/ MHCI+D Capstone /
How can we help female-identifying individuals feel and be safer when walking alone?
Sara Al Mughairy
Ramble is the product concept of a four month long capstone project exploring how to help women-identifying individuals in cities feel and be safer when walking alone. Research indicates that women tend to be more afraid of walking alone than men and have gender-specific fears, which may be a both a product and perpetuation of gender inequality.
Our product, Ramble, is a mobile app that makes walking safety a social focus by leveraging community activation to support women-identifying individuals navigate the fear of walking alone. Ramble targets easier communication of fear both during the walk, by virtually pairing remote walkers who can easily communicate unease through simple button presses, as well as beyond the walk through a social media feed that normalizes conversation around walking experiences and incidents.
Data collected by Gallup indicates that over the past seven years, 36% of U.S. residents have reported that they felt apprehensive when walking alone at night. This percentage increases to roughly 50% amongst women, city dwellers, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. A significant 18-point gap in perceived safety between the sexes; 45% of the entire female population reports feeling unsafe walking alone at night, as opposed to 27% of men (Gallup 2015). Women tend to be more aware of environmental cues and safety risks, increasing their likelihood to feel unsafe (Bianco & Lawson, 1997). Research has shown that the higher percentage of fear might be restricting the freedoms of women (Pryor et al. 2013).
Despite the fact that design solutions intended to foster safer walking environments for women currently exist, many necessitate cell-phone usage. Attending to a device screen prevents individuals from being mindful of their surroundings, which may increase the susceptibility of becoming a crime victim (USA Today, 2012). Despite the advancements in the field, there are still design opportunities to explore in this space. We are also cognizant of the fact that potential design solutions may introduce the issue of neighborhood stigmatization. Areas with high crime may also be impoverished areas comprised of members of historically marginalized communities. We intend to approach our project through a value sensitive design lens. We want to empower city-dwelling women while mitigating neighborhood stigmatization to the greatest extent possible.
What factors contribute to feelings of safety?
What behaviors do women engage in to feel safer?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of current solutions in this space?
Our research began by acquiring domain knowledge through a literature review, competitive analysis and heuristic evaluation of existing products, popular media scan, and a stakeholder map.
We then transitioned into the primary research phase of our project in which we sought to uncover original insights that could shape future design solutions. Our primary research efforts consisted of conducting subject matter expert interviews, as well as recruiting female-identifying UW students to participate in field research, diary studies, and semi-structured interviews.
For more information about the research stage of the project, please check out our Research Summary
There are difficulties assessing threat, as well as fear of unnecessary escalation.
Features of the surrounding built environment impact perceived and actual safety.
Women are comforted by the presence of others but often don’t reach out.
Our final solution is Ramble—a mobile app that makes walking safety a social focus, using partnership and community involvement to support women-identifying individuals through the fear and danger of walking alone.
Ramble was designed as a mobile application for a variety of reasons. First, we needed a solution that would compliment existing personal safety strategies. Our research revealed that participants tended to carry their phones in their hands, or, store them in an easily accessible location. Second, we needed a portable solution that could be used during all stages of the walk. Finally, we wanted our solution to be able to access a walker’s GPS coordinates.
The Ramble application concept consists of three main parts—paired walking, news, and educational tips—described below.
PART ONEPaired Walking
Ramble connects single walkers to virtually and anonymously monitor each others’ progress towards their respective destinations. By connecting strangers who are both walking alone, Ramble provides walkers with the presence of others while simultaneously eliminating the concern of burdening loved ones. Our prototype testers found comfort in knowing they were connected to another person having a similar experience, though they were anonymous.
Communication of Unease through the Volume Button
Despite participants feeling safer with others, we found a general silence around communication of fear. Ramble attempts to lower the threshold for communication by allowing users to signal discomfort through discreet haptic feedback to their partner by pressing the volume button. Partners can provide each other with a sense of comfort by reciprocating this button press.
Pressing the volume button also captures the GPS coordinates of the location where the user felt uneasy, enabling the collection of data points that may be qualitatively enhanced through a subsequent reporting prompt. Also, a rapid multi-press can connect to 911, or alternately, to the user’s pre-set escalation preferences.
PART TWONews Feed
In addition to sharing walking reports, Ramble also encourages users to share their experiences with their local community via the news feed. This channel helps normalize discussion as well as disseminate information.
However, our concept prototype evaluation revealed a wariness towards user content. Participants didn’t want conversational “social” content and thought they might be put-off by reading a stream of scary incidents. We decided to shape the content of the news feed with both user and system generated content to strikes a more positive and actionable tone.
System generated content would take the form of safety tips and interactive questions and polls. We believe that a combination of relevant local information and conversation, as well as educational content, strikes the right balance between social and actionable.
PART THREEEducational Tips
Our primary research surfaced participants’ lack of confidence in their ability to effectively assess or respond to risks. The third aspect of our application concept is an education component that manifests itself in the form of Safety Tips, which are brief, casual, and relatable tidbits grounded in research.
These tips promote awareness of one’s surroundings, the importance of paying attention to intuition, how to carry oneself in order to reduce the chances of being targeted, and ways to respond to assailants.