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Taken with the Tuk Tuk

David (DB): I’m fascinated with tuk tuks. This is my first trip to Asia, so I’ve never seen them in person. I feel like a kid seeing a big, red fire truck for the first time. Tuk tuks are brightly colored, look like big go-carts, and they’re the smallest thing on the road after scooters and motorcycles. They’re loud and you can feel the road rumbling beneath you as you ride.

Pari (PK): And it's like traveling in a Jeep, except instead of the top, the sides are open. What’s not to love? But, I'm still not sure why we're talking about this on a design blog.

DB: Let's take a look...

Small and compact,

tuk tuks are able to navigate crowded city streets,

narrow mountain dirt roads,

and single carriageways (undivided highways).




Tuk tuks lend themselves to customization. It starts with color, but drivers personalize their tuk tuks with stickers, fuzzy dice and more.

PK: I grew up seeing and traveling in tuk tuks, or rickshaws as we call them in India, but never gave them much thought from a design perspective until now. To me, they are just another means of transportation like a car or motorcycle. Because they successfully serve their purpose, I never noticed them more than I did a car, truck or motorcycle.

But this brings up a good point. If something is designed well and serves its purpose, then it's an example of good design. Often, designers forget this and put form before function.

DB: Tuk tuks actually succeed according to three contexts of the concept of use in user experience literature.


Are they...


Yes, they are able to successfully transport people and goods and navigate traffic in a variety of settings.


Yes, they are easy to operate and efficient with regard to fuel use and the space they take up on the road.


Certainly. There are a lot of them on the road transporting people and cargo in some cases.


The tuk tuk is similar to another iconic vehicle; the Volkswagen Beetle. When it was launched, Volkswagen's advetising agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach (now DDB) focused several of their now classic ads on usability and the human centered design approach behind the Beetle, although those terms weren't in use at that time. If you haven't seen these classic campaigns, check them out here.

When something is successfully designed to meet a purpose, good aesthetics usually follow, and tuk tuks are a great example of what happens when that process is followed.


Take a look at these great Volkswagen ads from the 1960s.

Learn more about the concepts of use in this article from the Interaction Design Foundation.

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