Alto — Crowdsourced Parking Solutions

Applying Lean UX Methodologies at Technica 2018

Technica 2018 — the largest all-women hackathon was hosted at the University of Maryland, College Park in November. Over a duration of 24 hours, women were immersed in tech culture and encouraged to exercise their imagination to create interesting and innovative hacks.

(From L-R) Jaina Gandhi, Janki Desai, Kausalya Ganesh, Natalie Yeh

Our team of four decided to work on a hack sponsored by Nextdoor, a private social networking app for neighborhood communities.

Nextdoor Problem Statement—

Make a hack that brings people together and fosters connection within a community.

We took a UX-driven approach to research, brand and design a hack that can help people understand parking restrictions in different parts of a city.

Lean UX – Interaction Design Foundation

Lean UX is an approach to designing and crafting user experiences. At its heart, lean UX is about validating the hypotheses you have about your users and your product.

This methodology is data-driven, user-centered, and cost-effective. It is collaborative in nature so we focus on quick solutions. With under 24 hours to create an exciting hack, Lean UX was the best way forward for the team.

The Problem

We started our project by conducting interviews of people at Technica 2018 to learn about the neighborhood in which they live. We used this phase to find problems that could be tackled by bringing the community together.

It became apparent to us that most of our interviewees had one BIG problem, no matter which neighborhood they were in…

Being forced to drive around until a spot opens up, trying to decipher a parking sign, not being entirely sure if the parking is free or paid – do any of these sound familiar?

Photos found under “confusing parking signs” on Google Search

Finding good parking spots in any part of a city can be a hassle, especially in areas where the parking lots are not visible on Google Maps.

According to a 2017 USA Today Report, people spend about 17 hours every year looking for parking spots. Respondents claimed that they experienced road rage, missed appointments or abandoned their trip in frustration because of parking issues.

USA Today 2017 Report

Our Goals & Objectives

  • Bring the neighborhood communities together
  • Improve communication of parking restrictions to motorists
  • Reduce the number of vehicles that get fined for bad parking

Final Result

A high-fidelity prototype of Alto, a community-driven, crowdsourced parking app that lets people know parking restrictions in their city.

High-Fidelity Demo of Alto on YouTube

The Process

We took a lean UX-driven approach and divided the process into 3 phases.

Phase 1: Research

We conducted contextual interviews of people at Technica. Our interviews focused on the following aspects of people’s driving habits.

  1. The kind of area they reside in: suburbs, downtown, exurb etc.
  2. Awareness of parking restrictions on their street and/or general area
  3. Recent good and bad experiences with parking in the city
  4. Apps used by people to navigate while driving

The insights drawn from the interviews helped me create an empathy map to understand our intended audience better.

Empathy Mapping Exercise

Before we started brainstorming, the problem statement was constructed using design thinking methods.

Ensuring that we limit the scope of our project to achieve a bug-free high-fidelity prototype was very important.

Brainstorming Session

With less than 12 hours left to present, we decided to create a product that can crowdsource parking information from neighboring communities.

Sketching on paper helped us flesh out the different ways users interact with the prototype. We had a basic idea of the user-flow and screens at this point.

Rough Lo-Fi Sketches

After discussing and iterating on the ideas, the team started designing the high-fidelity prototype using Sketch and InVision and working on branding the product concept for the demo.


We decided to call the mobile app, “Alto — Bringing Communities Together”.

The logo was inspired by the idea that parking rules will be available to people on a Cloud platform. Alto is the prefix of a cloud genus (altocumulus) and the name of a family hatchback manufactured by Maruti Suzuki.

Logo design by Natalie Yeh

High-Fidelity Prototype

Alto is powered by the people in a community to minimize parking issues in neighborhoods. When people find it easy to learn about parking restrictions in an area, they will feel motivated to contribute to their own locality.

Task Flow

UI Design by Jaina Gandhi & Natalie Yeh
  1. Users complete a form about the parking restrictions in their neighborhood.
  2. When an Alto admin approves the form entry, the user is notified on the app.
  3. For every accurate entry, users collect points/credits that are redeemable at local businesses.
  4. Before/during a trip, users click on “Where to?” to locate their destination on the map.
  5. The parking spots (and rules) at their destination are available to peruse on the app.

Future Scope

Some of the other product concepts we worked on include —

  1. Real-time prediction of parking availability: Based on historical parking data collected from people living in the community
  2. A system to help people requiring extra guest parking for events communicate with their neighbors with private parking space

Phase 3: Demo

At the Technica 2018 Demo Session

We worked through the night to create a presentation with our research findings and designed a hi-fi prototype and a poster with our product ideas.

During our demo, the judges, sponsors, and mentors appreciated that we used a user-centered methodology to solve this problem and expressed their interest in seeing this app developed in the future.

We took a UX-driven approach to create this hack because we are students of Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Maryland, College Park and believe that user research should be the basis on which products are designed.

Technica 2018 is the first hackathon I have participated in. Meeting artists, designers, and women in tech was a great learning experience. Can’t wait to participate in more hackathons and meetups in 2019!

A Proud Terp at Technica 2018

Design researcher. MS in Human-Computer Interaction. Passionate about user experience research & product strategy.

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