You may have heard of this little class called UOCD. If you haven't.....well, you must be new here, so welcome to Olin! UOCD in 30 seconds: pick a group of people (frequent fliers, scuba divers, bike messengers, etc.), spend some time getting to know them as well as you can (in essence, "become" one of them), then identify opportunities for improvement and think about solutions that your people would actually benefit from. Why? Because bike messengers have a better idea of what a bike messenger would like than you do (unless you're a bike messenger reading this post, in which case I apologize).
So that's UOCD. My people group is "People who use a bicycle as their primary means of transportation". Rolls of the tongue, doesn't it? My team has been getting to know bikers (technically not a correct term, but it sure is easier to say) for a couple weeks now, but the get-to-know-people phase is rapidly coming to a close, so it's time to step things up a notch. With that in mind, Charlie, Arjun, and myself undertook the challenge of becoming an urban cyclist in Boston.
Luckily the three day weekend means a little less pressure on time, but we didn't want to spend the entire day doing one thing. That meant getting up at 8:30 in the morning, the earliest I've got up on a Saturday in months. Of course, we didn't actually get ourselves, the bike, and the car we were driving ready until about 10:00, but no worries. Getting to Boston is surprisingly quick - it's a pity that it takes almost as long to find a parking space. But we were not to be defeated by Boston's lack of free parking! Eventually we found somewhere, unloaded the bikes, suited up, and planned our route.
Out from Cambridge, over the river, into Boston, stop for a spot of lunch, back on the bikes, over the river, through MIT,
to grandma's house we go, back to the future the car. I could paste in the three or so pages of notes I took about the experience, but I'll just say that it was the most fun I've had in UOCD so far. Anyone who's spent time with me recently knows that I am not the biggest fan of how UOCD has been going, but getting the chance to actually become a member of our people-group, if only for an afternoon, was incredible. Makes me want to bike in Boston all the time! Sure, it was pretty terrifying what with cars and pedestrians and other cyclists, but it was such an exhilarating experience that made arriving at your destination so much more of an accomplishment. One of the people we interviewed earlier said they liked biking because it made them feel like they were "...in control of [their] own destiny!" I couldn't agree more! And from a design experience, things that I thought were opportunities (as an engineer studying bikers) turned out to be totally wrong (as a biker, biking). More interestingly, the things that people don't think to tell us (why you need a messenger bag with a quick-release strap, for example) become incredibly obvious after just a morning's work.
I'm not calling UOCD a success, not at all. But this experience highlighted to me a) that learning-by-doing still works and b) just how hard it really is to put yourself in another person's shoes. Study them all you want, but you'll never think like one until you've become one...