Phase 1

Design thinking for mobility phase1: what is?

Phase 1: Asking “What is?”

If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes
defining the problem and one minute resolving it.

Albert Einstein

Key activities

    1. Assemble a team that represents multiple perspectives and includes all types of stakeholders invested in finding a solution (e.g., partners, riders, community, funders)
    2. Determine if you are solving for the right question by examining the question through the lens of different perspectives
    3. Interview and observe relevant customer groups in the community to understand their experience related to the use of or need for new or different options
    4. Perform other research to understand the environment and context surrounding the question, such as data from focus groups, surveys, secondary research
    5. Organize the research to identify patterns and determine the most compelling insights from the research


      • Define your “customer” as broadly as is necessary to ensure you are examining all aspects of the question. In the transportation field, the customer can be a rider (whether paying or not paying), a funding partner, or other beneficiary.
      • Approach interviews and observations without preconceptions.
      • Be attuned to common themes and insights that emerge from your research, interviews, and observations.

The partnership benefits of Phase 1

        • Developing common understanding and purpose among a diverse group of members
        • Valuing the perspectives and talents of all group members
        • Tapping into the networks of each group member to connect with various customer groups

How Phase 1 can increase the odds of a successful solution (aka, de-risk the project)

          • Hearing directly from customers and stakeholders through interviews and observations
          • Obtaining an accurate picture of customers’ journeys (literal or metaphoric) to inform potential solutions


            • Research findings may identify previously unknown issues and guide future opportunities for group collaboration.
            • Widely share the stories, customer journeys, and insights that emerge from your research. Sharing what you have discovered with stakeholders and even a larger group may gain early support for potential solutions; you may also hear additional insights about the challenge.
            • Note for facilitators: Provide an overview of the value and processes of Design Thinking so that team members understand their role as a team member. Such an overview will allow the team to focus on clear objectives that do not “involve a giant learning curve.”  If some team members cannot commit to the entire four-phase process, consider using their limited time to tap into their customer networks and for input at key decision-making points.

Tools and Worksheets

Example of Phase 1 activities: Marin Co., California (2012-2013 Job Access Mobility Institute team):

Challenge question: How can we expand mobility options to enhance economic development and job access for low-wage workers living or working in Marin?
Research: The Marin team interviewed low-wage employees who worked in Marin County, using homeless residents supported through Homeward Bound of Marin, and tapped into other primary and secondary data about job seekers, low-wage workers, college students, and employers.