Open & Candid: Eva Shon

Eva Shon joins the growing OpenPlans Transportation team working on transit tracking projects.  She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in User Experience and Interaction Design.  What has Eva been up to, where’s she been and where is she taking us, and you? Read on…

What do you wish to pursue professionally?
I love maps and wanted to better understand sense-making with digital maps–which is like making your own map all the time, everything is a map.  Few people understand GIS and UX and I want to improve it and expand its reach beyond its current borders.  Google Maps maps has democratized maps, changing the way people explore, get around and where they go.  It extends to transit too.  Although I didn’t know about transit nerds until I interviewed here.

Well you stumbled upon the central hive. I was in Thailand a few months ago and asked the receptionist of the hostel where a bar across town was.  We looked at the city in Google Maps. She had no sense of being able to read the map or locate anything on it.  It kinda blew my mind – the fact that map reading is a sense of literacy that isn’t universally known. Yet.
Yeah map literacy is hard and weird.  Tappan Parikh makes mobile UIs for illiterate women  in India who join micro-finance groups.  The UI’s help women enter how much money they earn and owe.  In a lecture, someone asked why he doesn’t use graphics.  He said graphics – pie charts, bar graphs etc. – require a certain level of literacy.  At some point he realized they like paper and to be able to go through the ritual of putting their mark like thumbprints and stuff on things.

Why did you want to pursue a transportation focused position?
I remember from history that transportation led to the industrial revolution. I read a book once about a 19th century trainspotter who was the son of a typesetter/editor for a local gazette for a town that no longer existed by the end of the writer’s lifetime.  Also I’m from San Diego and while I lived there a mechanic once told me GM bought all the streetcar lines after WWII and ripped them out.  The mechanic was a conspiracy/George Noory fan. That GM story borders on the truth/conspiracy border.
Did that make you want to be join the charge back to full comprehensive well-used mass transit systems?
Yeah, transit systems – lest it be cars, bike lanes, streetcars, commuter rail, rapid transit – shape so much of how people live, what you can do, how you think about your community.

What projects are you most proud of that you’ve worked on while you were at Carnegie Mellon?
I worked on a remote patient follow-up system for atrial fibrillation ablation patients who undergo surgery for this special type of heart arrhythmia that often recurs.  It’s a whole growth process of becoming more a pro-active advocate for yourself in a confusing health care system and not waiting for a doc to ask the right question.  It’s about learning how to talk to doctors, not seeing them as authority figures when its your own body.  We did several months of user research with 17 patients from around the country.  I learned a lot about the patient experience for chronic illnesses.

I can imagine there’s a lot of questions that need to be asked to the patients on a regular basis and a lot of getting people to get in touch with their bodies
Yeah we interviewed a lot of surgeons too – some the top in their field – and there’s a strong need for better patient follow-up in all types of healthcare.  When a patient gets to that level of seeing of heart specialist you have at least 3 doctors who are caring for you – primary care, cardiologist and electrophysiologist..  They also don’t communicate very well.

What was the UI of that project like –  was there a hardware component?
It was a survey system.  I realized my program wasn’t about building real things but rather giving clients the concept to build off of.  However, we didn’t build anything really, just a prototype. UX is a multifaceted field, some think it means visual design or making things look sexy but it’s a mixed bag of things, usability, research and evaluation.

From that project what would you apply to transit tracking apps?
All users go through a learning process and a kind of growth as they first ride, then learn more about the transit system. We are trying to support a range of people at different stages in this process. It’s not just learning the system, it’s learning the city, space, how they can move about in it, where they can visit, where they can get to.  The people who had the best patient journey also found a lot of solace and information online in support groups.  So there’s also the community aspect of ridership on buses.  I also love the idea of fun bus stop apps, like Storycorp’s location-based at bus stops.