25 Jan Aggie Undergrads Get First Taste of Agency Life with Texas Central Partners
In a state with big projects, the Texas Central Partners high-speed passenger train line, which will connect Dallas and Houston, is one of the most high-profile, attracting attention from transportation experts around the world. The technology may be based on the Central Japan Railway Company, but the organization’s culture is distinctly Texan.
The relationship with Texas A&M began three years ago when Texas Central the first of their annual student competitions. In 2016, they invited Texas architecture students to design “an inspiring vision” for passenger stations. The following two years, the competition centered on short film format (2017, 2018). Texas A&M students went all the way to the finalist level each year. After the 2018 video contest, Professor Sherman Finch, assistant professor with the department of visualization at the A&M College of Architecture, approached the Texas Central team about working together on another project. Professor Finch was preparing to lead a class of students through user experience (UX), user interface (UI) research and practice course in which groups would work with clients as a design agency, creating a final product. One group, made up of seniors Marissa Morris, Megan Guy and Frank Hicks, came across a video on the Texas Central site about the organization’s need to create a passenger booking tool and determined that this would be the catalyst for their project.
At Texas Central, Rebecca Cowle, director of external affairs and herself an A&M graduate, knew that the visualization program was a hidden gem of the university.
“They are incredibly capable in terms of virtual reality, UX, and interactive modes of graphic design,” Rebecca said. She met Professor Finch through the 2018 short film finalist from A&M and set up an initial meeting at the beginning of the fall semester. From there, she and the student team determined that their final project would touch on end-to-end app experience, from design to fonts to usability.
The students’ process began with research. Using 2016 census data from 64 counties along the rail corridor as well as informal survey of 250 people via Facebook, the designers created personas based on expected travel pain points. Next, they mapped a user journey, from logging into a hypothetical Texas Central website or app to purchase a ticket, arrival at departure station, onboarding and travel experience, ending with final destination and follow up experience. The final production included a cohesive design strategy for various aspects of the digital journey, including logos, typography, color palette and design elements for the Texas Central app and website booking and buying experience.
“It was a fresh, forward-thinking perspective,” Rebecaa said of the process. “They [design team] are our future riders. They don’t know life before Uber and the functionalities of transportation on a mobile platform.”
The student team treated the work as though they were a professional agency working with a premiere client. “We worked 100 hours inside and outside the class, from sticky notes to several iterations. It was my first positive group project and gave me a real glimpse of what the industry will look like with people getting work done,” Marissa said.
Frank, who graduated in December 2018 after completing the group project, said the work taught him how to “approach the unfamiliar and learn to manage going through revisions to narrow and broaden aspects of the project.”
The client-side perspective was just as positive. Rebecca reflected that she never would have known the creatives were still students if she wasn’t already familiar with their background.
“They rose to the occasion, as Aggies tend to do,” she said. “They worked with thoughtfulness and brought enthusiasm.”
Now that Texas Central Partners has a foundation for their user experience, the next step is to take what they’ve learned through the work of Texas A&M innovation to create a case study of what Texans want for their digital solutions on an app and online. According to Texas Central Partners, the timeline for starting construction could be as early as this year, which means the students will be able to see their vision come to life sooner rather than later.