How Pinterest can aid the sustainability cause

The Brief

We were tasked to explore a problem/area of opportunity for a brand of our choice including technical constraints.

Time Frame

2 weeks




Pen & paper, Sketch, Omnigraffle, Hype, Keynote, Google Forms, Trello, Google Folder

The Process

The design process

#1 Defining The Problem

Over the past 40 years, the amount of waste that we throw away for disposal in Singapore has increased from 0.438 million tonnes in 1970 to 2.63 million tonnes today, enough to fill about 310 soccer fields to an average man’s height of 1.7m!

If this rate of waste generation continues, Singapore will need to build one new incineration plant every 10–15 years and one new landfill the size of Sentosa every 35–45 years!

This is not sustainable! (Source:,. N. p., 2016. Web. 22 Jan. 2016)

As a counter-and-preventive measure, the National Environment Agency (NEA), in conjunction with NGOs such as Zero Waste SG has been working to get Singaporeans to support the vision of a Zero Waste Singapore by practicing the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) in their daily lives.

Image Source:

A series of ongoing conversations were held in 2013 and 2014 to track progress on Sustainable Singapore: Waste and the 3Rs, with a subsequent paper published.

The paper revealed the following insights that caught our attention:

“We have too many things and our consumerist culture generates lots of waste. There is a need to create more awareness.”
“Buy only what you need or buy second-hand.”
“Use imagery and visuals instead of just facts and figures.”

Problem Statement

Based on the above, it seems that the most immediate problem that had to be solved was in getting Singaporeans to adopt the habit of re-using despite our consumerist culture.

#2 Identifying The Opportunity

The team saw an opportunity in encouraging the usage and purchase of second-hand or what we prefer to term as preloved products.

#3 Assessing The Market Potential

To find out if there was a market for preloved items, we conducted a survey designed to understand general consumption and disposal habits around items consumers don’t want anymore but that were still in good condition.

A total of 29 respondents participated in the survey.

Summary of survey responses


  • 86.2% gave away and 44.8% sold unwanted items in good condition
  • Close to half (44.8%) of survey respondents sold items they didn’t use or want anymore but were in good condition and a great majority (71%) bought secondhand or preloved products.
  • Popular avenues to buy and sell preloved items include online marketplaces (48%) and Carousell, a mobile marketplace app.
This confirmed our assumption that there was a market for preloved products and gave us the idea to create an online or mobile marketplace selling preloved products but advocating the 3Rs message at the same time.

#4 Understanding our users

Interviews to understand pain, pleasure, behavior and contexts around preloved products.

From the initial survey conducted, 7 respondents were identified for face-to-face or phone interviews. The respondents were selected based on the following criteria:

  1. If they have purchased secondhand or preloved items
  2. If they sold items they do not want anymore but were still in good condition

We asked them questions around the contexts of buying and selling of preloved items identified during the initial survey phase as well as a new context around barter trading. Affinity mapping was done on the responses, with the resulting findings and design implications indicated in the table below.

Table housing the summary of interview findings and the resulting design implications. Findings are not arranged in any order of priority.

#5 Defining Personas & #6 Ideating Features

Based on the above findings, the following personas and the features they would need were developed.

Identified Personas

Next, we looked towards finding the right brand and platform that could aid us in solving the problem identified.

#7 Identifying the brand

Going into brand selection, we looked out for a fit in terms of alignment with our cause, strong brand equity, and complementary business model. Unilever and NGOs such as Zero Waste SG were strong contenders.

However, we realised that we needed a brand that possessed tremendous social clout to prevent our solution from turning into yet another mobile commerce application. This would also provide social currency for our cause.

With sustainability being a heavy and abstract concept, the brand also had to possess the right technological infrastructure and appeal to convey the message in an accessible manner that would be sustainable (pun intended) in the long term.

Ideally, the brand should also already have a strong and engaged member base that we could tap into instead of having to spend resources on acquiring members. That led us to look into existing social media platforms and after some desktop research, we zoomed in on Pinterest. As Pinterest is about visual content curation, it’s the perfect place to tell an engaging story and get people involved in that story, making it an ideal platform for our cause.

Launched in 2010, Pinterest started off as a niche photo-sharing site that encourages its users, or rather its users encourage one another, not just to share ideas in an insulated online space but also to turn those ideas into action in the physical world.

Today, it is the 3rd largest social media network behind only Facebook and Twitter in the US (Source: Mashable,. “Pinterest”. N. p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016), with huge engagement value — Americans, on average, spend 1 hour and 17 minutes on the site. with an estimated 250 million unique monthly visitors (Source:,. “Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites | January 2016”. N. p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.) and growing.

In addition to being wildly popular, “…Pinterest also tends to encourage more sustainable environmental practices: reuses for disposable objects, do-it-yourself projects, gardening tips, and guides to local food consumption are all common. While the site’s materialism is often consumption oriented, such consumerism is counterbalanced by frequent calls to upcycle existing items, to build new things from scratch, and to get the most out of the material goods we already own.” —,. “Pinning For The Future: Promoting Sustainability On Pinterest”. N. p., 2016. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

With the recent introduction of buyable pins (currently only available on Android and IOS in the United States), we felt that there was an opportunity to leverage on Pinterest to further the sustainability cause by extending buyable pins to the sale of preloved products and to involve not just retailers but consumers in the initiative as well.

Finally, the majority of Pinterest users are millennials with high spending power. According to Accenture, millennial buyers are projected to spend an annual USD1.4 trillion by 2020. More importantly, research data also revealed that millennial consumers, also known as the Green Generation, place a high value on sustainability (Source: millennials, An. “An Emerging Retail Trend Is Key For Attracting Millennials”. Business Insider. N. p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016). Almost 50% of millennials would be more willing to make a purchase from a company if their purchase supports a cause (Source: Millennial Marketing,. “Who Are Millennials | Millennial Marketing”. N. p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016). Millennials also say that sustainability is a shopping priority. A recent Nielsen global online study found that this generation are the most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings (Source: Priority, Green. “ Green Generation: Millennials Say Sustainability Is A Shopping Priority “. N. p., 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016).

Image source:,. “Pinning For The Future: Promoting Sustainability On Pinterest”. N. p., 2016. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

To further assess if Pinterest would be the right fit for our solution, we used the Business Model Canvas to document Pinterest’s existing business model.

Business Model Canvas — Pinterest

Current activities are outlined in black while potential activities tying in with our proposed solution are highlighted in red.

Even though our solution might add on to Pinterest’s existing cost structure, it also provides a new revenue stream and customer segment in the C2C commerce space by tapping on some of their existing resources and key activities. Instead of having to build a native mobile app from scratch, we could leverage on their existing mobile apps which would accelerate time-to-market.

#8 Identifying the platform

As we are not building a new website or app from scratch but building on new features, we decided to launch new features for the Android version of the Pinterest mobile app for the following reasons:

Why mobile app?

  • 80% of usage from Pinterest is on a mobile device (Source: Kastrenakes, Jacob. “Pinterest Launches Dedicated Shopping Section”. The Verge. N. p., 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016 )
  • 75% of daily traffic comes from native mobile apps via phones and tablets (Source: Beese, Jennifer. “8 Pinterest Statistics You Can’t Ignore | Sprout Social”. Sprout Social. N. p., 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016)
  • Majority of survey and interview respondents use the Carousell mobile app and they are not alone. Overwhelmingly users prefer the experience of a native mobile app. In fact, as of early 2014, over 86 percent of our time spent on mobile devices was spent in native apps, versus just 14 percent in mobile web browsers (Source: Team, Modo. “My Website Is Responsive, So Why Do I Need A Mobile App? — Modo Labs”. Modo Labs. N. p., 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016)
  • Buyable Pins are currently only available on Pinterest mobile apps (Android & IOS)

Why Android first?

  • Android has the largest market share worldwide, see IDC chart below, which supports Pinterest’s international expansion plan
  • Apps deployed to the Google Play Store are available for download by users within a few hours, compared to a few weeks for Apple’s App Store. An app can literally be updated multiple times a day on the Google play store, in response to user complaints and/or issues, while on the App store, our app would have to pass through the same lengthy process whenever an update and/or bug fix is submitted. As we foresee that the app will need to be constantly and speedily refined and updated in response to user feedback, the Play Store is the preferred platform. This will also reduce time-to-market.
  • Beta releases in Google App Store has the advantage of being able to get the app to upwards of 1,000 testers during beta testings on iOS

#9 Evaluating the platform

Having identified Pinterest as the brand and Android mobile app as the platform for our project, a heuristic evaluation based on Jakob Nielsen’s heuristics was done to uncover potential usability problems.

For the most part, we found Pinterest to be above average in terms of usability. However, there was room for improvement in the areas of heuristics #3, #4, #5 and #10.

Usability Heuristics Analysis of the Pinterest app on Android

#10 Evaluating The Competition

We performed a feature comparison analysis based on competitors identified in the user research to identify common features found in similar solutions that would aid in feature prioritisation.

From this exercise, we uncovered there were existing features unique to Pinterest (highlighted in grey) as well as potential features that would provide Pinterest with further competitive advantage (highlighted in blue).

Feature comparison table

Concurrently, we also mapped out user flows of the following buyer and seller tasks via competitor (Gumtree, Carousell and ebay) apps to uncover potential areas of improvement and/or best practices before moving on to feature prioritisation and solution ideation.

Seller tasks

  1. Put up armchair for sale (grey box)
  2. Upload a photo, set the price, duration and price depreciation schedule (green box)

Buyer Tasks

  1. Search for armchair (grey box)
  2. Buy armchair (green box)
User flows on Gumtree, Carousell and ebay apps


  • Sellers were able to complete task 1 but not task 2 across all 3 apps, due to the lack of the timed price depreciation feature. This new feature would provide Pinterest with an edge over competitors.
  • Buyers would not be able to complete task 2 using the Gumtree and Carousell apps and they would need to perform 8 user steps in order to complete both tasks using the ebay app. This reinforces our earlier recommendation to incorporate in-app payment feature to facilitate in-app purchases.
With the above findings, the team decided to challenge ourselves to design an information architecture and UI that would require only 8 steps to complete both seller and buyer tasks assigned.

#11 Prioritising Features

As it is not realistic to develop all features required by our personas concurrently, we used the data consolidated from the user, technical and brand research to aid in structuring the product roadmap divided into 4 phases.

Features ideated in earlier stages were sorted by ‘must-haves’ and ‘good-to-haves’ and cross-sorted via how difficult the feature would be to implement in terms of technical difficulty and resources available.

Existing features within the Pinterest platform are housed in red outlined boxes while new features are housed in red filled boxes.

Feature prioritisation matrix

#12 Ideating the Solution

Finally, we moved on to solution ideation where we brainstormed on potential designs in a series of design studios.

Referencing our findings as well as the the existing UI of Pinterest’s mobile app, we decided to explore solutions boxed up in red further.

Initial design solutions

#13 Developing wireframes

The initial wireframes were developed incorporating shortlisted ideas from the ideation process and referencing the existing UI of the Pinterest Android app to ensure consistency and standards (usability heuristics #4) and encourage recognition rather than recall (usability heuristics #6).

In the interest of time, we focused on developing solutions for buyer tasks.

Initial wireframes & paper protype developed

#14 Prototyping, #15 Usability Testing and #16 Iterating prototypes

Using the initial wireframes developed as a paper prototype, 3 usability tests were conducted based on the scenario and tasks outlined below.


Pinterest has recently introduced the functionality to purchase both used and new items within Pinterest.

You are in the midst of refurbishing your room and would like to acquire an armchair for your room. Being environmental-conscious and on a shoestring budget, you decide to check out the options available on Pinterest.

You are already logged in to Pinterest on your Android mobile and are currently on the home screen of the Pinterest app.


  1. Search for used armchairs available for sale
  2. Purchase an armchair

Below table houses the summarised test findings, usability heuristic affected, recommendations and severity of the issue identified on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being the most severe.

Findings and recommendations derived from round 1 of usability tests conducted

Based on the above, we decided to move into high fidelity prototyping, with another round of usability tests conducted with 2 different users based on the same scenario and tasks.

High fidelity wireframes version 1

The following issues and recommendations were uncovered in the second round of usability testing.

A third round of usability tests were conducted with another 2 users after making the necessary iterations to address the issues uncovered. Findings of the third round of testing are once again reflected in below table.

To ascertain that we beat the design challenge set out in step 10 (above), we mapped out the buyer user flow based on the latest prototype developed. The user could now complete the same buyer tasks assigned in 6 steps. Yay! Design challenge complete!

Buyer user flow using new Pinterest Android app

With this, we felt that the prototype was ready to test with a bigger group.

#17 Next Steps

Next steps for the project
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