The Betrayal of Trust Between the Designer and the User

Ofo bicycles (pronounced oh-foh) have been popping up in cities all over the world and if you live or work in an area where the scheme is running, you will have undoubtedly become aware of the influx of offensively yellow bicycles scattered throughout the city. These have recently been introduced into Sheffield, so I have become very, very aware of them. With the quantity of automobiles in cities increasing and the quality of the air decreasing, ofo’s aims are obvious, to encourage the residents to step away from the car and onto a classically designed bicycle. The environment isn’t the only thing to benefit, ultimately the rider does too and in more than one way.

Their health- This one is a no brainer, have you seen the hills in Sheffield? If you were to cycle up some of the roads around here everyday you would soon feel the difference!

Their Wallet- Using money as leverage to persuade the consumer to use the product is a clever method. Like taxis, ofo bike use time as the unit of measurement for the cost of the journey. But unlike taxis, bicycles don’t tend to get stuck in traffic! If you have used a taxi in the past then I’m sure you are aware of the feeling you get when you watch the Taxi Meter increasing as you fail to get any closer to your desired location. 50p per half an hour is also considerably less than the going rate for a taxi.

So you may be asking, what’s the problem here? Well a cycling scheme isn’t revolutionary, ‘Boris Bikes’ have been around for years now. They are relatively intuitive and more importantly they share the same motives as ofo bikes. But there is one considerable difference which makes ‘Boris Bikes’ less desirable and it comes down to humans being lazy. If you use a Borris bike, you have to revolve your journey around the pick-up and drop-off stations which are dotted around the city. Ofo recognised this thought that this was an inconvenience and decided that the user should have the freedom to decide where the bicycle should be abandoned. That’s a lot of trust that they have in the consumer, handing over the baton of responsibility like that isn’t done often.

As a designer, I can’t help but wonder if ofo have only considered this service to work in an ideal situation, rather than in the ‘real world’. Quite frankly, humans aren’t nice. Public systems and services are going to be abused, neglected, vandalised and ultimately ruined by their ‘users’ over time. And it hasn’t taken long for the ofo bicycles to fall victim to this.

I have a 15-minute walk to-and-from the station every day. Increasingly more regularly I am seeing the bikes in more questionable locations and in varying states of disrepair. The unmistakable screech of metal-on-metal and chattering of out-of-line chains can be heard throughout the city. Bicycles which not too long ago were in their prime may now be sporting broken lights and dangerously buckled wheels. Their bright yellow coats are now dented and scratched.

ofo bike seen at the bottom of a river in Sheffiled. Credit- Jonny Sammut

The abuse of the bikes is clearly and issue, and as the bikes deteriorate in appearance, functionality and safety, it will reflect negatively on the company and in the worse case scenario, ofo will seize to keep running.

But was this ofo’s fault? I happen to think that it was an oversight and they were naive about their customer base. The problem that they have is that it isn’t just their demographic who will use their service, anybody has access to them and once they are in control of one, they feel they can do what they wish to them. Now, the same can be said for the original ‘Boris’ bikes, but while the GPS tracking and wheel locks are similar on both types of bikes, by introducing the increased flexibility, ofo may have accidentally implied the reduction of rules and restraints opening the bikes up to a short life of vandalism.

This isn’t the first time a bike scheme like this has been introduced to the UK. In the summer of last year Manchester city centre took delivery of Mobike, a Chinese company which offered almost exactly what ofo bikes do, albeit in a slightly more subtle colour scheme.

The link below sends you to a really great article which outlines the issues Mobike ran into, and unsurprisingly, they were exactly the same as ofo. So ofo knew exactly the market they were entering into and did very little to alter the outcome, very foolish design and business planning in my opinion!

Manchester’s bike-share scheme isn’t working — because people don’t know how to share | Helen Pidd

I really wanted to believe that Mancunians could be trusted with nice things. Just over a fortnight ago, a Chinese…

Like Mobike, ofo are not pulling out of cities, but instead hundreds more of the yellows bicycles are coming to Sheffield in the coming week as they ‘proved such a hit’… or is it to replace missing or irreparable bikes I wonder…

Product Designer with a Passion for User Experience