Smart voice assistant used to enhance the experience of using public transportation services at Pittsburgh

Individual Role

User Research, Concept Development, Interface Design, Visual Design


Aishwarya Rane, Iris Cai, Yuehui Du


6 weeks (Group Project @ CMU, Fall 2022)


Figma, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop


Demonstrate interactions between humans and the conversational AI
for a local public transportation agency known as Pittsburgh Regional Transit.

Ollie is a conversational AI that keeps passengers informed during their trips, ensures their safety at all times, and provides accessibility assistance to those in need through intuitive and dynamic conversations.

Overview of Mobile Experience

The overall mobile interface includes interactive and conversational components for the passengers to get assistance from Ollie by collaborating with Ollie through conversation, which can be verbal and non-verbal.


Help users to keep track of
activities in their daily routine


Optimized recommendations
based on personal preferences

Keep Passengers


Providing passengers live information
for better traveling experience in Pittsburgh

Flexibility with


Providing list of alternative
options to reach to destinations

Ensures Safety

& Security

Live updates for safe and pleasant
bus ride experience

Overview of Interactive Screen Experience

During the design process, our team also noticed the opportunity to re-utilize the interactive screen that was previously installed as part of the bus stop. Our team decided to implement experience outside of mobile interface, where the users could interact with the voice assistant through interactive screen.

Accessible with
Different Languages

Options for users to select language of
their preference to receive PRT related information

Flexibility of
Multiple Options

Provides users multiple of choices in how
they prefer to reach to their destination

Live Updates on
Bus Operation

Inform users real time updates related
to bus schedule and operation

Concept Video

Research Question

Why is it necessary for public transportation system to have conversational AI 
to elevate the quality of experience in riding a bus?
Our client, Pittsburgh Regional Transit, is the most used public transportation system in Pittsburgh, which means that the majority of people who live in Pittsburgh depend on PRT’s services for commuting around the local area. However, due to COVID-19 outbreak, it recently had an incremental shortage in services over the past several months in response to worker shortage problems. As a result of worker and service shortage, there has been an increase in customer complaints, addressing the need for use in technology to enhance current experience in using PRT's services.

Existing Conditions

Before going in depth with how the services are currently being provided, our team looked into client's brand identity and core values to align with client's vision and goal as a public transportation system.
Current Visual System of PRT
Our client focuses on providing safe, reliable and affordable public transportation throughout the community. Through usage of bold and crisp design elements, the brand image reflected on Pittsburgh Regional Transit's friendly and dependable identity to the public.

After looking into client's visual system, our team started to research in depth to understand our client's context; we noticed that Pittsburgh Regional Transit had two areas that already had implementation of technology: mobile app and bus stop.
Current mobile platform flow
Ready2Ride an app that Pittsburgh Regional Transit originally developed which allows the passengers to purchase bus fares and receive help from the staff of PRT for additional assistance. Unfortunately, there are some bugs and complexity in how to use Ready2Ride, so a lot of people do not use the app to purchase bus fares and instead depend more on bus fare kiosks.
Current bus stop condition
Another existing condition that we looked into is the bus stop. Originally there was an interactive screen, but now it is covered as a poster with QR Code. Our team thought that this was an opportunity to reutilize the interactive screen as part of redesigned PRT experience through voice assistance because our team felt the need to implement an accessible tool for people to use at the bus stop.

User Interview

After looking into existing conditions of Pittsburgh Regional Transit's operation, our team conducted several interviews with people who currently use public transportation in Pittsburgh on a daily basis. Through interviews with five daily commuters, two disabled passengers, and one bus driver, we were able to identify common frustrations and current bus operation issues that needed to be resolved.
“ There is a feeling of hopelessness when the bus doesn’t arrive on time.”
- Commuter who uses PRT to go to work
“ It is so difficult to find a place to buy a bus pass.”
- Student new to the area
“ It says the bus is coming on the app but doesn’t show up.”
- Educator who uses PRT to travel around local area
“ It’s hard to grab bus driver’s attention when the stop button doesn’t work.
-Disabled commuter who uses PRT on daily basis

Problem Statement

How should we design a voice assistant that keeps passengers informed during their trips, ensures their safety at all times, and provides accessibility assistance to those in need?
Reflecting upon what we have researched, our team identified pain points when using public transportation in Pittsburgh. We divided possible user groups into five different categories and started to categorize the pain points that we have gathered for each potential user group.

Personas & Journey Maps

In order to develop idle journey that meets the pain points for each user groups, our team generated personas and scenarios for our target user groups: Daily Commuter (Locals, people who are new to the area, tourists), Passengers with accessibility needs (Disabled, temporarily injured, elderlies) and Bus Driver.

Based on these personas, our team developed a journey map for each of these personas to see how their pain points could be resolved through implementation of voice assistance, Ollie. After building up idle journey for each user group, our team made an overall storyboard for what the experience would be like in action.

Define Ollie

What personalities and characteristics would be most appropriate for Ollie? How can we make Ollie more friendly and approachable for people to use for receiving assistance?
Our team questioned how to define the voice assistant's identity by thinking about the kinds of characteristics and tone of voice that would be most appropriate to align the goals of this project. Based on our research and client's core values, we thought that the following characteristics would be most appropriate for our voice assistant, Ollie:

Visualizing Ollie

After defining Ollie’s characteristics and personalities, we explored various iterations of Ollie's design. We narrowed down the design by thinking about how to portray characteristics of public transportation, and Pittsburgh Regional Transit's goal as a public transportation system through a single visual representation.

Developing Visual System

While redefining Pittsburgh Regional Transit's brand identity, our team tried to envision client's brand identity more in crisp, modern, and intellectual direction. During this process, we kept some brand colors and typography style in similar language while withdrawing some design elements that seemed to unbalance the overall scheme of the brand.
Compilation of visual cues
Compilation of brand identity

Ollie in action

What would it be like for Ollie to be implemented in both mobile device and interactable screen at the bus stop? How can we maintain core values of the client while integrating Ollie into redesigned experience?
Since we were redesigning the Pittsburgh Regional Transit experience through voice assistant, it was crucial for our team to create non-verbal ways of communication through motion design. During the process of developing our storyboard, our team put significance in implementing a feature that allows the users to mute Ollie's voice when needed; we thought that this was crucial especially because the users were using Ollie mainly in public space.

Motion State

Matrix of motion states

Integrating Ollie into GUI

In order to think about how to integrate Ollie's features into our GUI, our team went back to our storyboard to think of what parts of the conversation from the storyboard would need Ollie to step into play. During this process, our team started to map out and structure wireframes for both mobile devices and interactive screens at bus stops.
Mobile device wireframe
Interactive screen wireframe

Integrating Ollie into GUI

Going back to motion states that we have previously designed, our team matched each motion state into its appropriate scenarios. During this process, our team integrated Ollie in two ways: Ollie initiating conversation/activation through notification and Ollie being activated by the user.
User activating Ollie through conversation
Ollie initiating conversation/activation through notification
Having these directions helped our team to set directions for how conversation flow between Ollie and user would be structured and what kinds of patterns would be commonly seen when users are receiving assistance from Ollie. The process of discovering these patterns allowed us to identify general features that Ollie would have when it is both in inactive and active status.
Inactivate status pattern at interactive screen
Active status pattern at interactive screen
Active status at interactive screen
Inactivate status at interactive screen

Reflection and next steps

What did I learn?

The process of working with Ollie developed me into a designer that works in detail to make the overall experience holistic. Along the way, our team noticed some aspects that still needed to be worked on in terms of introducing different features and assistance that Ollie can provide, along with seeing patterns in UI design for executing logical experience flow of using this redesigned app. Nevertheless, our team was able to challenge ourselves with working on refining existing experience through voice assistant, especially in terms of seeing how the voice assistant would affect the business’ operation.

What is our next step?

As for our next steps, it is critical to not only see how the users engage with the voice assistant for better bus experience, but also look at voice assistant’s impact on business; with the implementation of the voice assistant, will it improve the quality of local people’s experience with using public transportation? Our goal of this project, as a next step, is to see how the voice assistant affects the operation of local business, and going beyond, the local community around the business.