Plan Bee — A Travel App Idea

So I heard you need a “Plan Bee”…


Have you ever had times while travelling in which you were faced with unexpected bad weather or your intended place of visit was closed? In such circumstances, what you need is more information about the place to make a quick revision to your travel plans. A Plan B, if you will.

Topic Selection and Problem Statement

For my rapid prototyping project, I selected the topic of Travel. I frequently travel and have been travelling increasingly in the last four years ever since I entered into university. I felt that this would be a topic in which I would be able to look for problems easily since I were a frequent traveller.

For my target user group, I felt that I should be engaging frequent travellers. I thought that frequent travellers are likely to remember the pains they have while travelling and may even have their own solutions to some of these pains — something that I could possibly leverage on.

Based on the groupings from my affinity map (which we will see later), my problem statement will be Group 2: “I want to look for other places of interest after an unforeseen circumstance in my current place of visit.”

User Research

I had some hypotheses on the possible problems that travellers face while travelling based on my own experience:

  • Travellers find difficulty in travel planning
  • Travellers sometimes need to find another activity to work on
  • Travellers tend to be unable to find inexpensive good food
  • Travellers find it difficult to travel from place to place

These four hypotheses eventually became the backbone for the questions in which I asked in my interviews. The main questions are listed here as follows, with some other questions that aid the interviewee to share some more information about themselves and their travels:

  1. How old are you…? Age might be sensitive so… are you an age group between 20–30? And do you travel often?
  2. Can I ask about your favourite holiday trip? Where did you go?
    Follow-up: Why was it your favourite? What did you do? With whom did you travel with?
  3. Do you plan your travels? How do you plan them if you do?
    Follow-up: When do you start planning? Where do you usually do your planning? How thorough/intensively do you plan your plans?
  4. Have you needed to change your travel plans spontaneously?
    Follow-up: What did you feel? What did you do afterwards?
  5. (If not answered in the favourite trip question) What are your main interests/activities during your travels?
  6. What preferred transportation do you use when you travel? Why?

Results of User Research

Following the interviews, I had a few findings from my interviewees.

User 1

Interviewing Ingrid about her vacation in Spain, Ibiza
  • Will make new reservations ASAP if something occurs
  • Prefers a “chill holiday” and makes “decisions spontaneously” over having a plan. This is because her expectations are not fulfilled usually, thus she prefers not having a plan in the first place.
  • Will not be tied down by suggestions and can change plans (if any) very often.
  • Searches for the top things to do in the place of interest on the internet (Google, TripAdvisor, Instagram, Blogs)
  • Looks for “social-media-worthy” areas and food from several sources (Friends, Google, Travel books, Blogs, Instagram)
  • Buses and trains are not always easy to understand; taxis are more convenient (sometimes carry a lot of luggage)
  • Safety is sometimes an issue while travelling (prefers safer areas and using taxis)

User 2

Interviewing Evonne about her vacation in Thailand, Bangkok
  • Must experience the local culture
  • Aims to look for “hidden gems” in the place of interest (areas that are not considered touristy but is a great place that usually only locals know)
  • Travel needs to be fully planned out
  • Plans have gotten ruined by unexpected results; Will stick around the place to find something
  • Spontaneously looks for food usually; but not always rewarding
  • Prefers to only use buses and trains over taxis (thus must have sufficient information about the transport system in order to get from place to place)

User 3

Interviewing Sugathri about her vacation in Thailand, Phuket
  • Needs to plan for wheelchair-friendly locations
  • Must experience local culture
  • Needs to look for gift shops with location-specific souvenirs
  • To rearrange plans when unexpected happens (will tend to bring forward the next item on the plan)
  • Asks hotel concierge for good food
  • Needs a “personal driver” — either taxis or hire a driver for the day

Additional Results

Perhaps the most surprising and interesting thing I found through the interview was that the users do not really feel that they face any problems while travelling. When asked about their difficulties, they were not passionately explaining what was difficult but merely mentioning it like it was something common or minor. Perhaps this was a result of being a frequent traveller — the more you see about the world, the less upset you are when it comes to facing negative encounters while travelling since you see it happening everywhere. This begs if a solution is really needed in the first place, or will people only be eager for a solution when it affects them to a greater degree?

Making sense of the results

Arranging my findings into an Affinity Map

After the user interviews, I had to spend some time thinking about grouping the results together using an Affinity Map. On hindsight, I realised that quite a few of my insights were grouped together based on my questions rather than the user’s inputs. This led me to think that perhaps I should really be asking more questions and finding out more insights. I feel that the insights should support one another even from different questions and from different users — this way it allows the affinity map to appear more valid.

Group 1: I have to search for specific things when travelling

In group 1, I grouped the insights in which was about searching for specific things while travel planning. Each of the interviewees had a specific thing they were looking for while travelling — this meant that they needed to do some sort of special research on the place they are travelling to at least, aside from the standard “must-sees” which are easy to find.

Group 2: I want to look for other places of interest after an unforeseen circumstance in my current place of visit.

For group 2, this group is about needing to plan for a new location of interest spontaneously and on-the-go. Interviewees have definitely met with unexpected issues at least once or twice on their travels and they tend to need to make a decision on what to do next. All the interviewees already had a different way of handling it but they also explain that they usually do not feel that it is handled well.

Group 3: I want to look for good food

In group 3, the interviewees tended to want to look for good food. Rather than saying “good food” specifically, what they really want is food that is both cheap and good or probably food that is worth their money. This is why they chose to ask for other previous travellers’ experiences or the locals’ recommendations.

Group 4: I need to know how to use the buses and trains

For group 4, one interviewee would always use buses and trains for transport because she tended to know enough information about the transport systems, whereas another interviewee would always use taxis because she tended to know little information about the transport systems. This meant that both users have a need to know enough about the transport systems.

No group: Insights that did not really belong anywhere

Lastly, there were insights which I felt did not belong to any group. Usually, these were outlying behaviours that were total opposites of the other insights, or can not exactly be well placed into any of the other groups.

Why Group 2? What was interesting and important about it? What should the solution be?

While Group 1 had more data points and was a “real problem”, I believed that many applications already try to serve the purpose of travel planning. Group 2 had the second most data points but what made me choose it was because it had a more significant problem which was harder to solve and hardly addressed.

Additionally, it seemed like the users would normally have a solution to this problem from Group 2. However, like mentioned, they do not feel that their solution is a good one. Thus, I wanted to provide them with a better solution so that they would find this less of a problem in future.

The key issue with users not really being able to find another location to go to was because they did not have data connection for them to search via Google. Thus, a feasible solution I had would be to have an offline GPS application that could offer them information even without data connection.

User Flow

The next thing I did was to come up with a user flow. I thought about the steps in which I would take in order to use an offline GPS application.

User Flow documented in paper! An error was made at the top, can you spot it?!
User Flow documented on Sketch for clearer viewing purposes

Main Flow

  1. Start the application
  2. (Optional) Filter out unnecessary location markers
  3. Find your current location
  4. Click on markers to find out more information about a specific landmark
  5. Pick landmark and remember the name
  6. Use street view and point phone camera straight ahead of you.
  7. Information windows will appear on landmarks. Turn 360 degrees around you and look for your chosen landmark on the phone screen.

As there a few ways you can use this application, there is a split at point 2. I have named them Secondary Flow A and Secondary Flow B.

Secondary Flow A

2a. Click list view tab.

3a. Scroll up and down through the list.

4a. Click on a row to find out more information about a specific landmark.

5a. Go to 5 of the main flow.

Secondary Flow B

2b. Click browse pictures tab.

3b. Swipe left/right to scroll through the pictures of all the landmarks.

4b. Click on “i” box (information box) to find out more information about a specific landmark.

5b. Go to 5 of the main flow.

Prototyping and Solution

Original sketch for the paper prototype

This was the original sketch of my prototype. It was drawn huge because I found it difficult to draw a small prototype and I felt that there would be changes to make after some user testing. Three things were actually changed when I re-drew it into the smaller prototype.

The first was the “Accommodations” category filter below the search bar. The word was too long for me to fit into a small box and the icon was not easy for users to understand because it was a beehive (a house for bees). Ultimately I changed it to a bed with a roof over it and used the word “Accomm.” instead as the replacement word.

The second was the “monocle” tab at the bottom. It was a term already used in Yelp so I expected people to understand but they did not. Thus I eventually changed it to “Street View”.

I also added the “browse pictures” tab at the bottom because I planned to have it but forgot about it when drawing the first prototype.

Landing page and Map View

Plan Bee’s landing page features a Bee and the button to start the application. I named it “Plan Bee” because it sounds like “Plan B”, which was what people needed in case their “Plan A” failed. I also worded the starting button “looking for Plan Bee” rather than “start” because it better demonstrates what this application does — help you to plan a “Plan B”.

The first page a user would be brought to would be the map view. I plan to highlight the tab or add a shadow to it so that it is obvious that the user is using the “map view” tab. An icon to represent the words may also be used instead if there is a need to save space. The reason why this is the first view is because i wanted to show users where their current location was together with location markers around it.

At the top, there is a search function for users to find a specific location which they already know the name of in case they were to prefer to find a location that is near their next checkpoint.

Below the search function, there are category filters to turn the location markers for each category on and off. When the category is turned on, I would have them highlighted to show that they are turned on. By default, I would only show half the categories being turned on to showcase that the highlight means the marker is turned on, and the non-highlight means the marker is turned off. (By the way, only the “must-see” category is available for testing in the prototype for reasons I will explain much later.)

The “current location” button is there to help you center back into your current location in case you lose the point by zooming in/out or scrolling too far away.

Clicking on a location marker also brings up the information window to give you more information about a location. The popup window has a heart icon to signify that you want to save this location to your favourite. This will highlight the marker to be in pink afterwards, and will not be turned off even if you turn off the category filter for it.

List view and Street view

Aside from map view there are also the list view and street view. List view shows you an entire list of the locations and you can click on the row to expand it and reveal more information and even pictures. The heart icon on the right also allows you to peg that row to the top and highlight it to show that it is a favourite. The category filters are also used here to turn on/off listing results. The search function also acts as a filter to filter results in the list whilst you are typing.

Street view shows you the general direction of locations. When you point your phone camera at a direction, it will show you information windows hovering above the landmarks. You can also click on the information windows to show a popup like in the map view. The heart icon favourites a result once again, and in street view, it highlights the information window hovering over the landmark. The search function removes information windows of places not related to your search query.

Browse Pictures!

Lastly, we have the browse pictures tab which is essentially a gallery for all the locations. Swipe right or click on the heart to favourite it and swipe left to skip and move to the next picture. Category filters work here as well to hide pictures from the gallery. The search filter will also hide results not related to your search query. Users can also click on the “i” box to get a the same popup from the previous views. Favourites do not appear again in the gallery but will be highlighted in the other views.

Words may not communicate my idea that well but hopefully a video of how the application works will, so here’s a video of Plan Bee in action!

A typical problem scenario and usage of Plan Bee as a solution

If you feel like trying it out as well, here’s a link to the prototype, hosted on Invision:

Why do I feel that this is a good solution?

First, I have to restate the problem, “I want to look for other places of interest after an unforeseen circumstance in my current place of visit.” This could easily be solved with data connection but users tend not to have data connection when overseas. Plan Bee is meant to be an offline GPS application that can provide useful location information even without data connection. Information of places of interests will be saved in the application and allow users to find places of interests near them. This helps to solve the problem for users to find other places of interests if something occurs in their Plan A, and is the main point of this application. At the same time, this application can be useful to travellers who have not made any plans but want to look for a good travel spot spontaneously.

There are other good points about the application as well. It allows for filters to reduce massive inflow of information and makes for an easier time while searching. Map view and list views provides an overview of the places around the user’s current location, and street view gives them help in terms of directions in order to find their next location. Browsing through pretty pictures for the locations can also help users to make better decisions when selecting which place to go next.

What went well in this project?

To be honest, coming up with a solution became rather easy when I learnt about the technologies of an offline GPS. The problem to be solved ended up being a simple one although it appeared to be difficult to solve at first. I felt that the idea of an offline GPS served to be a good enough solution, and because of that, I was able to quickly decide on a design for my solution.

Biggest Takeaway in this project

I remember wanting to do more functions for the prototype so that it did not appear like an overly simplistic project. It really felt like a very small project with only a few screens to work on. It was lucky that I took the instructors advice to only work on one problem. This is because when I tried to convert the paper prototype to a digital one on Invision, I found that I needed to do a total of 64(two to the power of six, on/off screens for the six different filters) different screens just to make the category filters functional. In each of those screens, 10 different interactions were required! This meant a total of 640 interactions, and that was just not possible/efficient enough for me to do. Thus, only the “must-see” category filter works. See, I told you I would explain it later… Anyway, this was a lesson well learnt that even the simplest of things could be exceedingly time consuming to achieve.

Future Improvements

One important feature I realised that I should really have implemented was a directions button. Originally, I had thought that just having the street view would do, but it merely offers a direction towards the location and the distance away from the location.

Additionally, I thought that there was a need to provide transport advice with the directions function. This would make the application better to help users to find their way to the new location.

Incidentally, I also think that sorting by ratings and distance would be rather important to some users and should be included in the list view so that it can help users makes better decisions.

Furthermore, I feel that perhaps the best solution was not to “solve” the problem of finding another location when you encounter a unforeseen circumstance, but to “prevent” the problem instead. Maybe the application should allow for one to input their travel plans and be told that there will be an issue regarding their travel plans. I did think of this, but did not choose to do this because one user had mentioned that she mostly preferred to plan spontaneously. I wanted to cater to such travellers as well, as they did not have a plan originally and the “prevention” application would not have helped them as much.

I also felt that I needed to have better user interviews. On hindsight, I felt that my user interview questions were too superficial and that I did not really uncover much interesting insights. After looking at other peoples’ interviews and results I realised that what I did could still be improved further. I could afford to be more detailed and be more in-depth. Ask a few more “whys” even! I think I had too little points for analyzing and overall it resulted in a pretty simplistic project.

At the same time, I thought that coming up with questions was really tough. I felt so constrained when coming up with questions and it took me so long to come up with a short list of acceptable questions. However, now that I already have a taste of crafting them as well as a short list of available questions, I think I could be better at this the next time around.

Links to my work

If anyone is interested in the presentation slides or the paper prototype, they are included here in the following links:

Google Slides Link:

Presentation Slides PDF download:

Invision Link to the prototype:

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