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The word Matatu derives its roots from the Kikuyu of Kenya, from the colloquial phrase ‘mang’otore matatú’ translating to three cents. In the early 1960’s, this was a flat fare charged to travelers using public transport. Matatus are widely known as the most common form of public transportation here in Kenya, on one hand. Playing host to some of Kenya’s best public art including portraits and famous quotes, matatus are also one of the most iconic pieces of Kenya’s modern culture. On the other hand, they are vibrant, colorful and widely understood to be a menace on the roads.

Before dawn breaks, matatus are heard before they are seen, most of them have powerful sound systems and overhead lights inside the bus that lend customers an incredibly unique, if risky, travel experience. Despite the vibrancy and cultural resonance that matatus have, many organisations have characterized matatus as a major threat to road safety. Additionally, many have tried and failed to address the challenges associated with this form of travel relatively in vain. All in all, matatus represent a travel experience that stands to be improved, enhanced, and transformed.

On November, 3rd 2016, Think Place Kenya is organizing the Design Matatu Experience to do just that.

The Research Process of Reinventing the Matatu Experience

The Design Matatu Experience is a completely immersive, and intensive creative experience that empowers the everyday person to redesign their travel experience. 30 participants from diverse backgrounds, working for NGOS, public and private companies, will be invited to take a ride in the Think Place Design Matatu and collaboratively tackle a design challenge. In brief, the participants expected the following challenges:

  • How can we improve the experience of riding in a Matatu?
  • How can matatus be safer and become an asset rather than a risk?

Our goal for the day is to conduct research on people’s lived experiences on matatus, and use our findings to identify a working solution that can be prototyped and tested with users. In order to do this, participants will apply ThinkPlace’s iterative design methodology. This framework is what ThinkPlace uses in projects every day to help simplify complex problems, discover latent needs, moreover, learn through making & doing. Traveling through the streets of Kilimani, the Matatu will stop at key points of interest with each stop representing a stage in the design process: Intent, Explore, Innovate & Test, Evaluate and Formulate, just as key methodology steps of this inclusive process of reinventing the Matatu culture of Kenya.

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