Alastair Warren / Umeå Institute of Design
UMV Urban Mail Vehicle
Posten (Swedish Postal Service)
UMV Urban Mail Vehicle
The Designer of the Urban Mail Vehicle takes into consideration the needs and constraints of the mail delivery activity in Sweden. The result brings remarkable improvements and simple innovations on ergonomics (side sliding seat), functionality (adjustable storage), and usability (small footprint).
UMV Urban Mail Vehicle
The UMV Urban Mail Vehicle is a urban delivery vehicle for Posten, the national mail service of Sweden. It’s designed for the restructured service environment of 2015, and the harsh Swedish cold, weather, and darkness. UMV is distinguished by its complete adaptability. The seat can be reconfigured between a low, off-centred postion for residential delivery, and a semi-standing, centred seat for hop-on hop-off urban apartment delivery. The vehicle also has two separate dashboard feeds for serving only mail, mail and advertisements, or mail and packages. The reduced footprint also allows increased manoeuvrability.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The project began with a wide brief to identify a facet of Posten’s delivery process that could benefit from user-centred design, and design a solution to improve both the job for employees, and improve the efficiency of the service. Posten also emphasised the project should suit their future operations, as Posten is currently undergoing some radical restructuring, which will alter how the delivery service works. However overall the brief was very open, with an enormous scope for discovery and focusing on a certain area.
The context for the project is that Posten, and postal services throughout the world, are struggling to adapt to the rapid decline in physical mail, while also having to serve ever increasing populations and urban sprawl.
Posten itself has recently been semi-privatised, and faces a number of private sector competitors, further increasing its need for efficiency and profitability. Posten is currently undertaking a major restructuring effort towards this end. One significant conclusion I drew from the research into the restructuring efforts was postmen will no longer spend half of their day sorting at local terminals, and instead the physically demanding job of mail delivery will become their only task. This job is already particularly challenging in Sweden, due to the extreme cold, snow, and the constant darkness of the winter.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
After the initial research phase I chose to focus on an urban delivery vehicle. The existing vehicle has many serious flaws, but I also felt that perhaps the vehicle and final delivery system as a whole could be completely reimagined – although ultimately my solution ended up bearing much more of a resemblance to the existing vehicle than I expected. However function-wise, it featured significant advancements and differences.
After analysis of my initial research, and selection of topic, I isolated 6 key problems with the existing vehicle: 1 – leaning to reach mailboxes, 2 – dangerous side-saddle driving position, 3 – handing mail while driving, 4 – inefficient restocking, 5 – inadequate weather protection, and 6 – weak brand image. I then concentrated my focus for development on 2 key goals – reducing physical stress for the mailman, and making the delivery faster.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
This project was defined by the extensive research phase at the start. I spent a day doing sorting and delivery with a postman, ran up and down thousands of stairs, drove the existing vehicle, attempted to remember names and address, and gained a strong insight into the needs of postmen. In addition, sorting terminals were visited at various times and the infrastructure detailed, different procedures and employee tasks were analysed, the restructuring process was discussed with Posten personnel, and alternative vehicles and delivery options were researched.
In order to develop a realistic solution for Posten, I projected ahead to 2015 and created a realistic system map and operational scenario to design for. This is where I determined delivery runs would cover longer distances and take longer, but with approximately the same volume of mail, and pre-sorting and terminals would be abolished. This means the job would become harder, and most likely a temporary job, as against a career. One insight from this is the need for a GPS system, and routes could no longer be learnt by memory (the routes will also change often).
For the design phase, concept mock ups were constantly tested with fellow students, and then with mailmen and mailwomen from Posten, to ensure the solutions were relevant and preferable for the employees and also management. Full scale, semi-functional models were able to confirm ergonomics, flexibility requirements, and what seating positions were desirable. More than any other finding, the absolute need for flexibility became a driving factor in the design. The UMV features adjustable seating, an adjustable dashboard height, semi-automated, variable mail feeds, and flexible loading spaces. I found demands changed during an individual delivery run, on different days, different seasons, different events, and significantly between different mailmen.
The research and testing phases uncovered needs for an even small turning circle for example, and more stability. The grab handle was inspired by observation of mailmen jumping off still moving mopeds, and only jumping half on before already driving forward again. Ground lighting to prevent dangerous slips on the ice came from interview discussions, and side lighting to light mailboxes from field testing the delivery job myself. A large windscreen also provides increased comfort, particularly from windchill, although most mailmen considered a larger enclosure unnecessary and potentially an impedance. It was determined an optional roof accessory would be the preferable means for addressing this need.
Other seemingly trivial but important inspirations include a personal storage area for clothing, and a small glovebox actually for gloves (and food and the occasional rejected mail which was otherwise often lost), and a stereo system, because there’s no reason the mailmen can’t have more creature comforts. It’s a hard job, and increasingly hard to hire for, so these comforts are crucial to consider.
The UMV plays an important role in helping Posten adapt to the future, with ever increasingly demands for adaptability and efficiency. The vehicle can easily work for one mailman on a residential route one day, then be used by someone else for an urban route and advertisement run the next day, with less than a minute spent adapting the vehicle.
The vehicle also serves to modernise Posten’s image. The research phase illustrated Posten to be a highly technologically advanced and logistically astounding organisation, but people do not appreciate this as all they see is the existing, rudimentary vehicle fleet. Many years ago postal services were held in the highest regard, but this respect has been lost by the public. This vehicle presents a professional yet approachable face, to restore this level of respect. A better image would increase public tolerance for these vehicles manoeuvring down streets and footpaths, and aid in the recruitment of new mailmen, and provide more satisfaction with its taxpayer-assisted funding. The service simply deserves more respect for the logistically astounding job it does, and as a taxpaxer-assisted operation.
From an economic point of view, the vehicle should be significantly faster in operation, particularly with the automated mail feeds, which negate the need to stop approximately 5 times/hour to restock. The increased manoeuvrability will also help, and the mail will not be damaged from snow and rain getting into the load bay (which currently occurs). The economic benefit of reduced employee turnover should also not be overlooked.