Service Design

Prototyping for a personalized Volvo car-sharing service

Thesis Client
Volvo Cars
Service Designer
2019 - 6 Months
Service Design
Personalized Prototyping
Academic Research


In 2019 Volvo was developing a new car-sharing service and needed to find new ways to differentiate themselves from their competition on an experiential level. The problem statement of this academic thesis in collaboration with Volvo was: “How might we design for a personalized experience of a Volvo car-sharing service?”


The result is a car-sharing app that recommends the right car for each trip and the best way to reach that car, based on your specific needs. This could be a nearby e-scooter that gets you to the car quickly or a shared-bicycle that can fit your luggage.

UI Design Concept

One of the outcomes is a UI that supports all the functionality of the service; answering preference questions, booking, navigating and unlocking e-scooters, bikes and cars. The UI uses icons as a simplified way of answering questions and plays with different map views to make it easier to understand the recommendation of other vehicles in a location context.

Video Prototype

During the design process, a Video Prototype was made to receive feedback through social media. It is presented as an outcome as well because it explains the car-sharing concept in an easy way.

Application Flow

This flow shows how a user could go through the application. Starting with four simple questions to find out the specific needs of the user, the app recommends the right car and way to get to the car. After the recommendation, the app helps the user to navigate, unlock and lock the e-scooter and Volvo car.

Design Process

This is an overview of the different phases and methods used during the design process. The Double Diamond is used as a methodology to structure and visualize the process. As you can see, the Develop phase includes most methods as our focus was on prototyping ideas in several iterations.

1. Academic Literature Research

After scoping the project with Volvo, the process started with elaborate academic literature research that laid the theoretical foundation of the project. Some of the explored topics are ‘car-sharing’, ‘personalization’ and ‘service prototyping’.

2. Trying Existing Services

To better understand the context of car-sharing and the differences between competing services, we tried several services ourselves; also known as ‘Service Safari’. The journeys and connecting pains/gains we experienced were summarized in a Customer Journey Map, that we used to base questions on for the next step; interviewing car-sharing users.

3. User Interviews

Interviews with 6 car-sharing users were conducted to find out what the peaks and pits in the experiences of existing car-sharing services are. A method of constructing a single user journey on post-its was used to help participants recall their memory of a specific experience they had. The interviews were also used to find out behaviour patterns around car-sharing, such as motivation and barriers.

4. Data Synthesis

The quotes from the interviews were mapped in different clusters such as a chronological journey in the journey below. Different iterations of clustering resulted in several problematic areas in current car-sharing services:

  • Users need more feedback at the end of their journey to confirm that everything is okay or not
  • The service zone for using car-sharing is too small
  • Parking of the vehicle is often too far from the user’s actual final destination
  • It is unclear and annoying if there is something that needs to be done around maintenanceusers need more feedback at the end of their journey to confirm that everything is okay or not
  • Users find it difficult to understand how a new car works and don’t get any helpusers need more feedback at the end of their journey to confirm that everything is okay or not
  • Setting navigation up is annoying and time-consuming (especially when paying per minute)users need more feedback at the end of their journey to confirm that everything is okay or not
  • Checking + reporting damage is annoying and time-consumingUsers need more feedback at the end of their journey to confirm that everything is okay or not
  • Available cars are often too far (ex. 20 min walk to get to closest car)Users need more feedback at the end of their journey to confirm that everything is okay or not

5. Defining Target User

By combining the insights from academic literature and user research, a better estimation could be made for a target group to design for. We decided to focus on late students/graduates who don’t own a car yet but need one sometimes, and young families who have a car already but occasionally need a second one.

6. Actor Mapping

To better understand the context and involved actors in the mobility ecosystem, an Actor Map was made. The Actor map helps to identify all relevant actors and the relations between them.

7. Problem Statement

After defining a target user group, we decided to focus on the beginning of a car-sharing journey, because personalization at this stage could affect the whole rest of the journey. We picked the specific part of selecting and reaching a car to have a narrow scope for the project.

8. Brainstorm + Idea Board + Idea Portfolio

To start prototyping, a wide range of ideas needed to be thought of first. We used a brainstorm method called ‘10 + 10’ that enabled us to come up with ideas in a structured way and to find different variations. After generating as many ideas possible, the ideas were ranked according ‘Impact’ and ‘Technical Feasibility’ to filter the potentially best ones. The idea that got selected was about integrating other mobility services to make it easier to get to a Volvo car.

9. Prototyping Approach

To structure the prototyping and testing process, we defined a prototyping approach that both includes low-fidelity and high-fidelity methods. As prototyping for personalization is a relatively undiscovered area, we chose to also distinguish between indirect-imagine prototypes (where participants have to imagine a scenario) and direct-experience prototypes (where participants can directly interact with a prototype for a first-hand experience).

10. Prototype 1: Desktop Walkthrough

The first prototype we made (low-fidelity + indirect) is the Desktop Walkthrough, which is a way of enacting a use case of a service concept with simple building blocks, like LEGO, miniatures, printed material etc. The goal is to quickly enact a scenario on which users and other stakeholders can give feedback. This prototype was tested by 3 participants who are currently car-sharing users and 3 of our stakeholders at Volvo.

11. Prototype 2: Paper Prototype

The second prototype (low-fidelity + direct) we tested was a Paper Prototype, which is a method to quickly develop the flow of an application on paper and test it. The purpose of this prototype is to understand if the personalized aspect gives value to the car-sharing service and to identify the value of the recommendation in relation to the effort users have to put into during the questions they have to answer. The prototype was tested by 3 current car-sharing users and 1 stakeholder at Volvo.

12. Prototype 3: Service Walkthrough

The third prototype (high-fidelity + direct) we tested was a Service Walkthrough, which is a method that ‘fakes’ the working of an actual service, so users can experience what the service would feel like. For this prototype, we made a mockup application (Invision) which is interactive and looks real. Participants were asked some information beforehand, such as their purpose of the trip, destination etc. so the prototype could be personalized to their needs.

During the test, participants used the app to reserve a Volvo car and received a recommendation to go there by e-scooter or shared-bicycle. The prototype guided the participants to these vehicles which were strategically placed in the city. After unlocking the e-scooter or bicycle, the prototype helped to navigate them to the Volvo car that we also placed on a certain location. Throughout this journey, the 3 participants were asked questions about their experience.

13. Prototype + Test 4: Video Prototype

The last prototype (high-fidelity + indirect) we made and tested was a Video Prototype, which is a demonstration of how the service works in a video format. The purpose of this prototype was to include more participants than possible with individual tests; a video could be shared online to gather feedback from a larger number of people. In this way, we could get feedback about the feasibility of the concept and possibly evoke an online discussion that could uncover new aspects that were not thought of before.

After having the video online for two weeks, we gathered feedback from 32 respondents. As it was difficult to elaborate on their answers, we decided to also show the video in a focus group, where we could ask follow-up questions to the participants.

14. Deliver Approach

To present our final outcomes in a structured manner to Volvo, we defined a project delivery approach, which includes several service representation methods. Below visualization shows that each following method includes more detail; from a global scenario to the actual User Interface of the application.

15. Scenario

The first representation method we used to communicate the service from a user’s perspective was a Scenario. This method communicates a concept through visual storytelling but doesn’t show too many details about who’s involved, how it actually works etc.

16. Actor Map

The second representation method is an Actor Map, which is a high-level network of actors and components in a system, without going into too many details of how all the service interactions precisely work. As it is a user-centred service, it was chosen to group the actors around the users in the core. The second group is the main service provider Volvo, with their car-sharing vehicles as physical touchpoints and application as a digital touchpoint. The third group consists of the partnering service providers, the companies that offer shared-bicycles and e-scooters. Their touchpoints are limited to physical touchpoints including their bicycles and e-scooters.

17. Value Stream Map

The third method of representing the new service is the Value Stream Map, which originates from improving manufacturing processes. It is a tool to show the flow of material and information needed to deliver a product or service. The method was chosen as it shows the similar actors of the Actor Map but included more levels of detail about the relations of these actors and the value they exchange.

18. Service Blueprint

The fourth method chosen to represent the new service is the Service Blueprint, which provides a detailed level of interactions within a service, both visible front-stage and invisible back-stage interactions that are required to deliver the service.

19. Wireframe Flow

The fifth representation method is the Wireframe Flow, which zooms into the flow of the application in higher detail and shows the most crucial steps the user goes through when interacting with the app.

20. UI Design Concept

The last representation method is the design of the User Interface of the application. This UI design concept shows the look and feel of the app in the most detailed way, making the service come alive.

“Pieter did his Master thesis – Personalized Car-Sharing – at Volvo with me as his supervisor. My impression of Pieter is that he has a versatile and strong Service and UX Design toolbox to draw from. He quickly grasped the complicated landscape of car/mobility sharing, rapidly started to ask the right questions and impressed us with his ways of researching and prototyping the car sharing experience. Furthermore, he’s easy going and a pleasure to work with. I hope our paths cross again!”

Jesper Nolhage

UX Design Specialist, Volvo

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