UX Research, Design, (and Story Telling?)

The “solo” traveler

I have one photo of myself during a solo adventure to Lisbon. It was captured by my Airbnb host, Ines:

— 2015

I remember Ines asking me for pictures of myself one evening during my stay. I told her that I have none and asked her if she would take one of me, I guess mainly to prove to friends and family that I made it to Lisbon.

I was 20 years old in this picture, studying abroad for a semester in Florence, Italy. I had a whole list of places to visit while I was abroad in Europe… and Lisbon was at the top of the list. I pitched the idea of traveling to Lisbon with friends to no avail. With nobody to travel with, I decided to take on the city alone.

When I arrived in Lisbon, I was blown away by the beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets of the city. I wasted no time visiting many of Lisbon’s historical sites, learning about the earthquake that tried to strip it of its beauty back in the 1700s, and soon came to be surprised by how fast I could cover ground when traveling alone….

I remember sitting on the sidewalk one afternoon eating a traditional Portuguese pastry — pastel de belém. Taking a bite of the pastry, I looked up to smiling faces and the sounds of laughter from a table not too far from me. I heard them talk — American, probably students like myself, spending a weekend in the Iberian Peninsula … but sharing their experience. At this point in my journey I had seen all that I wanted to see, and yet I had 36 hours to kill.

I remember the last 36 hours of my trip as being painful. I was bored. I walked the streets and heard other tourists laugh, sharing meals and drinks with no worries about the concept of “time.” I envied these groups, I wanted to join these groups, be a part of their laughter, and join the pictures.

I left Lisbon after 72 hours. I realized I was a victim of a real problem — experiencing loneliness and lack of companionship in an unfamiliar place.

— 2017

I find myself taking courses on UX Research and Visual Artifacts at the Pratt Institute of Design. The task at hand is to design a mobile app experience for the so called “Adventure Traveler” (defined as a user with limited disposable income between the ages of 18–30).

The project was later renamed “TripHopper,” and it evolved to be comprised of the following:

  • Interviews with the target demographic.
  • In-situ observations at youth hostels in New York City.
  • Competitive analysis.
  • Adobe XD low fidelity compositions.
  • Usability tests with low-fidelity prototypes.
  • InVision high-fidelity prototypes.
  • Sketch App high-fidelity compositions.
  • Functional Specifications.

The first step was to interview users in this demographic. The journey to improve the experiences for lonely travelers had begun…


I took the time to interview 10 people from a variety of backgrounds. All of whom described themselves as “adventure travelers,” between the ages of 18–30.

Two of our subjects:

After interviewing the 10 subjects I found three common trends among “adventure travelers” (what I would have qualified as in Lisbon):

  1. People love to travel in groups.
  2. People find it hard to find travel companions.
  3. People are open to meeting new people while traveling.

This made me think — how can I find ways to connect the solo traveler to other travelers? With this in mind I thought to hit some youth hostels in New York City where I thought I would find a few “adventure travelers” in action.

In — Situ Observations

Determined to find out more about my fellow adventure travelers, I visited two youth hostels in Manhattan with the hope to find out more about the “adventure traveler.” The two youth hostels I visited were the American Dream Bed & Breakfast and the Chelsea International Hostel.

I lurked in the lobbies of these hostels, waiting patiently for guests to arrive and converse with one another — and come they did.

I was sucked into a number of conversations with the people there, many of whom were in New York for the first time. In an attempt not blow my cover, I nodded and listened as they told stories about experiences with the New York crowds, pizza spots, Central Park, and everything else. At a certain point I took note that many of the travelers were not alone but seemed to be in groups. It was time to step in, I needed to know their stories…

Meet Jonny:

Jonny is originally from Israel. He came to the United States to travel alone, starting in Boston — where he stayed in a youth hostel much like the one where I met him.

With no plans, he acquainted himself with a group of four European travelers who were on their way to New York, and who later planned to visit Philadelphia and Washington DC. And on Jonny went with them.

Jonny’s story is not too far off from that of many travelers I met who decide to stay in hostels; save a couple of bucks, meet new people. While there are many groups of travelers, a lot of them did not know each other before they came to the United States. Many of them, like Jonny, came to this country by themselves, only to later join fellow adventurers.

Design it!

What? An application that would help connect the solo traveler to a group!

“This is the tool that people like Jonny need!” — I thought one night as I paced my tiny Brooklyn apartment. I thought about the people I interviewed who said they wanted to travel somewhere but couldn’t find companions — the Jonny’s staying in hostels in New York and meeting Europeans to explore the concrete jungle with — and the lonely long-haired Ethan in Lisbon…

But there must be something else out there like this right? Determined, I decided to ask Google:

I did a quick analysis and found that there are only a few things out there that offer a similar service. Those tools tend to be forums that can be discovered while navigating through the channels of Reddit or Lonely Planet.

Reddit hosted a form called “travelpartners” where participants can essentially browse postings for people looking for travel partners. Amused, I published a post looking for a travel partners and commented on some requests. Here are two responses I received from forum users:

Two things I discovered:

  1. People on these forums are traveling together with strangers. — Okay, so people seem to be willing to meetup with strangers to be part of a group.
  2. Users have tag names like “donkeykong66,” yet they are still agreeing to meetup and travel. — There must be a safer way to do this. Users need names and profiles.

I now thought I had enough information to design rough sketches of a mobile experience to help the “solo” traveler connect with groups:

These rough sketches eventually turned into low fidelity prototypes that I made in Adobe XD:

Before I added UI elements to the prototype, I decided to test my designs on some of my friends.

As users are known to have limited patience when trying a new application, I thought it was important to make sure designs work before designing a UI. An intuitive screen which can be quickly scanned has a much better chance to retain users. A casual user should be able to look at a screen and understand exactly what buttons are, where they should go, and ultimately what is going on (why they are there).

Here we have a friend of mine kind enough to test out the prototype:

The designs seemed to be a success. Users were able to navigate the prototype without many issues. Based off the feedback I received from friends, they had a pretty good idea of what was going on and why they were there.


The result of my hard work and research was an app I call “TripHopper.”

I produced design compositions using Sketch App and created prototypes in InVision for both iOS and Android. The final design created an experience that allowed users to perform the following tasks:

  • Create a profile.
  • Create a trip group.
  • Browse group trips.
  • Save group trips.
  • Message users and groups.

Here is the iOS prototype I produced:

I presented this research and prototype as my final project at the Pratt Institute. I was proud, but I knew it still was not perfect (does this sound like long journey?).

I reconciled some of the feedback from classmates and put them into user stories, here are some:

“As an adventure traveler, I plan most of my trips on my laptop.”
“As a user, it feels like a lot of coordination is necessary leading up to traveling and meeting up with other users.”

This feedback from classmates and friends I presented the prototype to led to another version of the project I would later name “GruHopper” (I want to discuss this project in another post). For now, I had in my mind two takeaways of how a redesign may work:

  1. The first version for a product like this needs to be available both on desktop and mobile devices (given that “adventure travelers” like to plan on desktop devices). The redesign should therefore be a responsive web application rather than an iOS or Android app.
  2. The process of meeting up with other users’ needs to be simplified. Something along the lines of … “let’s meet here, on this date, at this time, and do THIS. Do you want to join?”

Rewind to Lisbon 2015

I now think back to the solo journey back in Lisbon. Did I enjoy my freedom during my first 36 hours traveling alone and exploring the city? Absolutely — I covered ground fast and got to see all that I wanted to see.

I then think back to the last 36 hours of the trip….

A picture of a long-haired Ethan comes to mind, sitting on the sidewalk eating a pastel de belém … listening to the laughs of other American students enjoying the experience of eating the pastry together, wishing I was part of those laugh and smiles…

Maybe, maybe… it is not so much about traveling together with people to Lisbon, as it is about sharing the experience of eating a pastel de belém with others in an unfamiliar place…

Thank You :)

Email — ezmessinger@gmail.com