Outdoing the outdoors
We’re Team refresh, and our mission this quarter is to design a tool that encourages young adults to go outside and get fresh air more often. With this goal in mind, we set out (no pun intended) to explore the existing solution space via a literature review and comparative analysis.
General secondary research findings
First, we learned from our literature review that there are many different reasons people choose to go outside: getting exercise, gathering with friends/family, participating in group sports, observing nature, avoiding technology, finding solitude, etc. Also, it’s important to keep in mind the ways that outdoor participation trends vary by race, age, class, ability, and gender as well as the inequitable distribution of walkable neighborhoods and outdoor spaces.
Generally speaking, however, we noticed that people choose to go outside for the many associated health benefits: stress relief, improved short term memory, restored mental energy & concentration, reduced inflammation, better vision, improved mental health, and increased creativity.
Going outside for increased well-being might seem like a no-brainer, but studies have shown that while we ideally need at least 120 minutes a week outside, we are also increasingly disconnected from nature, with “more than half of adults reported spending five hours or less in nature each week” (source).
Overview: analysis of existing comparators
The comparators we chose to analyze represent the desire for health/well-being as well as a variety of other problems and solutions related to going outside: Zombies, Run!, Soundwalk, Pokémon GO, Geocaching, Star Walk, Birds Eye, iNaturalist, Strava.
In the 2D coordinate plane above, the x-axis encodes characteristics of the target user (ranging from niche audiences to a general audience), while the y-axis spans the two main categories we encountered in the solution space: knowledge gain and gamification.
One insight we noticed about our comparators was that they mostly provided content and social interaction for people who were already inclined to go outside. For example, Birds Eye is an app for bird watchers while Strava is a trail tracking app for avid bikers. In thinking about the implications for the solution we will ultimately design, we saw an opportunity to design a tool for the homebodies who want to take small steps (re: tiny habits) to become more active outside. After all, research shows that even getting up to grab a cup of water or to open a window can have profound health benefits. It might also be important for us to hone in on a niche interest, much like many of the comparators did.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a closer look at some of the comparators. We decided to do deep dives into two apps: Ellen Reid’s Soundwalk, a “location-based sound art” app, and Pokémon GO, the popular AR-based game.
Comparator deep dives
Product description: Pokemon GO is a GPS- and AR-based mobile gaming app launched as part of the Pokemon franchise. Users can locate, capture, train, and battle virtual Pokemon that seem to appear to be in the user’s physical environment.
Target users: Initially, Pokemon GO leveraged the existing player / fan base of existing Pokemon content and games to draw a core user base. However, the addressable audience quickly grew into effectively “everybody” (who owns a smartphone) as hype around the game’s new AR technology spread around the world. Perhaps surprisingly, in 2016 (the peak of Pokemon GO virality), the percentage breakdown of users by age was:
- 13–17 years old: 20%
- 18–29 years old: 43%
- 30–49 years old: 30%
- 50+ years old: 7%
The AR-based game is able to attract and cater to such a wide range of users largely due to 1) its unique user experience and 2) organic network effects — you might recall that in 2016, it was relatively common to see masses of people playing the game in public. This social virality combined with the novel nature of the gameplay created a really compelling mode of entertainment that allowed Pokemon GO to become so successful that it literally had a frappuccino named after it. GOALS!
Product description: Soundwalk is an app-based, GPS-dependent, musical experience mapped onto New York City’s Central Park*. Using music composed by Ellen Reid, Soundwalk constructs a series of interlocking musical “cells” that adapt, in real-time, to the user’s movements and location. The app requires users to wear headphones and remain close to their phone as their wandering activates shifting soundscapes.
*Soundwalk is currently expanding into other metropolitan areas.
Target users: Soundwalk was formulated primarily as a work of public art, interested in embedding an immersive experience contextualized within a public health crisis. Accordingly, it functions best for solo-walkers living in metropolitan cities interested in reinvigorating well-traversed walking paths, desiring reflection and outdoor activity as an antidote to anxiety and loneliness during COVID-19. The app itself requires moderate technical literacy; while an exact demographic breakdown is not publicly available, an age range of 15–45 likely comprises the bulk of its user base.
Problem overview: With the constraints of COVID-19 and social distancing, Soundwalk aims to be an antidote to the scarcity of shared experiences available to partake in. Particularly for those living in densely populated, and potentially unsafe, metropolitan areas, Soundwalk aims to create a public health initiative and a soul respite simultaneously for those who may find it difficult to recover a moment of escape.
Soundwalk’s solution: The app is created for the solitary walker but aims to recover lost social connection; it succeeds at this primarily through the selection of music available to the user. The compositions that play allow ambient noise to filter in, while calling attention to specific features, landmarks, or sculptures in the area. The combination of communal space and solitary experience is what makes SoundWalk so compelling. The design of the app is minimal and accessible: it avoids bringing attention to the screen and encourages it to instead be given to space itself.
Strengths & weaknesses
- Technology designed with the intention to be assistive (very little distracting elements, graphic design is kept to a minimum, and no user moderation is required during the course of the walk to change states in the app)
- Sparse feature set
- Music appeals to a niche audience (classical pieces by the NYPhil)
- Inability to skip songs without changing location/general lack of user control
- Information architecture can be difficult to navigate due to emphasis on minimalism
- Map view (only screen available) adds limited value and can be difficult to read due to color palette