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Written by HOTITGROUP

 by Maya

 

HOCITGROUP Inc. is pleased to announce that its shares are now listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Mothers Market

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HOCITGROUP Inc. approved for listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange

27/05/2020 by Maya

 

HOCITGROUP Inc. is pleased to announce that the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Inc. has approved the listing of its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

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LOVABLE THINGS

Less but More: The Minimum Lovable Product Mindset

The Minimum Lovable Product® is more than just a methodology, it is a valuable mindset that can be used when building new products and services.

Written by Samuel Huber

Less but More: The Minimum Lovable Product Mindset

Intro

MVPs are magnificently misunderstood

With the arrival of Eric Ries and his lean startup approach, more and more companies have started building Minimum Viable Products to eliminate corporate slack and introduce fast, cheap and simple processes for product innovation. In his words, "a Minimum Viable Product is the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort."

What might be considered elementary for startups is a deliberately entrepreneurial attitude for corporates, who don't want to become the next Nokia or Kodak and fall victim to the innovator's dilemma. Both share a vested interest in quickly launching products and services to validate their ideas. This need for speed results in an abundance of "almost, but not quite" prototypes, usually referred to as MVPs. 

As a result, customers are haunted by products and services that I like to call walking skeletons. They kind of work on a functional level, but fail in delivering a valuable experience to those who are supposed to use them. It's almost as if the term MVP is used as an excuse for an inferior product. 

What is missing? 

For far too many companies, an MVP simply means Minimal Product. What's missing is right there in the name. Viability is not something that just comes in further releases; it has to be designed for from the start. Put simply, an MVP has to actually be viable.

What does a viable product look like? Patrick Thornton mentions the very first iPhone as a prime example of a successful MVP. On the day of its release, the iPhone lacked many of the major features that we have all grown to expect. It did, however, do other things like multi-touch so amazingly well that it instantly created a following of people who loved it. If your MVP has no viability on launch day, it will be understood by the market as dead on arrival. 

How can you ensure viability? 

Viability is a multifaceted concept, but once you take a step back, you will see that the main driver and essential requirement for viability are creating true customer value. Create something that your customers fall in love with; make sure to create a Minimum Lovable Product®.

 

The 4 Pillars of the Minimum Lovable Product Mindset

The term Minimum Lovable Product was coined in an insightful blog post by Laurence McCahill, in which he offers a detailed guide on how to build MLPs. However, the MLP is more than just a methodology; it is a valuable mindset that can be used when building new products and services. I have summarized four core concepts that form the pillars of the MLP-Mindset:

 

Craft Clarity

Creating something that people love is hard. It could almost be described as an artisanal process, with the key difference being that you don't have a lifetime to master your craft. The only chance to achieve a certain level of enlightenment is by finding a clear focus. Craft clarity by identifying the principal pain point or gain creator. Don't try to address them all simultaneously. Use methodologies like a value proposition canvas or the kano model to structure your thinking and conduct user research to identify where you can create the highest value.

Prioritize mercilessly and know when to say no. Set a clear time box and take the advice of Jason Fried, who says: "If you can't fit everything in within the time and budget allotted, then don't expand the time and budget. instead, pull back the scope." A constrained time frame will support you and ensure the needed clarity. Find the features that differentiate your product and emphasize them even more.

Prioritize for Desirability

Great products start with solving human problems. When deciding what to build, prioritize for desirability. Of course, feasibility and viability are just as essential; however, in most processes, the user's voice is underrepresented. 

The best way to understand this is to imagine an onion with many layers, with value at its core. Humans need to find a product valuable in order to develop a desire to purchase it. Without feasibility on the second layer, there is no way to deliver or transport this value. Once the inner rings are fulfilled, the underlying foundation is there to create revenue and ensure viability. While each layer is of equal importance, they are creating the onion from the inside out and build upon each other.

How to increase desirability? Lean into the experience and generate repeated interactions through a product or service that is worth using. Every interaction is an opportunity to make an impression on your user that you should not let go to waste. You might only get one try, so make it count!

 

 

Create fans, not users

All of this focus comes at a cost. You will not be able to cater to everyone from the start. However, this is a huge advantage. It's better to build something that a small number of users love, than a product that a large number of users only like.

Be ready to find a niche where people are absolutely passionate about your product. This will turn them into true fans, whose repeated interactions, in turn, will tremendously improve your iterative development process. Co-create with your users, so they develop a feeling of ownership and investment and become your most valuable ambassadors. Once you perfect it for this group, you can take it to other user groups in the next step. Most of the time, you'll be surprised how small the needed adjustments are.

Experiment and validate repeatedly

An MLP is not a product but an ongoing process. Call it working lean, agile, or failing fast, in its essence, you need to quickly learn with real users. The more engaged your fanbase, the better feedback you will receive early on. This results in a better outcome and a clearer idea of the metrics you will need to achieve in order to keep the project going.

Use an assumption map to Identify your riskiest assumptions and find ways to validate them. Whether you are in B2C or B2B, don't be afraid to actually talk to people. An open conversation on eye level with your potential customers will move the hearts of both the team and the users.

The Minimum Lovable Product as a mindset

As you can see, an MLP is so much more than just a product or service. After having applied it to countless projects, I have settled to approach it as a powerful mindset in its own right.

The MLP is a mindset that uses constraint to craft clarity, prioritizes the user experience, engages with people in an open conversation, and is inherently curious and open at heart.

Whether you apply it to a designathon, prototyping project, or full-blown venture, this mindset will be a strong guiding principle that supports you, your team, and your organization as you identify where to best invest your resources to create something that people fall in love with.

AUTHOR
TOPIC
SAMUEL HUBER

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LOVABLE THINGS

Beyond the Screen: Stéphane Martin

We had the pleasure of speaking with Stéphane Martin about his career as a designer and manager, and current role as Principal UX Designer at Riot Games.

Written by Maya Guice

The Designathon: Our favorite design workshop

Intro

A couple of years ago, Goodpatch was invited to participate in a special design workshop and competition called “Designathon18” in Zurich, Switzerland. The Designathon® is similar to a hackathon, but instead of IT specialists and computer enthusiasts coming together to tackle a given topic, designers, developers, strategists, and anyone else who can contribute to the topic, lock themselves in a room and work on a broadly defined challenge. Ever since the first edition, we’ve been an event partner, helping both facilitate and promote the weekend, while sharing our tools and design methodologies with participants. 

We left the Designathon in Zurich very inspired: This format was the perfect way to package all of our different design thinking methods for adoption by our clients. After kindly asking the Designathon team if we can use their name, we went to work creating a 4-day workshop format that consolidates months of work into a single week.

Designed to make the abstract concrete and rapidly solve even the most complex challenges, we have applied this format to a range of companies, from large financial institutions to young start-ups eager to launch their first product or service. Over the course of four days, we lead teams through the entire design thinking process and demonstrate a hands-on, structured approach to creativity and human-centered design. This process supports streamlined, strategic decision-making for the best possible solutions.

So how does it work? Following is a general breakdown of each phase of a Designathon: 

The Challenge Before the Storm

It all starts with a challenge. The challenge sets the frame for the entire designathon and gives a rough direction for the days to come. The first step of each Designathon, therefore, is to invite participants to come up with a few challenge suggestions. We then discuss, prioritize, and agree upon one formulated challenge statement. This guarantees that everyone is on the same page.

 

Image credit: Hanna Büker

 

The Discover Phase: Uncover your user’s pain points

Inspiration is critical to any creative process. For this reason, we ask participants and project stakeholders to share their knowledge on the given topic by showing existing solutions or telling stories with inspirational presentations. We encourage participants to actively listen and take notes that document their “aha-moments”. 

As believers in the power of human-centered design, we invite feedback from end-users even at this early stage. We interview 1–3 core users to collect qualitative data in the form of statements that we then use to make design choices early on.

 

The Define Phase: Make the abstract concrete

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’’ - Henry Ford

Users don’t know what they want. That’s why it is crucial to make connections and abstractions from the qualitative data collected. This helps you discover new patterns and surface unspoken needs and pain points. 

 

An example of how the 2x2 capture board might look

 

To neatly display the data, we use a 2x2 capture board and cluster the interviewee statements. The four sections can be named: pains, goals, motivation, and behaviour. Of course, you can name your sections however you need to. Teams can then synthesize the data and structure the insights in the form of user + need + insight.

 

The Ideation Phase: Collective brainstorming leads to better ideas

The ideation phase is the fun part where the team dynamic is at its peak! Generating ideas based on brainstorming and brainwriting is highly collaborative by nature and some of our best experiences have been while generating ideas with participants. 

We recommend that participants first work independently in silence and then share ideas with the group. To make the sharing even more productive, we encourage participants to use “yes and…“ to build upon existing ideas. 

 

The Idea Napkin Framework

 

With these newly developed ideas, we move on to our next tool called “idea napkins”. It’s a framework that sheds light on an idea and to make it more concrete.

 

The Build Phase: Mapping user journeys, step by step

After the idea napkins have been shared and prioritized the next step is to bring these concepts to life. Here we use a structured approach where we gradually move from an abstract idea to a concrete solution.

First, we create storyboards, which describe the process a user takes to move from an existing setting (usually a problem) to a state satisfaction (solution). In the second step, the participants list all the steps the user performs during this transition. These tasks are then associated with screens and embedded into a user flow. This flow shows how a user goes through the digital solution to achieve the intended goal. It is similar to the storyboard, but in more detail and visualized via screens.

 

Image credit: Hanna Büker

 

When all of the wireframes have been created, the teams create an interaction map and build connections between the screens. We use Prott to make these paper-sketched wireframes interactive, allowing the team to click through, test, and improve their proposed solution.

 

The Test Phase: Time for user testing

Interactive rapid prototyping tools such as Prott enable us to scale design so that we can be quicker in the design process and test the solution as soon as possible. We want to test the solution (prototype) with potential users so that we can include this feedback in the next iteration. In this initial exploratory user test, the solution should be realistic enough for the teams to realize any roadblocks and difficulties a user encounters. 

“The solution should look real enough (like a façade) to test, but it doesn’t need to be pretty.” - J. Knapp 

 

The Final Step: High-Res Design

To turn the prototype into an even more realistic product, we give it to one of our UI designers for one more day of offsite work. We can bring the product to life using tools like Sketch and Invision. With the high-res prototype, the client is then able to create alignment among the team, test it further with potential users, or use it to communicate a story to company management or external investors for funding.

At Goodpatch, we use the designathon to build alignment among our client’s stakeholders. The format has proved especially valuable to teams who have a new digital project coming up. After experiencing a structured approach to digital product design, teams embrace a creative work culture and are better at making decisions and creating consensus around solutions and tangible outcomes.

Let us know what you think and if you’re ready to try this with your team, give us a call! If your whole team is remote and is now digital-first, check out our blogs on how to run a perfect remote design workshop

AUTHOR
TOPIC
MARCO TORRENTE & MAYA GUICE

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INDUSTRY

Our 5 favorite TaxTech startups

Pandemic or not, your tax return deadline hasn’t changed. Here’s a list of TaxTech startups, who can help make your next tax session a breeze.

Written by Monica Ray Scott

Our 5 favorite TaxTech startups

Intro

 

Even though many things have come to a halt right now, your tax return deadline hasn’t. It is one of those mundane tasks that tends to get pushed out until the very last minute, however at some point it just has to be done. So, what better time than a lockdown to sit down and finish them off in one go? Without wasting another minute, here’s a list of TaxTech startups, who can help make your next tax session a breeze.

Taxfix — Berlin-based Taxfix, founded in 2016, currently has a team of 100 employees and provides a desktop and mobile solution for the preparation of tax returns. By answering a list of their questions and taking a picture of your annual payslip, you can file your taxes within a time frame of around 20 minutes. A few weeks later, you’ll receive your tax return assessment and your money back — the average refund is €1,007. This efficient little tax tool is free of charge until you submit the taxes, making it easy to try and see if it truly is your cup of tea.

Wundertax — Also based in Berlin, Wundertax is a fintech company that was founded in 2015 and provides online tax return filing and other related services. After choosing your style of occupation (expat, employee, freelancer etc.) on the first page, you will be guided through a list of questions relating to your specific situation and employment type. You can get up to get back up to €3,000 in taxes, although the average is around €1,000. Wundertax is a climate-neutral company providing you with a carbon-neutral tax return.

Taxly — Taxly is one of the new kids on the TaxTech block, having been founded early this year. The Swiss company, based in Zurich, is on a mission to reinvent the entire tax experience. They have managed to consolidate tax requirements from over 26 cantons (each of them having different laws in place) to create a customer-centered, legacy-free system for Swiss residents to do their taxes. With their 2019 calculator, you can estimate how much your taxes could be, before completing your full tax return through their application.

Accountable — The Belgian based fintech startup Accountable isn’t a typical tax refund tool, but a holistic mobile app to help you become self-employed. It helps you connect expenses, and to create and manage invoices, paired with information on VAT and tax deductibility. The goal is to help you optimize your taxes early on in your business processes and manage it all from beginning to end. Their blog also has many resources, tips, and tricks for students, budding entrepreneurs, and professionals ready to take the plunge in to being self-employed.

TaxScouts — The London-based company TaxScouts (founded in 2017) has created an online solution paired with professional accountants, aiming to merge both worlds. In other words, it combines repetitive, automated tasks with the know-how of professional accountants’ expertise, in one slick service. Founded by Transferwise and MarketInvoice alumni, the 20 person startup has raised over €1.7 million and is well-equipped to make taxes great again. With a one-off, flat fee of €135, you can get your full tax assessment and all the support you need, including any last-minute changes. 

 

 

If doing your taxes in such an easy way has suddenly gotten you all fired about the TaxTech space, the first Austrian TaxTech conference will be happening at the end of this year in Vienna and if you have any favorite tax tools let us know in the comments.

 

 

By the way: If you’re a corporate or startup struggling to make your digital financial product user friendly, we can help.

 

 

 

 

This article was originally published on EU Startups on 15th April 2020.

LOVABLE THINGS

Beyond the Screen: Arielle Kilroy

We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Arielle Kilroy, VP of Product at Small Improvements, where she innovates around HR tech and the future of work.

Written by Maya Guice

Beyond the Screen: Arielle Kilroy

Intro

We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Arielle Kilroy, VP of Product at Small Improvements, where she innovates around HR tech and the future of work.

Arielle started her career as a designer and developer in the entertainment and music industries creating the first web products for movies including The Hobbit, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Harold and Kumar’s White Castle. She also worked with artists like OK Go and Amanda Palmer to build and monetize their talent as digital-led artists. Arielle then moved on to work with Sierra Club, the US’s largest environment non-profit (founded 1892, 1+ million members) as Product Head to reinvigorate their digital presence and products. During this time, Arielle won a Webby Honoree Award for one of her products. 

We were excited to speak to Arielle about her work and see what the product leader, speaker and coach has been up to...

 

Photo courtesy of Small Improvements

 

You studied photography and fine art before transitioning into the product world. How has your education influenced your work and how you approach new projects?

One thing that I learned specifically in art school was that there are always options. Early in school, there was a class assignment that asked us to remake an art piece in different mediums, forcing me to think about how I can create a similar experience for a viewer despite not being able to rely on my initial idea or instinct. Not only that, but I got to have the viewer experience with my classmates' new pieces. I really left that semester with the knowledge that there are almost always many options for achieving similar results. 

Art school also taught me the value of testing and iteration. As an artist, I was trying to convey a message or feeling. Showing my work helped me know if I had achieved that goal. This is likely not universal for all artists, but it's definitely an experience I gained through school. It was also common to remake a piece, sometimes several times, as one learned. One can actually see this throughout art history both with individual artists and their own work as well as subsequent artists paying homage. 

I know that music is a passion of yours, and you started your career working in the music industry. Why did you decide to leave, and what did the experience teach you about balancing passion with profession?

I had wanted to work in music from my tween years. It was such a 'dream come true' when it finally happened that it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it wasn't making me happy. The amount of reflection and mental work I needed to do to get there can not be expressed. It was a bizarre experience to be considered successful in such a sought-after field but feel anything but. The easy answer would be that there were a few key structural reasons why I left. For example, long, frequent and unpredictable evening hours that made it really hard for me to maintain relationships of all kinds. But a deeper answer would be that I believe that music has the power to change the world, but I was working mostly with the type of music that could afford to pay me, which tended to be pop. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy some pop music and I did get to work with some amazing artists of all genres. But I wasn't getting fulfillment out of giving so many hours to something that wasn't contributing more directly to my values. 

 

Arielle speaking at the Product Conference Europe 2019

 

Congratulations on the recent launch of your personal project, Practical Product! Can you tell us a bit about the new initiative?

The idea started over a large group dinner. I was sitting next to two friends who are also product leaders, and we were chatting about how we struggle to find quality workshops to send our team members to. Most product management workshops are taught at a very conceptual level and rarely reflect the reality we see in our working worlds.  We made some jokes about making our own training. Over the next few months we had more and more data that reinforced the idea, so we decided to give it a shot. With Covid-19 we've made a short-term pivot towards helping our PM community navigate the new challenges we are facing, but we'll soon come back to our workshops. We really want to train product managers we'd want to hire. There is so much more to the job than knowing agile-related processes. Organizations and humans are complex; a good PM knows how to navigate and steer both. Additionally, we wanted to do something that reflects our values. These workshops can be quite cost-prohibitive, further reinforcing the privilege that access to knowledge brings. We will offer discounts and free tickets for underrepresented populations to do our part in being good allies. Check us out at: practical-product.com

I heard a rumor that you don't like product roadmaps ;) What do you have against agile product roadmaps, and what alternative do you recommend for teams who struggle to adopt agile processes?

Haha, yes, it's true! I try to steer clear of product roadmaps because they usually cause more problems than they solve. I'd also argue that there isn't really such a thing as an agile roadmap since an agile process enables learning as you go, and it would be very challenging to map out future learnings and their solutions without, say, … a time machine. Roadmaps can also be a dangerous tool for a business. If a PM delivers all the functionality on the roadmap, that's generally considered successful. But did any of it deliver direct measurable impact to the business? Roadmaps often create a situation where the definition of success for your product manager in their role differs from the definition of success for the business. Now I fully understand that a true agile process is near impossible in modern business, despite what so many others say. (Note: this is a big component of the Practical Product workshops). For example, try telling your finance department to do their taxes agile. Or hiring. So any roadmap needs to reflect the reality of doing business in the modern world while allowing for the learnings, pivots, and changes that will ultimately need to happen to achieve business goals. If you must make a roadmap, I'd recommend these:

There are strengths and weaknesses to all of these, so the choice depends a lot on your product and your organization. 

I'll also briefly mention that not everything needs to be agile! Waterfall is a powerful project management process that is perfectly suited for many types of software projects (infrastructure, certain security features, etc) or even parts of a larger software process (launching to customers, for example). 

 

Photo courtesy of Small Improvements

 

What drew you to Small Improvements? Is there something about HRTech that captures your imagination?

I try to 'do good' with every role. I'm incredibly passionate about diversity and inclusion, and I think HRTech allows me to combine my skill set with my values. Influencing important products in peoples' professional lives to create a more equitable and supported environment for all people really speaks to me. That's how I ended up at Small Improvements. Also, the people are fantastic, so that helped the decision. ;) 

Can you tell us a bit about your day to day as VP of Product? Are there any new product updates that you're excited about?

We've just rolled out two new big updates: Pulse Surveys and Retention Analytics. Pulse Surveys are an important part of creating excellent employee experiences so it's nice to see it added to our offering. Retention Analytics is a first-of-it kind machine learning product designed to help HR know where to focus their attention. It analyzes a bunch of data to predict where turnover might be likely. This way HR can talk to employees and address any issues before they decide to leave.   

 

Photo courtesy of Small Improvements

 

What are the most significant differences between B2B and B2C product development?

The two biggest differences are volume and expectations. In B2C it's much easier to A/B test. The nature of B2C generally allows for a larger audience of users and therefore a larger pool of testers. In B2B you need to be much more creative to test, but it is possible!

The nature of the relationship is also different because in B2B your customers are hiring you to do a specific job after likely evaluating several options. The relationship tends to be longer term. There is an inherent agreement that you won't be disrupting key business processes day to day that you have to respect. 

How do you see the importance of user research and testing for B2B products? What does your user research process look like?

User research and testing for B2B is just as important as for any product. If you are not constantly doing these activities, your product will stagnate, and the market will notice. We can all think of the slow death of some wildly successful products. I've personally seen some of these, as have most PMs this deep in their career. 

Our process varies a bit depending on what we are trying to learn, but we follow a process that is loosely based on The Lean Startup (if you have not read this book, go read it now) and a continuous discovery and development methodology. This means that we always have several ideas in various stages of discovery while having different features in development. We test ideas many, many times, each time increasing the level of investment as our confidence grows. This might mean that we test several versions of a drawn prototype until we have high enough confidence that the value proposition is something that solves the problem we are trying to solve and delivers value customers would potentially pay for. Then we test iterations of higher fidelity prototypes until we see if we can hit our success metrics before moving to code. Because this relies a lot on qualitative testing (again, we are a B2B), we usually combine it with some other types of data, like in-app experiments to judge potential audience interest, surveys, etc. We follow a 'good enough' quality orientation working towards Earliest Usable Products and Earliest Sellable Products, which means we don't chase perfection. Successful feedback from customers looks like this "This is great! Are you considering adding XYZ to it?". If you aren't getting requests, you've over built. 

 

Photo courtesy of Small Improvements

 

As VP of Product, one can imagine you have to manage multiple teams, priorities, not to mention personalities. What do you consider to be the role of culture and how do you facilitate alignment on your team?

SaaS businesses are product led, so in my experience it means my team and I can have an outsized impact on the culture. I try to and expect us to lead by example. There are of course times where we all don't bring our best selves to work, but the lead by example model still applies. It just shifts to asking for patience and understanding. 

Culture is set from the top, so it's part of my responsibilities to set it. It's also important that the organization both supports me and holds me accountable for walking the walk, not just talking the talk. This applies to everything from ensuring inclusive hiring practices, supporting employee growth, reinforcing data-driven decision making, empowering teams to own their work and more. Culture is much more than cool benefits and swag. 

You're very passionate about diversity and inclusion and take an active role in D&I initiatives at Small Improvements. What can people in positions of privilege do to create cultures of inclusion in tech and design industries?

Wow, I could write several blog posts on this. I'll start with four tips. Never ever accept "not a cultural fit" as a reason to not hire someone. This is lazy hiring. It's exclusionary hiring. If someone doesn't believe in the values or processes of your company, then name it specifically. If you don't relate to a person, that's not a good reason to not hire them. 

When you review a CV and you don't see something on there, just ask! Not everyone has the same background/network/etc to know exactly what you are expecting, especially for early career roles. Privilege breeds privilege, break the cycle!

Look at your leadership, look at your managers. It is statically impossible that you can't find qualified diverse candidates for these roles. If your mid and top levels are mostly homogeneous, then look at your promotion paths, your recruiting paths etc. There is so much data out there that shows that certain groups are promoted or hired for their potential, and others have to demonstrate experience. Break this pattern!

Lastly, we focus a lot on employee D&I, but remember your users. How accessible is your product? When you refer to customers, internally and externally, how do you represent them? Pronouns, photos, etc all contribute to creating a world that caters to certain groups and not others. Make product inclusiveness a KPI. 

 

Photo courtesy of Small Improvements

 

And finally, many of us are still working from home, waiting out the pandemic. Do you have any tips on managing remote teams?

Keep your 1:1s. If you don't do these weekly, start now. Without the face time, it's impossible to know how they are doing. I personally don't like operational 1:1s, so I'll recommend to all the managers out there to keep a focus on the person and not the to-do list. We have a 4 point agenda in my 1:1s that have served us well so if you are not sure where to start, try these:

  • What went well last week? 

  • What did we learn last week? What would we do differently with hindsight? 

  • Check in on professional development 

  • Anything else?

You'll notice that I use "we". I also use 1:1 time to reflect with my team members on my victories and learnings. Perhaps they will learn from it, perhaps they will have suggestions, either way, it keeps the feedback going in both directions. I'll tie this back to leading by example!

Thank you Arielle!!

Know someone you think we should interview next? Let Maya know: Maya@goodpatch.com 

Arielle Kilroy's headshot courtesy of Sonni Frej 

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  • Underground accessibility for wheelchair users

  • Intro

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  • I moved from Paris to Berlin 2 years ago. Although I’m more of a bike person, I use public transportation and the underground in particular, especially at this time of the year, when it is too cold outside to bike. Taking the underground in Berlin is a completely different experience than taking the Métro in Paris. One of the things that surprised me the most is the absence of turnstiles. Perhaps the most surprising was that for the first time, I was actually witnessing people in wheelchairs using public transportation.

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  • This inspired me to consider and research if there are any points of access for wheelchair users to enter and board Paris’ underground. I discovered that only one underground line (M14, the newest line) fulfills the requirements necessary to welcome wheelchair users. This means that only 2,98% of Paris’ underground network is accessible to wheelchair users. Compare that to 61,27% of Berlin’s underground network. This sad observation led me to wonder: what makes the experience of using the underground for wheelchair users so much easier in Berlin than in Paris? And why is Paris lagging so far behind Berlin? Let’s find out.

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  • The plan

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  • There are three main steps involved in traveling on the underground:

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  • Planning the travel

  • Navigating in the underground

  • Accessing the train

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  • Based on my observations, I’ve uncovered differences and opportunities to improve accessibility for wheelchair users in both Berlin & Paris.

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  • Illustration by Anne Morel

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  • 1. Planning the travel

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  • Which station is accessible to me?

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  • The first question one might ask when preparing a trip is where to start and where to end. This question is an easy one for whoever doesn’t use a wheelchair, but consider the difficulty for those who do. Accessing a station as a wheelchair user requires the station to be equipped with lifts. The BVG in Berlin makes it easy: you can see whether or not a station is equipped with lifts on every single map of the underground. That’s not the case for Paris’ map.

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  • The map of Berlin underground have lift pictograms near stations name to mention whether it is accessible for wheelchair users or not.

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  • At least, both the RATP website and BVG website allow you to build an itinerary with an option for people with disabilities.

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  • Both websites have search options for people with disabilities.

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  • The BVG, however, proposes various options because different disabilities require different equipment! For instance, visually impaired persons don’t need lifts to access train platform, but they might find tactile paving useful.

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  • Which price should I pay?

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  • Another piece of information one might need when planning a trip is how much they should pay for their ticket. But this information is hard to find on both the BVG and RATP websites. I went on the BVG pricing page and there is absolutely no mention of pricing for people with disabilities in general. Why? Because it is free. But locating this information seems impossible unless you use the search functionality.

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  • How I reached the pricing information using the search function of BVG website.

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  • It’s pretty frustrating, since the breadcrumbs indicate that this information can be found on the page “condition of carriage”, accessible from the “fare overview” page (“Tarifübersicht” in german) but the “fare overview” page isn’t translated yet and the German version of this page doesn’t even have a link directing to the “condition of carriage” page.

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  • Price fare page on RATP. You can actually filter, with the left column, the ticket that is the most adapted for you. However, the lack of visual feedback once you have filtered and the information architecture make it really hard to find the information you need.

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  • On the RATP side, things are more considerate: on the pricing page, one can filter by type of user or occasion to travel. There is a category called “Person with reduced mobility” and once clicked, the title updates. BUT, one has to dive deeper to actually find the right title. As a wheelchair user, you probably own a disability pass, in which case the title you should pay for is the reduced fare. When clicking on the “t+ tickets”, you can eventually see who the reductions are for. Unfortunately, and this is the case for all RATP websites, they only mention “blind civilians” or “disabled veterans”. You must admit: the range of people with disabilities who own a disability pass go far beyond these 2 categories of users.

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  • In the “ticket +” page I can see that a reduced fare can be applied to “blind civilians” and “disabled veterans”. What about people in wheelchair, people with cognitive disability, people with hearing impairment and many more disability pass owner? Simply saying “disability pass owner” would solve the problem, and be much clearer.

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  • And since the previous pricing page has a section called “Reduced fare tickets”, why can’t you see the reduced fare in there?

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  • Can I buy a ticket online?

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  • As we have seen previously, wheelchair users don’t need to buy a transportation title in Berlin to use the public transportation. However, it is good to know that everyone can pay on their website or app regardless of their transportation title.

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  • In Paris, it is possible to pay online, only if you have a travel pass such as Imagin’R or Améthyste, on which you can load individual or periodic titles.

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  • Illustration by Anne Morel

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  • 2. Orientation in the underground

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  • How can I access the station?

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  • Now, let’s jump out of our computer and see how the experience looks on site.

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  • Getting into a station in Berlin while in a wheelchair requires that the station be equipped with lifts. When it is, the lift might stop at different levels including:

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  • outdoor entrance/exit

  • Connection corridor (in case the different platforms are not on the same level)

  • train platforms

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  • 1. Elevated railroad equipped with a lift.
    2. Train platform underground equipped with lift. The signage indicates the position of the lift.

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  • 1. Inside the lift, one can choose which train platform they want to go to.
    2. The lift are here, but not that big.

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  • Lifts are a must to make train stations accessible to wheelchair users but it doesn’t mean they provide the most delightful experience. To better understand the experience, I followed wheelchair users while getting in and out of underground stations and discovered that it takes a huge amount of time. The elevator capacity is quite limited: only 2 people in a wheelchair or trolley can board at the same time. This can result in very frustrating situations for wheelchair users who have to wait for the 3rd lift to arrive to finally have enough room to get in.

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  • That said, installing lifts is a difficult task in terms of civil engineering. Especially in a city like Paris, whose underground is said to be like a “Gruyere cheese”.

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  • “For several centuries, vast gypsum quarries were installed in the near Paris outskirts, in order to supply building materials to the capital. Gypsum, a rock found in abundance in the Isle of France, was thus used and exploited intensively. This strong exploitation will result in the fracturing of many underground cavities … While the rampant urbanization led to an increasingly extensive occupation of space, buildings were built on friable soil, previously exploited. Under the effect of bad weather in particular — gypsum being a rock which dissolves on contact with water — these old underground galleries collapsed by the hundreds, sometimes taking with them the buildings located on the surface…”

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  • But civil engineering is not the only reason why it is so hard to install lifts in Paris’ underground. The architecture in itself is also a huge obstacle.

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  • First, the turnstiles (or gates) installed at the entrance of all stations create a barrier.

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  • Comparing the process to access a station in Paris and Berlin. The turnstile one can find in every subway station in Paris constitute a strong barrier, requiring to add more lifts in the stations.

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  • To prevent fraud at each station, RATP will need to install at least 2 lifts for people in wheelchairs to be able to access the platform, one before and one after the gate.

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  • Comparing the platforms’ architectures between Paris and Berlin.

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  • Second, the platform architecture complicates things. In Berlin, the railways are on the side, while the platform, located in the middle, is shared by commuters going in both directions. This means that 1 lift gives access to both directions of 1 line. In Paris, the reverse is true: The railways are in the middle and the platform on the side. So if RATP will have to install lifts for all lines and at each platform. This adds up to about 586 lifts.

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  • Two of the lifts one should take to access M14 in Gare Saint-Lazare.

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  • To access the platform at Gare Saint-Lazare, a wheelchair user has to take 3 lifts. One to get to the ticket office, one to go to the second level and one to reach the platform. Each platform is equipped with its own lift.

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  • As I write this (December 2019), none of these lifts are functioning, which also highlights another issue related to lift: maintenance. So even if the station is made to be accessible, you might not be able to access it because the lift is broken. The BVG has been collaborating with SOZIALHELDEN, a local Berlin association fighting for more consideration towards people with disabilities, to provide BrokenLifts, a tool that can update you on the current state of the lifts on all the transportation networks in Berlin.

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  • A ramp in Paris, which has been shut down for some reason…

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  • An alternative to lifts found at Gare Saint-Lazare are ramps. But this might only work as an alternative for small stairs, as the recommended slope (in the USA) has to be kept below 1:12 (8.33%).

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  • Buying a ticket

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  • In this section, I will only focus on Paris’ case, since wheelchair users are not supposed to pay tickets to use the public transportation in Berlin.

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  • The screen of this ticket machine is ideally tilted for a user looking at it from the top. What about the users who have to look at it from the front or below the position of the screen?

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  • The average height of a wheelchair is 45cm. By measuring the height of my colleagues when they are sitting, the average height of their vision field in addition to those 45cm is between 1m15 and 1m30. I agree this is not the most reliable measurement, but my point is that both the ticket office and this ticket machine are too high to ensure a pleasant experience for wheelchair users. I can imagine this is the case for all subway station in Paris…

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  • Illustration by Anne Morel

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  • 3. Accessing the train

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  • How can I get in the train?

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  • The space between the platform and the train varies a lot depending on the line in both Paris and Berlin.

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  • 1. A huge step in Berlin.
    2. An extensive gap in Paris.

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  • This creates another barrier for wheelchair users. Berlin is managing this issue by installing ramps that train drivers can use to help wheelchair users get in and out of their train.

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  • The five steps to board in the train in Berlin for wheelchair users.

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  • The wheelchair users can position themselves at the front of the platform so that the train driver sees them. The train drivers will then have to get out of the train, take the ramp, put it between the train and the platform, unfold it, let the wheelchair users get in, ask the users where they want to get off, put the ramp away, get back into the train and finally, leave the station. Drivers will have to repeat this process at the wheelchair users’ end station.

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  • One of the folding ramp one can find in accessible Berlin stations.

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  • It is certainly a tedious process: It takes time to set up, the ramp isn’t very light to carry, it makes a lot of noise when unfolded… It also draws a lot of attention to the person using it. Most significantly, it makes the wheelchair users completely dependent on the train drivers. Although some wheelchair users need someone to assist them in daily tasks, lots of wheelchair users don’t need anyone. Autonomy is an important topic for wheelchair users and this solution is making all wheelchair users dependent on someone else to enter and exit the train. So while this is a midterm solution, it is definitely not a long-term solution.

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  • In the end, it doesn’t seem like there are too many workarounds regarding the transition from platform to train. Hopefully, the newest trains are designed to be at the same level as the platform, and the closest as possible to it. This way, wheelchair users can enter and exit the train at will.

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  • 1. Trains on U5 in Berlin.
    2.Trains on M14 in Paris.

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  • It is also worth mentioning that in Paris, all the platforms of stations that are automated (like M1 and M4) are leveled and raised, which is a great step towards accessibility.

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  • Is there a place for me on the train?

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  • Finally, let’s talk about travel in and of itself. Similar to train access, the travel experience varies a lot depending on how old the train is. A report from The European Conference of Ministers of Transport published in 2008 recommended:

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  • “A wheelchair space, clearly marked as such, with a flat surface without obstacles and with minimum dimensions of 1 300 mm x 750 mm as well as space to manoeuvre.”

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  • What is happening in practice, more than 10 years after the release of this guide? Although this excerpt comes from the “buses and coaches” section, I tend to believe these recommendations can also be applied to underground trains. The older trains are once again, the less adapted regarding accessibility features. Some hacks, however, can be found again.

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  • 1. A sticker has been added to the door to signal a space dedicated to wheelchair inside the wagon.
    2. Foldable sits can be an acceptable spot for users with wheelchair, trolleys or bike.

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  • In Berlin, stickers have been added to older and newer train structures to make clear that certain spaces are dedicated to wheelchair users. The newest trains go as far as to state this explicitly on the facade of the train that this wagon has a space dedicated to wheelchair and trolley users.

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  • This train has built-in spaces for wheelchair users.

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  • Once you board the train you can instantly see where the wheelchair space is located, since it is clearly marked on the ground — just like the report recommends. So far, I have seen no such thing in Paris, even in the newest train, the M14.

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  • Comparing the interior architecture of underground trains in Paris and Berlin.

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  • Additionally, the layout of the trains in Paris makes it really hard to navigate for wheelchair users, because of the poles that stand right in the middle of each entrance. We agree that these are convenient to grab when many people are packed inside, but on the other hand, it creates a new barrier for wheelchair users to overcome.

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  • Trains in Berlin are designed to avoid such issues. Poles are kept on the sides and top of the train, leaving room for wheelchair users to move freely.

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  • Others questions one might ask when traveling in the train are related to observation:

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  • Where I am?

  • What is the next station?

  • How much station do I still have to travel?

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  • So much information on this screen: where I am, what are the next stations, what is the destination of the line, the line number and time, and whether there is elevator at the station.

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  • Trains in Berlin are equipped with many types of screens, whether video or LED, all of which inform you of where you are and where you are going. In newer trains, one can find screens that tell you whether or not the next station is equipped with lifts. Only the newest M1 train has TV screens and although some other lines are equipped with LED maps, this is not the case for M14. Having screens in underground trains would benefit everybody: most travelers don’t hear or understand vocal announcements as easily as visual elements, whether they are listening to music, have a hearing impairment, or do not speak the official language of the country.

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  • Conclusion

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  • Building an underground train is an extremely complicated task, especially when it has to be done on top of a 120 year old infrastructure that has been built with little to no consideration for people with disabilities. It is great to see that mindsets are shifting alongside policies and that both trains and stations are being constructed to include more and more features for people with disabilities.

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  • The question now is how to bridge the gap between the infrastructure that already exists and what will exist tomorrow. As I outlined in this article, some hacks already exist and can make the everyday life of wheelchair user a little easier. The Paris underground can be improved in many ways, although some obstacles, such as the constraint of the ground foundation, might be impossible to overcome.

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  • I would like to conclude with the topic of the turnstile, which in my opinion creates more barriers in the underground than it does reduce the amount of ticket fraud. While yes, I have witnessed more fraud than wheelchair users in Paris’ underground, I also appreciate that the Berlin BVG trusts their users enough to avoid installing, what is probably a huge and costly piece of infrastructure.

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  • Thanks for reading!

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  • I hope you enjoyed reading through this article. If you noticed something that is missing or should be added, please let me know. I am always happy to get feedback. Big thanks to Maya Guice for proof-reading this article and to Anne Morel for the beautiful illustration. Also thanks to Goodpatch for giving me the time to invest this topic and write this article.

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