Reimagining Mobility / brief

Redesigning iconography to better represent individuals with invisible disabilities on public transportation.


Student designer (DES INV 190-1: REIMAGINING MOBILITY) with Kathleen Hsu, Jasmine Tran & Faith Ang.


October 2018 - December 2018


user research, synthesis, ideation, concept refinement, campaign marketing, graphic design


Figma mocks, research findings, campaign video


I worked with a team of 3 other student designers on a project for DES INV 190-1: REIMAGINING MOBILITY, a design course offered through the Jacobs Hall of Design Innovation.

The class began with a pretty open-ended prompt: how might we reimagine mobility? As a joint effort between Jacobs Hall and Ford Motors, the goal of the class was to encourage innovative solutions in the transportation space and launch a campaign proposal at the end of the semester. We were mentored by great instructors and got critiqued each week.

As a team, we were all interested in the intersection of transportation and accessibility. We started by thinking of accessibility issues in current public transit spaces, and discovered there was a huge lack of solutions for people with invisible disabilities. Through this class, we wanted to pursue the opportunity to learn more about and raise awareness of the commuting experience for individuals with invisible disabilities.

Our team hoped to impact the intersection of transportation and accessibility through our semester-long design project.

The intent of this project was not to "solve invisibility disability problems" in any capacity — this would be inappropriate to approach from a design perspective because the nature of problems faced by those with invisible disabilities is incredibly complex. Rather, this project reflects our team's design concepts specific to public transit spaces based on the stories we learned about. Our goal is to continue sharing these stories and educating communities about designing with accessibility in mind.

The problem

Individuals with invisible disabilities are often misunderstood, especially in public transit spaces. A majority of commuters make assumptions about disabilities that have no physical markers.

Invisible disabilities refer to disabilities that aren’t immediately apparent, and can range from physical ailments like chronic pain and vision problems, to psychiatric conditions like brain injury and PTSD. Individuals with invisible disabilities can look ‘normal’ and healthy on the outside, causing their needs to be often overlooked, especially on public transportation.

Universal public transportation iconography is outdated, and only communicates physical disabilities, despite the fact that roughly 32.6 million people live with conditions that aren't immediately or physically apparent. (BART specific public signage)
We did secondary research to understand how much of the population was affected by invisible disabilities, as well as the public transportation policies that catered to their needs. Unfortunately, aside from a few independent campaigns, public transit spaces are seldom accomodating to non-physical disabilities.

None of our team members identified as having an invisible disability, and we wanted to learn more to better understand the transportation experience for many different types of commuters.

Since we knew so little about invisible disabilities in the first place, we dedicated most of our research efforts to listen to people talk about how having a invisible disability plays in their life, and more specifically, how they interact with others on public transportation.

Research approach

In addition to conducting secondary research to contextualize the problem, we reached out in any way we could to different communities to learn more about commuting experiences for people with invisible disabilities.

To set our research goals, we drafted some of our main research objectives and designed a preliminary survey to send out to different communities. Our intention with the survey was to understand the spectrum of invisible disabilities that exist and their corresponding needs, as well as how individuals with invisible disabilities experienced public transportation.

We reached out to DSP centers on campus, invisible disability groups on Facebook, and friends within our personal networks — however, the community we got the most responses from was Reddit! HUGE shout out to the amazing folks on those subreddits who were incredibly open to sharing their stories and helping us learn so much.

Screenshots of our Reddit thread and 84 (*now 90!) responses to our survey, linked above for a more detailed look into what questions we asked.


Our team spoke with 3 individuals (details withheld for privacy) who were available and open to sharing their stories.

In addition to the amazing quality and quantity of responses we had to our survey, several individuals were interested in follow-up interviews. This helped us have a more natural and candid conversation about how having an invisible disability affects everyday life, with a focus on mobility and transportation accessibility.

This was one of the most eye-opening and gratifying parts of the project because we realized how much we didn't know about invisible disabilities; moreover, many individuals echoed the sentiment that lack of awareness negatively impacts their everyday life, especially around getting a seat on public transportation.

"There’s no information about how to not discriminate against those with disabilities."

—D, a student who lives with fibromyalgia (chronic nerve pain disorder)

"Having an invisible disability means that everyone has to rely on your word when there’s something going on in your body and it can feel like a bit of violation of privacy to be having to tell people what you’re going through all the time and it feels like you’re always trying to justify yourself to people all the time."

—C, a college graduate who lives with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Lupus, Postural Tachycardia and PTSD

"I wish there was an assumption that people who take seats actually need them, and that people understand that I'm not just being an entitled young person. There's a culture of ignorance on public transportation, I've definitely observed people not get up even for someone who is visibly disabled and appears to need a seat."

—E, a law school grad who lives with chronic migraines, chronic pain, and a genetic connective tissue disorder

Research synthesis

We organized what we learned from surveys and interviews by higher level generalizations and common problems faced by people with invisible disabilities across a visual, physical and mental condition spectrum.

A screenshot of our Trello board, where we drag and dropped all of our survey responses in order to affinity map and dive deeper into synthesis.

There were over 50 unique conditions from our survey alone, none of which are depicted in priority seating diagrams. People wish they were represented more in disability iconography or signage because of misinformed etiquette they face from other commuters.

Social lives of individuals with invisible disabilities are heavily affected, and many end up staying home because transportation is troublesome and anxiety inducing. In some cases, it can lead to homelessness and loss of jobs.

There exist common misconceptions about invisible disabilities because people assume disabilities are only physical, young people are seldom disabled, etc. Many individuals look able-bodied and face judgement due to a lack of awareness of their condition, and wish it wasn’t taboo to talk about in public. They also experience passive aggression or misunderstanding when sitting in priority seats.

A screenshot of how we sorted representation of different conditions among our responses. We related them to the population of the US affected by those conditions to put our insights to scale.


In order to address needs for the spectrum of physical, visual and mental impairments discovered our research, we ideated different design concepts for each respective type of impairment. We sorted our solutions into three main categories: campaign, infrastructure and product.

A screenshot of our Trello board, where we drag and dropped all of our survey responses in order to affinity map and dive deeper into synthesis.

Campaign solutions contained trends around marketing and public awareness in public transportation spaces. These ideas were based on the frustration people experienced about lack of awareness on public transportation, especially for those with invisible disabilities, their needs aren't always communicated through current signage and publicity efforts.

An idea that we moved forward with here was redesigning how disabilities are visually communicated in public transit spaces.

Infrastructure solutions revolved around partnerships with public transit agencies, like BART or MUNI (for the bay area folks), for bigger scale changes to policies or the physical aspects of transportation (interior, seating or station design concepts).

Product solutions explored handheld ideas that could be distributed to commuters for personal use. These were based on specific requests from our survey that addressed physical and emotional comfort.


For prioritization, we wanted to design an inclusive experience and shift the weight of the problem onto fellow commuters, instead of burdening individuals with invisible disabilities with self-disclosure.

This would also differentiate us from past campaigns for invisible disabilities by calling for both awareness and responsibility from other commuters.

Feasibility was ranked on would have the greatest impact based on our key findings and what was most realistic considering the constraints of BART/AC Transit, large organizations where change is slow.

A matrix of solution types across campaign, infrastructure and product that we came up with to prioritize.

The feasible and validated opportunities to explore were an awareness campaign, ally system and logo redesign. In our low fidelity sketching, we decided to tackle the logo redesign because a pressing issue with the current public transportation signage is how it only represents the disabled with stick figures that are pregnant, use canes, or sit in wheelchairs.

Our goal was to communicate a helping hand to foster the allyship that able-bodied folks can have with individuals who identify as having an invisible disability. We also explored using the eye icon to make it clear that not all ailments have recognizable physical markers.

Combined iterations from our team members.

In addition to redesigning iconography for public transportation, we also thought about the ways we could communicate a campaign message to promote the allyship. We did this by exploring different poster designs, and how they could incorporate with public transit spaces.

We ideated on several marketing strategies with infographics, statistics, and celebrity endorsements.
Combined iterations from our team members.
We eventually finalized the logo to include text description with a circular shape so it could integrate easily as a logo on stickers or buttons to have within public transit spaces or on personal devices.

Through this invisible disability campaign, we hope to create a new culture on public transit with an ally system. From our research, we saw invisible disability awareness campaigns that had badges worn by those with invisible disabilities.

With our campaign, we wanted to reduce the stigma and instead have allies wear invisible disability pins. This way, those with invisible disabilities can get a seat by communicating with allies using a silent gesture, such as a simple nod or glance.

Our future vision is to see a change in infrastructure across public transportation methods. We plan to partner with public transportation services, such as AC Transit, BARt, and Muni to place invisible disability posters in train stations, bus stops, as well as in the interiors of trains and buses.

We also want to have the invisible disability logo stitched onto seats, as markers of where allies and people with invisible disabilities should sit.

Proposed badges/buttons for those who are allies willing to give up their seat with no questions asked.
Mock ups of the posters we designed in different types of public transportation spaces.
Mock ups of stickers for distribution and elevating visibility of the campaign.


This was taken at our class showcase in Jacobs Hall, where folks from Ford came and gave feedback on our projects.

1. It's crucial to keep people's needs at the center design ideation, but it's also important to refine the problem scope enough because not every single type of ailment can be addressed in a public-facing solution.

2. Talking to users and getting their input is absolutely crucial at every step of the process. Naming, copy and graphic design for this project were largely led by the feedback we received, and we could have done with getting more people to give critique.

3. It's ok to pivot towards a better solution (even when there's only a few weeks left :~0), and continue to get feedback on updated iterations.

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