Making cities usable through product design

Cities are complicated, so we built Citymapper for the real world of commuters and their daily needs.

In a few weeks time, we’ll be welcoming 10 product people to speak at our annual digital product conference, Canvas; a day of insider talks from product people solving customer problems. Joining us this year is Stephanie Donald from Citymapper who will give you an insight designing a product that’s used in over 40 cities to help people make easier journies. Stephanie shares a bit more context in this guest blog…



Cities are complicated, so we built Citymapper to help solve the fundamental everyday problems for people living and navigating around them.

We made a transport app that takes the complexity out of journey planning. No more manually looking up train timetables or figuring out bus connections. Our algorithm sorts out all that data – including public transport and private options like cabs and carshare – and conveniently summarises all the best options.

But even after making transport easier to understand, we know that for most people, a transport app can be… well, kind of an un-exciting topic.

So how did we design a product that inspires people to spread the word?

Turn everyday problems into small victories

We look for ways to reduce pain points and create that ‘little win’ feeling.

So we created features like disruption alerts, stop notifications, voice shortcuts, and station tips to make everyday city life a bit simpler. And users love finding (and sharing!) that extra time-saving tip that upgrades their daily routine.

Localisation is everything

We’ve created an integrated journey planner with accurate transport data, but our product goal is about more than building a well-functioning commuter tool. It’s about creating an experience that reflects real people and their life in the city.

We tailored the app’s visual design and language to each of our 40+ cities, with details about the real personality of the area and the local culture.

Our goal is to make the design rich with local detail, so users feel the app is a reflection of the city they know – and more engaging and relatable as a result.

Give the brand a human voice

And we want to make the app feel alive – so it feels less like a travel utility (meh) but more like a friendly local offering help (yeh!). We reflected this in our visual design and how we speak to the user. It helps us offer a memorable, branded experience to our users.

Keep looking beyond…

We’re constantly redefining the ‘end-to-end’ product experience. Planning a trip using the app is just the first step in getting from A to B, so we thought about ways to extend our UX to beyond the app.

From running our own bus network, integrating direct booking with ride-hailing and black cabs, and most recently launching an all-in-one transport subscription card, we’re always evolving and extending our product so that we can keep offering more to users.

So, our product approach? Basically, it’s just about making it easy and fun – solutions to simplify the complexities along each step in the journey, with a relatable brand that users remember and want to share by word-of-mouth. It’s helped us grow an engaged user base, and help us keep on our mission of making cities more usable.

Join me at Canvas Conference on the 10th October to hear me talk about designing the app in more detail, including the specific features and user challenges we’ve overcome.

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