Athens Pass: A Guide to Exploring Athens, GA
“Client”: Athens Clarke-County Convention and Visitors Bureau — This project was developed with this client in mind for a class project. This was not a commissioned project, and they did not ask us to produce it.
Project date: July 2022
Role: Project lead, product thinking, personas, testing, KPI tracking, stakeholder presentations| Team: 2 designers, 1 researcher
Our client, the Athens Clarke-County Convention and Visitors Bureau, requested an app that supplements their website. The goal was to create an app that makes visiting Athens a breeze with the assistance of location specific recommendations. More specifically, we wanted to provide users a way to quickly navigate through either neighborhoods or categories such as “parks and rec” and “sites to see.”
Ultimately, our team created an app that users described as useful, helpful, and effortless. We did this through carefully considering who might use the app, recruiting users from our target population, and evaluating key metrics such as time on task, success/failure tasks, and errors to make improvements for our final product.
Create an app that provides more specific information to users in less clicks than the website.
Athens, Georgia sees almost 300 million dollars in revenue from visitors to the area, and tourism/hospitality jobs make up 23% of the labor market. That’s a pretty big deal. Athens has a visitors website already, but the mobile version of the site is a little clunky. Our clients did not want local business to suffer because their website was overwhelming and hard to navigate. They asked us to develop a mobile app that would simplify finding experiences all that Athens has to offer.
Our users needed an app that included quick and easily identifiable ways to navigate Athens whether they are planning a trip or already there. One pain point we wanted eliminate was guessing where activities were. The website only provides lists of activities, but our app was developed to help users find what was around them based on their location. Another feature users mentioned as frustrating was the inability to actually plan their trip by conveniently saving different locations so we wanted to add that too.
While we were developing the Athens Pass prototype, we needed to make sure that the app was actually providing accurate information at a faster rate than the website. Although virtually anyone going to Athens could use this app, its core user is someone who wants to see the options available to them and makes decisions based on those options. They need to be able to filter and sort, and get all the relevant information about a spot in one convenient place.
Our team was given two weeks to render and present the MVP of the Athens Pass app to our shareholders. The work was broken into four phases: ideate, prototype, test, and share. Each team member was involved in the entire process beginning with a lo-fi prototype of the app.
When we started out, we studied the “Visit Athens” website. We knew we wanted to keep consistency between the website and the app, but our client did not provide a design style guide. I used “Inspect” to find the fonts and colors used throughout the website, and made note of those features in the lo-fi prototype. Aside from fonts and colors, we knew that users appreciate when an app functions similarly to other apps and websites they use (Jakob’s Law). When we were ideating, we were not interested in re-inventing the wheel. We downloaded apps from other cities, and generated ideas from there. Several of the apps had an interface similar to Yelp! or DoorDash so we tried to emulate that.
Our primary designer took the lo-fi prototype and developed an aesthetically pleasing high-fidelity MVP prototype. She included all of the elements we mentioned and added all the necessary details. I went back through to make sure the style was consistent throughout the entire prototype. We decided to add some additional elements to ensure users had a smooth experience. Those elements included options to make an account, sign in, or skip and continue as a guest. We made the map feature available in more than one place. We also had multiple ways to get to the same information.
After our prototype was developed, we quickly recruited eight users to test our app. Our users varied greatly in age, occupation, marital status, and familiarity with Athens. Although it would have been more convenient to find people already in Athens, we knew that finding people who had never been to Athens was important too. These users completed a 30 minute test which included an in-depth interview, completion tasks, and timed tasks. Our goal with these usability tests was primarily to see whether users could easily navigate through the app and find key information.
During the in-depth interviews, users were asked about their phone use and how they made travel plans. We gathered valuable, and sometimes discouraging, insights about making travel plans. For example, many of the users we talked to said that they would not download an app just for one location or visit. Many said that unless they were purchasing something (such as plane tickets or hotel stays), they were more likely to simply use their web browser to find information about a town they are visiting.
Although users did not like the idea of downloading another app, they did like the idea of knowing what their options were and what was around them. We designed the app in a way that users could easily locate where they were with the map feature, and then see what was around them. We also provided users with other categories that were location specific (i.e., different neighborhoods) and activity specific (e.g., “parks and rec” and “sites to see”). Through testing, we found that users could easily navigate the categories. We also saw that users took different paths to content, but could still find what they were looking for regardless.
Overall, users had a task success rate of 88%. The five most common words to describe the app during testing were: simplistic, clean, useful, helpful, and effortless. Users explained that the app was similar to others they had used, and that they would find an app like it beneficial to future Athens trips (even if they were already somewhat familiar with the area).
This project in general helped highlight the need for careful UX research at the forefront of any project. What we assume is obvious usually isn’t, and our way of processing information isn’t the only way to process it. Without careful research, we create products that work the way we want them to work instead of the way most people need them to work. This was valuable for experience in my steps toward becoming a UX researcher.