In 2021, Accelogress, a Surrey-based app and software development company, secured Innovate UK funding to work with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) on the design of a reservation service that would allow drivers of electric vehicles to reserve parking spaces with chargers. The aim of the project was to understand the needs of EV owners around charging and to develop a solution that would make the process of charging easier by allowing owners to find and reserve suitable, available, functioning chargepoints. This project focused on developing and testing the solution for Park and Ride facilities within the West Midlands area, with the goal of later expanding the use of the product to other contexts.
The role of design research
Research was vital to this project because, to be useful to EV drivers, the service needed to address the real needs they have when charging their vehicle. While previous research has found that EV drivers find charging difficult, the cause of these difficulties and the ways in which owners try to solve them isn’t always well understood. Without a detailed understanding of the experiences of the EV owners, there was a danger that any solution developed would either be ignored by EV owners or make the situation worse for them. It was also important to test the solution once it was developed to ensure that the experience of reserving a space, parking and then charging was as smooth and error-free as possible for drivers.
Nightingale’s approach and methods
The Nightingale team first carried out detailed desk research, to understand the EV and EV charging market, including government policy and plans around the installation of chargers. This research allowed us to identify what was already known about the charging landscape and the difficulties EV owners have when finding chargers. From this we identified key questions that needed to be explored further in order to inform the design of the product.
We then recruited and interviewed six EV drivers to understand why they chose an EV and to detail their experiences around driving and charging the vehicle. We also recruited five prospective EV owners, to understand what barriers, if any, there were to them making the change to an EV. We generated transcripts of these interviews and worked with the Accelogress team to analyse and synthesise what the participants had said, to feed the attitudes, opinions and needs of the users directly into the design of the service. To get a wider understanding of attitudes across a range of drivers, we designed and distributed a survey of EV owners, which received 101 responses.
Once the service was set up and installed in a park and ride facility, we tested the entire service, including reserving the space, parking the car and starting the charger.
What the research revealed
The research highlighted the key part that charging plays in determining the uptake of EVs - for EV owners, negative experiences around being unable to find an available charger meant that they tended to rely on petrol/diesel vehicle for long journeys, while for prospective owners, uncertainty about how easy it would be find chargers prevented them from buying an EV. The research also indicated that there was a need and a desire to be able to reserve EV chargepoints - participants stated that having a reservation would reassure them that they wouldn’t end up driving around for a long time trying to find a suitable charging space, reducing the stress of charging while away from home and encouraging them to use their EV more.
The survey revealed that these issues were common across a wider group of EV owners throughout the UK. Survey respondents also expressed an interest in the Reserve and Charge solution and the majority agreed that it would make travelling less stressful for them, indicating that there was interest in the solution and a potential market for it among EV drivers.
The understanding of the experiences and needs of EV drivers fed directly into the design of the Reserve and Charge product. The focus was ensuring the whole process of reserving, paying and parking was as smooth and as simple for the driver as possible. The system was installed in a TfWM Park and Ride, allowing users to reserve and pay for a charger. Sensors were also installed in the space to allow TfWM to monitor when the space was occupied. Nightingale tested the entire service and the design was iterated to remove any points of confusion or difficulty.
Nightingale also ran a commercialisation workshop with the Accelogress team, to identify next steps in moving the Reserve and Charge product forward. This workshop allowed the team to plan for securing more funding and to design a larger pilot for the service to refine it and demonstrate its value to investors and charge point operators.
The project resulted in a well-evidenced solution that worked smoothly, both technically and from the customer’s point of view. Accelogress are now able to take this solution forward to secure funding for further development and testing to prepare to bring the service to a wider market.