Facilitating Meaningful Communities — A Strava Case Study

Liam Du
8 min readNov 30, 2021

Introduction

Strava is one of the most popular sports community apps, with over 76 million active users and two million added every month. Its mission statement states, “Strava is Swedish for “strive,” which epitomizes our attitude and ambition: We’re a passionate and committed team, unified by our mission to build the most engaged community of athletes in the world.”

Strava landed spot-on for the first part of their mission statement — It pushes athletes to strive towards their goal with numerous sports and analytical tools. However, where it could have been improved is the second part of their mission statement:

“…to build the most engaged community of athletes in the world.”

To better fulfill Strava’s vision, I identified some inadequacies of the app through user research and developed a solution for that people's problem with product prototyping and testing.

The Problem

When athletes use Strava, they want to be connected to an engaging community, but it is hard because:

  1. It’s hard to get information on events if you don’t know anyone.
  2. It’s hard to coordinate activities with strangers.

The Solution

Events: A community feature that exposes users to group events within their vicinity, or anywhere across the world. Any user can create and host an Event, and any user can join an Event.

Tagging / Adding Event (left), Filtering and Joining Event (middle), Creating an Event (right)

Now, how did I get there?

Part I — What’s Wrong?

I felt like the current state of Strava is almost like Instagram, where users mindlessly scroll and give their friends kudos (likes) on their recent activity. Maybe, if they find something interesting, they could leave a comment or two. The human connections that were supposed to be made through this app are not fulfilled.

To see if this resonated with others, I interviewed a wide variety of users from occasional users to avid users.

Understanding How Athletes Use The App

In my interviews, I aimed to identify whether Strava builds meaningful community and relationships between athletes with existing features and also their usage habits.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Users rarely meet new people: they find it hard to meet new people and have meaningful relationships with them; they are not comfortable with strangers
  2. Users almost never coordinate activities on Strava: they feel lost on how to go about doing so on the app
  3. Users use the current Group Features mostly for personal reasons: they find it hard to achieve challenges/goals collaboratively

I found out that the participants of my interview mostly interact with athletes that they already know on some level, for example, teammates, or friends of a friend. But there are a few problems to that:

  1. It creates a bubble that forces the athletes to only interact with those that they already know, thus making it hard for them to make new friends with other “strangers” who also love their sport.
  2. The prerequisite to forming a strong community is to have a community in the first place. An athlete must first requires connections to create newer connections. If an athlete is new to an area, then they might not have any friends to begin with, let alone mutual friends.
  3. Even if two athletes have mutual friends that they both know, Strava does not actively facilitate those potential relationships. Because although Strava’s online communication (comments, kudos, etc…) is a convenient tool to connect athletes on some level, it does not compare to the level of bonding when athletes actually doing their sports together.

Narrowing Down To The People Problem:

When athletes use Strava, they want to be connected to an engaging community, but it is hard because:

  1. It’s hard to get information on events if you don’t know anyone.
  2. It’s hard to coordinate activities with strangers.

Part II— How Do I Solve It?

The path to come up with my feature is an iterative one, and the starting point is brainstorming the ways that I can tackle this problem. We first started with brainstorming the ways that we might solve the problem, and then brainstormed the applicable solutions that apply to those ways.

Brainstorm Session!

After hours of brainstorming, my friend and I narrowed down three solutions

  1. Nearby Athletes: Displaying a list of athlete profiles within the vicinity of the user, and providing a messaging feature for communication.
  2. Realtime Locations: Allowing the users to see if anyone nearby is currently doing an activity, and displaying them through a feed.
  3. Events: Exposes users to group events within their vicinity, or anywhere across the world. Any user can create and host an Event, and every user can join an Event.
Low Fidelity Flows

Making a decision

Thinking back to the people problem, I remembered that the purpose of designing this feature is not for create superficial relationships, but rather, I should strive for building a genuine and engaging community while feeling safe.

When athletes use Strava, they want to be connected to an engaging community, but it is hard because:

It’s hard to get information on events if you don’t know anyone.

It’s hard to coordinate activities with strangers.

“Nearby Athletes” strays away from the People Problem; it does not create a meaningful connection. Sure, it does provide users with the resource to find new athletes, but it does not facilitate it.

The “Realtime Locations” struggle because many users would be uncomfortable sharing their location and active status, thus rendering the feature useless.

Thus, I decided to go with Events.

It solves people problem one because users are now able to see any events that other athletes posted within their nearby vicinity. This way, even if they are new to the community, they can still find events without needing to know anyone in the first place. This feature serves as a launchpad for those who are beginners.

It solves the people problem two because it eliminates the difficulty of coordinating activities with strangers. In this case, users would not need to go through the formal process of hosting a “real” event. In a sense, they are the both the host and the participant of a “mini-event.” The organizer/person who created this group would lead the way, and it is a natural way to meet new people without the awkward “should I go talk to them” phase.

Part III— Making It Come Alive

After brainstorming the feature requirements, content requirements, and various user flows of my new feature, I jumped onto Figma to create a visual representation of my brainstorms.

Information Hierarchy Diagram. Blue represents existing features, and orange represents features of “Events.”

I mapped out the various places that my feature would reside from the Home Page of Strava. From the diagram, the user only needs to perform 1–2 actions (scroll through homepage, or click You and then Profile) to access the new feature. Although convenient, it does not take away what Strava did prior to the implementation of this feature. Everything else is still the same. As I learned from my interview, some users only use the app for personal reasons and do not really care about the community features. If someone does not want to join a social activity and chooses to just record an activity alone / browse through their friend’s activities, this feature is not distracting them from that. My feature is easily accessible, but it doesn’t interrupt a user’s normal flow for the app.

Medium Fidelity

During the medium fidelity stage, I had to design with intentionality. With every flow comes various explorations in design. I had to make decisions based on what is best for the user through evaluating the Pros and Cons of each exploration variations.

High Fidelity

After creating my flows for high fidelity, I decided to create different prototypes for another round of user research. This time, I will be testing the prototypes.

Some things I’ve learned from user testing

1. When creating an Event, sometimes the user does not want to create it right away. They want to temporarily save their Event. Thus, I created a save draft button.

2. After the Event finishes, the users are not sure whether or not they participated in it or not upon first glance. To make it more clear, I created a colored outline for their profile and changed their name to “You.”

3. The date and pace tag on the Events browsing page looks clickable, thus I deleted the rounded icon completely and made it purely just words.

4. User safety is a very important thing to ensure. The users need to feel safe to join and show up to an event. Thus, I added a verification tag for hosts who are officially verified by Strava (similar to the verification process on other social media).

Part IV — The End And A New Beginning

Final Prototype

Full Flow From Creating an Event to Finishing an Event

Conclusion

As an avid user of Strava and an athlete, I whole-heartedly believe Strava is on the right step towards their mission, “to build the most engaged community of athletes in the world.” I hope that my ideas and thoughts can contribute to this noble goal.

On the other hand, being the first UX case study that I’ve ever done, it will forever be one of my most memorable case studies. After the 8-week process of research, brainstorm, design, and testing, I can say that I have absolutely fell in love with product design! This is my first exposure to product design, and I hope to continue on to this path.

I am not affiliated in any way with Strava. This case study was done for my “Intro to Digital Product Design” class at Cornell University.

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