. We presented them in class and received very good feedback from our peers and our professor. I would like to redo these sketches to tell the story in more details, especially to show in what situation our users would find our product useful.

Sketch (1): Removable handles to help maintain balance at almost any location on the subway

Sketch (2): A hugging chair for children to keep them stable and safe on the subway train

Sketch (3): A compensating floor to help subway riders maintain balance on their feet.

Design Research and Iteration

After receiving positive feedback from our users, our team chose Concept 1 to explore design options, which is a tool to help users maintain balance while riding on a busy subway train, especially when they cannot find a safety pole or bar inside the train to hold on to. Based on that concept, each of our team members generated as many design ideas as possible individually and sketched our ideas from different angles to show off their features and explain why they would be useful and for whom. Then, we got together and discuss our different designs, taking into consideration feedback from more of our users.

For each of our designs, we attached notes of pros and cons as well as feedback from our users associated with such design. Then, we discussed in details every feedback, prioritized them, and gathered bullet-points on what modifications we need to consider before we go into prototyping phase. At the end, our team decided which are the two or three designs we would like to spend more time on exploring modifications to address important users' concerns.


Design Modification and Prototyping

At this stage, prototyping serves the purpose of asking what we are trying to learn about:

- Functionality

- Relation to body

- Scale/Proportion

- Form/Ergonomics

- Interface direction

But first, our team gathered to review our designs and user feedback and modify our sketches.

Then, using foam board, we quickly prototyped two designs for user testing.

User Testing

We rode the subway for about an hour long to test the prototypes ourselves, and then tried to ask potential users to try out the prototypes inside the train and asked for their feedback.

We first tested the prototypes ourselves:

Then we asked a couple of subway riders to try out the prototypes and share their thoughts:

User Feedback

User 1 + 2:

  • Loved the product idea and could see the benefits

  • Validated concern about not having a safe place hold on to while standing in certain areas on the train when it is too crowded

  • Had concern about use of product for unintended purposes (such as as a weapon)

  • Had concern about product being taken out of and away from subway train

User 3:

  • Validated sturdiness of the larger sized design

  • Had concern about not being able to reach the handle as soon as getting inside subway car because it may be further away

  • Liked that it is detachable, but also wanted to be able to reach it while train is moving

User 4 + 5:

  • Liked the idea and could relate to similar issue in Boston where they traveled from

  • Had concern about product being taken out of and away from subway train

  • Suggested ways to avoid product from being taken away from train

  • Raised question about attaching mechanism: magnetic, air suction etc.?


Where Am I in the Process?

The Level of Ambiguity Has Also Shifted

This week, we are going to finalize our prototype for this stage of the process and present to all of our classmates for feedback and conclude our 5-week process.

After extensive research, I met with Ben Light, our professor for Fabrication related subjects to seek advice on technology options to support working mechanism for our technical concept, and potentially explore other analogous products that might be out there with similar technical characteristics for reference.

After gathering all user feedback as well as guidance from Inna and Ben, we met as a team to reflect one more time to see what areas we still need to focus on and make a decision on which direction we should pursue for a final design to present. This won't be the final design and solution, but will be the best option at this point given user feedback and resources we have and can work with.

Forward Direction

After reviewing all aspects of our current design and research so far, our team decide to move forward with the subway safety handle with a plan that supports out vision which is to provide safety for users on subway during peak hours. With that in mind, we did one more round of sketching ideas, and we all in agreement that, in order to provide the most technically feasible option, which will also guarantee user's safety is to take advantage of a pre-installed lock socket on the train ceiling or side surfaces. The handle will come with lock studs system that can go into the socket and lock in, which is expected to ensure the best safety out of all other options we've exhausted.

Final Design

While we love our final product, and we found quite a few fans of the Removable Safety Handle, here are some important considerations if the safety handles are implemented, also keeping in mind that this won't be the end of the product design but will continue to be refined with more research, testing and prototyping.


This has been an amazing experience of learning to navigate through ambiguity with a diverse team of people to invent something that is useful while putting People in the center of every step of the process. We learned so much from our teammates as well as the other teams. here are some of the things that we, as a team, were able to look back and appreciate the lessons, challenges and realize what we will do better on each of our next projects at ITP or elsewhere.

Feedback for Our Product

  • Audience enjoyed our product design journey

  • Option to incorporate advertising on handle

  • Provocation for handles as a unique NYC souvenir (even if it gets stolen from train, it could still very unique and interesting story of NYC 💁🏻‍♂️)

  • Question regarding where handles and lock sockets would be installed on train - our answer was: primarily in the middle of train upon the ceiling because from contextual research, we found that area provides users least accessibility to safety rail.

Team MTX presenting the Removable Safety Handle 3D model at Frog Design. We can't thank Inna enough for her guidance throughout the process, and the opportunity to come visit Frog Design office in DUMBO.

Thank you for checking out MTX!