The use of a design sprint with a governmental body can serve a higher purpose of improving the lives of millions of people. A case in point: the Office of the City Clerk for the City of Chicago’s use of a design sprint to improve the process of renewing vehicle registration stickers. The Office of the City Clerk believes it can make ordering and picking up a sticker easier than it is to get a coffee at Starbucks – which is no small ambition considering that more than one million wheel tax emblems are sold to car owners every year. To ground its aspiration in customer empathy, the Office of the City Clerk worked with Moonshot on a four-day design sprint that resulted in a prototype validated by five Chicago residents. We adapted the design sprint to four days by following the Design Sprint 2.0 approach, which was a more optimized used of our client’s time.

Here is our story.

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Our Goal

Our goal was as follows: in two years’ time, the City of Chicago will have 90 percent of vehicle registration stickers purchased online and through the City Clerk’s office. We wanted to create a seamless online experience for Chicago residents.

How We Made Our Prototype

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The team first collaborated to identify pain points in the renewal process.

How the Process Works Now

The process of renewing vehicle registration is siloed and offline. The city resident receives a lengthy letter that instructs the resident to schedule their own sticker pick-up at either an Office of the City Clerk location or third-party seller. From there, the resident goes to an authorized location, waits in a line, and then pays for a new registration. Challenges with this approach include:

  • The process is fraught with friction. There is no easy path for the resident from receipt of the letter to retrieval of the sticker. After receiving the letter, residents typically endure lengthy lines at the Office of the City Clerk and then complete additional paperwork to pay for the sticker.
  • The letter directs residents to independent third-party seller as an option, where the Office of the City Clerk has no control over the customer experience.

With those considerations in mind, we designed a prototype that would simplify and remove friction from the renewal process.

Our Prototype for a Better Process

Our prototype was inspired by Starbucks or the Fandango movie app on their best days: residents complete the purchase of their vehicle stickers with a mobile app, then visit the Office of the City Clerk, where they are whisked through a special sticker retrieval station. There, they simply present their personal identification and the mobile app showing that their sticker has been paid.

The idea was to create end-to-end prototype including analog, mobile, and human interaction – essentially buying online and picking up in store via a “VIP express line” as the world’s leading retailers are doing.

Unpacking Our Prototype

Since paper-based letters remain the preferred way for the Office of the City Clerk to notify residents about sticker renewals, we focused on the paper artifact as our starting point to design our prototype. We:

  • Simplified the language and layout of the renewal letter. We explored simplifying the layout by highlighting the most important information in the letter (e.g., renewal date, vehicle information, address of government office). We needed to make it clear what we were asking the receiver to do, and how to do it.
  • Gave residents one clear path to sticker retrieval: Office of the City Clerk locations.
  • Prototyped a QR code on the letter that would connect to a mobile website prepopulated with information about your vehicle and allowing residents to renew via mobile. From there, the resident would simply go to the Office of the City Clerk to get their sticker in an express lane as described below, having done the renewal ahead of time via the mobile website. A key aspect of the prototype is that it did not include visual design (e.g., branding, color scheme, logos). By separating the look and feel from the interaction experience, we were able to focus the prototype on the flow a user takes from one interaction to the next, ensuring that we were solving a real problem vs. assessing the visual language of the new experience. prototype-1
  • Mocked up the physical experience a Chicagoan might have when they pick up the new vehicle sticker after they complete the purchase of a vehicle renewal sticker through the mobile prototype. We reserved a separate desk and checkout line at City Hall in downtown Chicago, created a “mobile order pickup” sign, and had a sprint participant act out the role of the Office of the City Clerk employee. The tester walked up to the desk with the prepopulated mobile app and a form of personal ID, and we prototyped the conversation a Chicagoan might have to complete the experience. The key here is that the mobile website managed the heavy lifting ahead of time, making sticker retrieval via an express lane a more attractive alternative to standing in a long line. Here again, we drew inspiration from retailers such as Starbucks on their best days: when you order your coffee through the Starbucks app, a customer no longer has to wait in line and complete a transaction at point of sale. All they need to do is pick up the coffee. Same here: all a Chicagoan needs to do is pick up the sticker.supporting-img-2
  • Designed moments of surprise and delight during the sticker retrieval process. For example, when residents retrieve their stickers, the Office of the City Clerk hands them a thank-you card and a sticker with a message such as “Thank you for Filling a Pothole.”

We also examined a number of questions:

  • What if we eliminated any need to interact with a person completely?
  • What if you could deliver stickers, such as via a ride sharing company?

Ultimately we ruled out the idea of delivery because it would be impractical to get the Office of the City Clerk involved in the order fulfillment business.

We also explored designated pick-up at other city-owned places like libraries. For the initial rollout, we decided to focus on funneling residents to the Office of the City Clerk to have more control over the customer experience.

An interesting aspect of our design sprint is that it was multi-dimensional: we tested the physical look and design of the vehicle sticker renewal letter, the user experience of a mobile web user interface, and the service design of picking up a sticker at the Office of the City Clerk.

Lessons Learned

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We learned that we can indeed create a more seamless experience for Chicago residents as the city marches toward a more online process.  Participants found the overall process fast and easy. The tie-in of paper, service, and digital proved to work. We also identified opportunities to make improvements to achieve seamlessness. Further investigation is necessary to identify the viability of in-office pick-up (less convenient) versus home delivery (more convenient).

What’s Next 

During our design sprint, we uncovered some opportunities to improve different touchpoints along the customer journey. For example, we learned that the city is exploring a partnership with a ride-sharing company, which opens up new possibilities for providing customer service to citizens, as noted below. We’ve recommended that the Office of the City Clerk:

  • Redesign the layout of the vehicle renewal letter. Make it very easy to understand how to use the QR code with clear, step-by-step instructions.
  • Address the core user experience of the mobile web. Draw inspiration from best-in-class experiences and align the flow of the e-commerce experience accordingly.
  • Run an iteration sprint to validate the improved letter and mobile web experience. Also, consider running another sprint to improve additional customer touchpoints. For instance, leverage the ideas the team generated to improve the fulfillment/delivery of vehicle stickers, such as the delivery of vehicle stickers to the local alderman’s office via a ride share company.
  • Consider including messaging to bring about awareness of where the funds go via a thank you note or some other form. Those prototypes solicited so much joy and positive experience that it should not be ignored for this initiative.

A design sprint usually identifies opportunities for growth that were not on the team’s radar screen initially. Oftentimes, these ideas are hiding in plain sight, and a design sprint brings them to light. We are excited about what’s next for the City of Chicago! 

Success and Challenges

We carefully identified what worked especially well with the prototype as well as challenges. Here’s what worked well:

  • The mobile web experience was generally received well. The interviewees appreciated the utility and ease of the experience. We have a huge opportunity to reduce friction in the renewal process while optimizing the design of the mobile website.
  • We have a clear opportunity to improve the flow of the mobile web experience by aligning with e-commerce best practices. These changes are straightforward and will have a huge impact on the success of the mobile website.
  • The mobile order pick-up experience at the Office of the City Clerk was very well received (specifically, the physical signage and the demeanor of the Office of the City Clerk employee). Although improving the in-person dialogue is a significant challenge, we learned how much impact a positive in-person experience can have on a resident’s perception of the renewal process.
  • The use of the Thank You note and the sticker provided a lovable experience to the process. It was a moment of surprise and delight coupled with a hospitable experience.
  • The overall messaging around the “filling a pothole” resonated positively with each participant. This is by far the strongest feedback in terms of increasing awareness and providing a pleasant experience.

And here were the main challenges we encountered:

  • The majority of the users were not familiar with the QR code, but with clearer instructions they would give it a try. Their first reaction was to visit a website.
  • The letter needs to be clearer in terms of giving specific and straightforward instructions. The visual hierarchy could be improved to ensure readability.
  • The overall path to purchase on the mobile screen needs to be improved to continue leveraging best practices from e-commerce websites.
  • The flow of the payment and fulfillment experience needs to be polished and reevaluated. The participants suggested the delivery information come before the payment details.
  • While the Thank You note and the Reminder Decal were great elements of the experience, a couple of participants felt there were “too many things” being handed to them. Consider combining items and leveraging the document the sticker is presented in.

The Design Sprint in Context

Moonshot uses the design sprint with many clients. We’ve incorporated the design sprint into our FUEL methodology, which helps companies rapidly develop products at scale by combining design thinking and lean development. To learn more about FUEL, check out the following blog post. And contact Moonshot. We’re happy to help.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product

Bitnami