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User research and product design for a priority project from the executive office at a New York City government agency.


  • Discovery and Design Research

  • Personas and User Stories

  • Comparative Research

  • User Interviews

  • Surveys

  • Prototypes

  • Content Design

  • Product Strategy

  • Presentations to Senior Stakeholders

  • Demonstrating Value of Human-Centered Design

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The NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) sought to support the Yellow taxi sector by connecting interested TLC Drivers with available Yellow and Green Taxis. We wanted to help drivers and yellow taxi owners get back to work and start earning more after a tough pandemic year. 


In response, I conducted research interviews, collected survey responses, and designed and wrote content for early prototypes of what became DriveNYC, a lightweight product that emails weekly lists of interested drivers and available taxis to people who sign up. We built the project quickly within the constraints of available resources, such as the Microsoft app ecosystem,  automated emails, and the TLC's webpages. 


This pilot is a great example of applying common-sense design research methods to digital government projects before launch, so that constituents can give feedback early and often.


Please note: I’m not able to share specifics from this project but I describe my process below.


Overall, the project took 4 months but most of my work was completed in a few weeks.


  • Discovery research and building relationships with colleagues: 3 months

  • Design research: 2.5 weeks (fast!)

  • Presentations to stakeholders: 2 weeks

  • I continue to share durable research findings with interested colleagues: Ongoing

“Your work on this project was phenomenal. Your efforts turned human-centered design from just a concept that people are aware of into something Deputy Commissioners are asking for. It's amazing to be able to use this project to push human-centered work forward.”


- Jonathan Internicola, Director of Analytics at the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission

My Role

I’m one of two researcher/designers at the TLC. I volunteered for this priority project from the executive office early in the process. I wanted to help people in the yellow taxi sector and apply human-centered design methods with my colleagues.


  • I became a core member of a working group of senior staff, including the Executive Office, External Affairs, and IT. 

  • I brought clarity to fundamental questions such as who the tool was for, the problems they faced, how the product would work, what content to write, and how it would be received.

  • My research findings were so significant that I was invited to give an external presentation to yellow taxi sector stakeholders. 


  • Bring the perspective of people with TLC licenses to an urgent, potentially high-profile project.

  • Improve the product in the moment with user testing.

  • Inform future strategy decisions with design research.


During each step I invited colleagues to participate. Some attended their first-ever user research sessions.

  • I conducted discovery research to identify who the product was for, find comparable products, and conduct interviews to find out if people agreed with the problems the product was trying to address.

  • Then I conducted design research to test whether the early prototypes I created met people’s needs and were easy to find, use and understand.

  • At the end, I presented findings and recommendations to senior stakeholders and passed off final deliverables to IT and External Affairs for them to implement and launch.

1. Discovery Research

​Who are we designing for?

The TLC serves and regulates a diverse industry. One of my roles is to help colleagues define our target users/constituents for digital products. Our goal is to get feedback from these users early and often. 


For instance, we can say we’re designing for “licensees” (people with TLC licenses) when we really mean drivers in a particular industry sector and working arrangement. Mix in people’s own thinking styles, regardless of what type of work they do, and we have a tremendous variety of people who could be primary users.  

Discovery Interviews with Stakeholders

I conducted extensive interviews with stakeholders to hear why the project was important, who they thought it was for, and how it might work. 



  • 5 intensive stakeholder interviews

  • Summary of product strategy for the team, including scope,  opportunity statements, and risks.

  • Documented staff knowledge of the yellow taxi sector that informed this project and many others.

Personas and User Stories

From these conversations I created “preliminary personas'' and user stories (preliminary in that they are hypotheses and not validated by research yet).  These helped externalize staff knowledge as memorable, easily understandable narratives. We tested these assumptions with user research.


  • One primary persona of people who own yellow taxis that aren't being leased.

  • One secondary persona of "any type" of licensed TLC driver, whether already driving yellow taxis or not. 

  • The start of an ongoing Persona Library that I now maintain for the TLC.

Persona Template.png

An example of the preliminary personas used for this project, which a part of a  larger persona library that I maintain for the TLC.


Persona library built for use with staff while planning projects.

2. Design Research

What do licensees think of the product?

Next I assessed 1) target users' understanding of the problem we were trying to address and 2) their initial reactions to early  prototypes. I used our preliminary personas to define recruitment criteria so that I could talk to people and show them our designs. 

Intercept Testing

At first, I wanted to get feedback from “any licensee” while I refined the research goals and questions.


I conducted user testing at the TLC’s Front Office in Long Island City. (This is where licensees come in person to take care of their licenses, similar to DMV offices.) I showed the most bare bones of prototypes to get early reactions and feedback.



  • 5 interviews (limited due to Covid precautions).

  • I gathered valuable gut reactions from licensees and an initial list of features they expected to get from a product like this. This feature list directly informed the early prototypes of the design.


Me, left, user testing in the TLC's Front Office (pre-pandemic)

User Interviews

Then I interviewed people who more closely matched the preliminary personas we identified earlier.


I spoke to taxi fleet owners and stakeholders, drivers interested  in or already driving yellow taxis, and for-hire drivers who weren't driving yellow taxis yet or anymore. I asked them open-ended questions to see if they brought up the problem we were trying to address and how they described it. I ended the interviews by showing medium fidelity prototypes using remote screenshare.


Note that I’m unable to share specific findings for this project.

  • 18 remote interviews with participants recruited from online messaging boards, internal contact lists, and introductions by colleagues.

  • While people mostly agreed with the problem we were trying to address, they had unexpected concerns and unique motivations that I shared back with the stakeholder group. 

  • Home for research materials such as my research plan, interview guide, video recordings, transcribed notes, and analysis.

  • As a bonus, senior staff signed up for all available slots to audit research sessions!


Remote interviews conducted with screenshares.

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Research plan, interview guide and insights reports that I used (although I can't share specifics).


In collaboration with my director, we sent out online surveys using SurveyMonkey to our target groups to test if the trends we were noticing held true at scale. We also did A/B testing of different versions of the product’s design. 



  • Survey with 918 responses from yellow taxi owners and drivers who drove taxis in the past. 

  • We found significant differences between taxi owner and driver opinions of the problem we were trying to address for them.

  • We also saw clear preferences for one design over another.

Survey with questions removed in order to share my process but not details of the project.


Light prototyping and User Testing

Throughout the steps above, I prototyped designs of the product across all touchpoints: announcement emails, sign up forms, and weekly match emails to taxi owners and drivers.  I showed these to participants and project stakeholders to get feedback early and often.



  • Many iterative prototypes in order to bake direct feedback from licensees into the designs.

  • I introduced a Plain Language Paraphrase user testing method to the TLC that we now regularly use to assess whether people are understanding our written content as intended.(Credit to Ginny Redish).

  • You can view Driver Sign Up form here and the Vehicle Owner sign up form here.

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While no fancy tools were involved, I prototyped from storyboards to paper, and digital using what my colleagues could easily use and interact with.

Final Analysis

I coded and analyzed quotes that helped us meet our research goals. Knowing that we had gathered valuable findings that didn’t relate to our current research goals, I saved those in a separate affinity map for reference later.



  • One research board of actionable research findings, insights and opportunity statements related to the product itself.


  • An additional research board of broader findings that led to receiving an invite to present to external yellow taxi stakeholders interested in the state of the industry.


  • I outlined recommendations on how to launch and maintain the product.

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Research board in Miro available to colleagues during and after the project.


3. Deliverables and Recommendations



I handed over user-tested flows and written content for the sign up forms. I went above and beyond to provide prototypes of the announcement email and match emails, which were not part of the original scope.


Over the course of the project I presented regularly to a working group of senior staff. While I can’t share the details of the recommendations, in general I prepared and delivered:


  1. One Discovery Research deck summarizing product strategy, research findings and proposed next steps.

  2. One Design Research deck walking through final user feedback and recommendations regarding launch and maintenance. 

  3. One high-level deck on key themes we heard that were of interest to a yellow taxi working group.

Here are a few example slides of those presentations:

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  • Elicited feedback from licensees early and often on a high-profile agency project before launch.

  • Influenced senior staff decisions regarding the product design to ensure the final result met user's needs.

  • Delivered user-tested materials including announcement emails, sign up forms, and weekly match emails to IT and External Affairs.

  • Built a foundational set of personas and research findings for staff to pull from in the future.

  • Introduced a new research method to the TLC that we now regularly use to assess whether the words we’re using our easy to understand: the Plain Language Paraphrase method (Credit to Ginny Redish)

  • Demonstrated the value of human-centered design to senior staff.

“It was really fantastic to be part of the research sessions and getting links to videos afterwards. It was so helpful to hear how potential users talk about our ideas. The way you facilitated the sessions was amazing.”


- Critical project stakeholder


I learned that it’s well worth the effort to get involved in high level projects that have constraints. I helped ensure licensees had a voice in a product meant for them. I built collaborative relationships with new colleagues. I got staff involved in design research while learning more about what they do. 


I also ensured that what we quickly built (quickly for government standards) was as easy to find, use and understand as possible, within the limitations of the project.


Ultimately, I find it rewarding to bring licensees’ voices to the table.

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