Defining a Problem Space
How do city-dwellers interact with nature?
For this project, our team was tasked with identifying an opportunity in a problem space and designing a solution. The space that we chose to examine was that of nature and the outdoors, and specifically how city dwellers interact with nature. Because nature is often forfeited to make room for the man-made structures that make up cities, we were interested in how this specific user-base was interacting with the natural world.
Before we began the interview process, we sent out a screener survey in which we asked users an assortment of questions in order to ensure that we were choosing interviewees of a variety of ages, genders, and frequencies of interactions with nature. From the screener, we identified six people to interview. The interviewees ranged in age from 24 to 42 years old, were a mix of male and female participants, and ranged from ‘infrequent interaction with nature’ to ‘frequent interaction with nature.’
In order to draw insights and uncover trends within our data, we used affinity mapping to group the data derived from our interviews into groupings that we then labeled with ‘I statements’. These ‘I statements’ were representative of the collective goals, needs, behaviors, and pain points of our users.
Keeping in mind time constraints and how large of a scope we could cover in this project, we decided to keep focus on four of these main insights:
- I feel calmer in nature.
- I feel overwhelmed by city living.
- I live too far from nature.
- I think having a car would give me easier access to nature.
Persona & Journey Map
Using these main insights, our team created a persona that we could look back on throughout the design process. This persona worked to keep our focus on solving the problems of our users. We gave this persona, named Jacob, the main goals, needs, pain points, and behaviors of our users, and ultimately created a journey map, which demonstrated Jacob’s path of interaction with nature over a given period of time.
As shown in the journey map, Jacob beings his journey going to city parks that are near where he lives in Brooklyn, New York. While he uses this as a stopgap for fulfilling his minimum need for interacting with nature, he quickly becomes unsatisfied with these city parks. This is why his happiness increases dramatically when he gets the opportunity to travel outside of the city to upstate New York with friends to go hiking. When he realizes the distance that he has to travel, as well as the expense of renting a car, however, we see Jacob’s happiness take a downwards turn, only to rise again when he has actually made it out of the city and out to nature.
This downward slope, containing most of our persona’s pain points, is where my team and I decided to focus.
With these pain points in mind, we created a problem statement to help focus what problem our design would be trying to solve:
Jacob is overwhelmed by the busyness of modern city life and spending time in green space is restorative for him.
How might we help Jacob overcome the distance and surround himself with green space more effortlessly?
With our problem statement in mind, we went back to the ‘I statement’ insights that we derived from our user interviews, and brainstormed potential solutions to these problems. While our potential solutions were quite broad, it became clear that they we coming together under the more specific solution of carpooling.
While our focus narrowed on this idea of carpooling, we still wanted to keep our solution as nature-focused as possible. Our application, while carpool-oriented, was also specifically for users traveling to and from natural destinations. An extra emphasis to this nature-focused trend was the idea that our application would contain information about these natural destinations that users could download to their phones.
Competitive Feature Analysis & Competitive Matrix
Because our user interviews were not specifically focused on carpooling, our team decided to conduct a competitive feature analysis in order to narrow down exactly what features and functionalities our application would have. Like some competitors that we examined, we wanted our users to be able to have updates available to them via push notification. Another functionality that we wanted to add — the ability to access and download destination information — was not provided by any of our competitors.
This is where we found our opening in the existing carpooling and ride share market. In order to further examine the location of our potential application in the transportation market landscape, we also created a competitive matrix. This matrix showed an array of transportation options available to users to get to more immersive nature, at a range of prices. What differentiated our potential application, however, was that unlike all of the competitors that we examined, our application was specifically geared towards getting people to nature.
Platform Choice & Company Partnership
Because of some of the features that we wanted to incorporate into our application such as push notifications and accessing information offline, we narrowed our scope and decided that we would be creating a native iOS application.
We also decided to partner with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in order to make our ‘destination information’ feature. The AMC offers advice, guidebooks, and maps to their members, as well as sponsoring volunteer-led trips. A partnership with the AMC would give us access to this mountain of information, while also providing the benefit to AMC of facilitating access to their events with our application.
“Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.”
Medium-Fidelity Wireframes & Usability Testing
Our mid-fidelity wireframes and prototype had a driver side and a rider side. Because of our limited time frame, as well as based on our persona, we decided to focus on building the rider-side of the application. Our prototype allowed our usability testing participants to run through three tasks:
1. Search for carpools from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Lake Placid, NY for two passengers.
2. Choose a round trip carpool with a female driver. Show only those carpool options, and book your carpool.
3. Learn more about hiking options in Lake Placid.
We conducted mid-fidelity usability testing on three participants. Overall, it was a success. All three participants were able to complete all three tasks with only minor difficulties. The two issues that participants had occurred when interacting with the filter feature and when interacting with the ‘destination information’ screen.
On the ‘filter’ screen, 2/3 users felt unsure that hitting the ‘close’ button would save their filter selections and apply them to the ride results.
On the ‘destination information’ screen, 1/3 users had difficulty scrolling down the page because of the small scroll window.
High-Fidelity Wireframes & Usability Testing
When we increased the fidelity of the wireframes and prototype, we took these issues into account, making sure to make adjustments that would improve the usability of our application.
On the filter screen, we changed the ‘close’ button to say ‘save’ as suggested by user feedback in the usability testing.
On the ‘destination information’ screen, we increased the size of the scrolling window to the entire screen, allowing users to begin scrolling from anywhere on the screen.
We usability tested the high fidelity prototype with four participants and the same tasks that we used for the medium-fidelity testing. Again, all of our participants were able to complete all tasks given to them, with only one issue presenting itself.
¼ users were not able to close out of the ‘filter’ screen because they expected the ‘save’ button to be at the bottom of the screen.
Some next steps that we want to take concerning the application would be to:
1. Conduct more usability testing specifically surrounding the filter feature to try and improve issues uncovered in the high fidelity usability testing.
2. Consult with a development team about the integration of Appalachian Mountain Club data.
3. Fully build out both the rider and driver sides of the application.