Human Centered Design

U-Lock U-Light helps cyclists be more visible and safe on the road. This bike lock features a headlight, tail light, and downward spotlight all in one, allowing cyclists to combine lights according to how they mount their bike lock.


This prototype was the result of a complete human-centered design process that I undertook with a team of four.

My teammates were Sandy Hsieh, Jaekook Han, and Tsimafei Lobiak, and we completed this project in a 6 week course titled “Product Design: Designing for People” taught at ITP by Inna Lobel.


Role: Group member, design research, opportunity definition, user testing, prototyping.


Tools: Human Centered Design process, physical computing, fabrication, 3D rendering.

Design Process

To create a product that resonates with users, we applied the Human Centered Design process, a valuable design and management framework that incorporates user feedback at every stage.


We did our design work in two main phases: 1) design research to arrive at a opportunity definition, and 2) ideation and prototyping with user testing.

Phase 1: Define The Problem & Opportunity Space

Choose a Problem
To choose a problem to solve, we focused on bicycling as a topic within the assigned class theme of Urban Mobility. We then further defined the problem by establishing a baseline knowledge of cycling using a few strategies:

  • Method Acting - Nothing better than riding my old bike to school to get into character.

  • Introspection & Assumptions - As a group, we reflected on what we already knew about the pros and cons of biking in the city. 

  • Provocations Activity - We inverted our typical assumptions about bicycling to activate our lateral thinking during our design research. For example, we stated that “Biking is optimal for the worst weather conditions” ( ... I wish this were true!) This exercise gave us a thought-provoking starting point for our design research. 

Design Research

Create a Research Plan

Next, we designed a research plan to help us understand two things. First, we wanted to understand the ecosystem of biking to the point we could identify moments of tension and delight. Second, we needed to understand and define our user so that we could empathize with them as much as possible.

Externalize and Synthesize Research

We externalized our user research as a team using sticky notes and photos of our users to remind us of who we were designing for. Doing both as a team was critical to move forward with an aligned sense of the problems and people we could design for.

Opportunity Definition

Choosing an Opportunity Space

We then needed to narrow down to just one problem to solve for.  Deciding was difficult, because our design research had just surfaced many user problems while cycling! Clarifying our larger goals and target users helped, and we do so using these tools:

  • 2 x 2 Framework: This tool pictured above helped us see that our main goals were to design a product with the greatest impact, but also not require effort beyond our resources. We decided to pursue the broad concept of a communication tool for cyclists, which led to our final opportunity statement

  • User Persona:  At this point, we also began to define our user persona as a cyclist who was safety-oriented, which we continued to refine later on.

Our final opportunity statement became: How might we provide cyclists with methods to be safe by communicating their presence and actions to those around them?

Phase 2: Solve The Problem & Address The Opportunity Space

Thanks to our defined problem and opportunity statement, we finally knew what and who to truly solve for. We could move on to addressing the opportunity space. But even before we started dreaming up solutions, we wanted to get as creative as possible. 


Generate Concepts
During the ideation phase, we generated as many possible concepts as possible that might answer our opportunity statement. We arrived at three top concepts using the following tools. 


  • Random Entry - This exercise reactivated our lateral thinking in our design process. We picked a random object, wrote down our associations, and used these in unexpected ways to ideate concepts for bicyclists to be safer.

  • Official Brainstorming - We took the best concepts from the Random Entry activity into our brainstorming phase, where we ideated many more concepts.

  • Storyboards - We storyboarded our top concepts and showed them to potential users for their feedback. Storyboards were a fast way to root out inconsistencies in our concept, and get quick and honest feedback from our users.

Update Our Persona

While doing user research, we learned to ask the right questions to find the right users.


For example, when we asked people “Do you feel unsafe while biking?”, even confident cyclists agreed. This resulted in diluted user feedback that complicated our design process. 


Eventually, we learned to ask “Do you avoid biking because you feel unsafe?” This led to the users we wanted to speak to: people who stopped biking entirely or limited how often they bike out of safety concerns.

Two Concept Contenders
At this point, we had two winning concepts to proceed with: A U-Lock with built-in lighting for visibility, and a Sensor System to detect cars in back for awareness.


Answer Questions by Prototyping
Before building low-fidelity prototypes, we defined the questions we wanted to answer in the first place. What is the size and scale of the product? How does it work? How does it look? We also wanted to explore possibilities around each product’s scale, proportion, relation to body, form, ergonomics, and interface direction.

Build Prototypes and User Testing
We built three to four prototypes for each concept, and showed users right away to get feedback.


Concept Development

Simulate Real Life

We also simulated how our users might actually use our products. We hacked together existing products on the market to test prototypes while riding a bike.

  • U-Lock with Lighting - We taped flashlights to a bike lock to understand how light would behave near the bike and on the road.

  • Rear View Sensor System - We pointed an action camera backwards on the bike and used a smartphone as the user interface.  

Choose Just One Concept

Again, it was difficult to choose just one concept with which to proceed. We had many personal opinions regarding what was more innovative, never been done before, or quite frankly, feasible to build within the single week provided by the class.


However, our simulations showed us the way. It was clear that a bike lock with built-in lighting would resonate more with our users. For example, we learned that:

  • The rear view sensor system might make a cautious cyclist even more nervous. The video feed was overstimulating.  

  • The bike lock with built-in lighting, on the other hand, wasn’t too overstimulating. It successfully announced the presence of the cyclist to others. Plus, the product met other values and needs we heard during our design research: the lock replaced the need for extra lights (less gear is better), and the configurable lights allowed for any preferred lock mounting method (every cyclist has a different set up).

Final Prototype

We designed and built the final functional prototype within just two days. This short-time frame was possible because the concept was clearly articulated due to our user research, ideation, definition and user testing.


The final design includes the following features:

  •  A classic U-Lock with an addition of three bright LED lights around the circumference of the lock and an extra LED on the side.

  • LEDs can serve multiple purposes such as taillights, headlights, side lights and other combinations.

  • All the LEDs are controlled by touch and the electronics are stored within the lock.

  • The battery compartment is located between the U-shaped frame to protect from being accessed without unlocking.

  • This design accommodates different needs and biking styles of most bikers, without compromising the original purpose and design of the lock.


Over five weeks, we prepared and presented our progress, with a final presentation held at Frog Design in New York. Overall, the team has interviewed over 20 individuals to develop a target persona and make corrections to the design at each stage of the process.