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Foursquare: A UX case study

Explore your destination city before traveling


Foursquare’s iOS app after tweaked experience of user journey

I love Foursquare and have used it since I lived in Tokyo. After I moved to San Francisco, I was impressed that I could use it seamlessly. It helped me discover a new place anywhere in the world. Last summer, I also planned a trip to Portland with Foursquare but I realized a problem while using the iOS app.

So I set out to explore feature enhancements and improvements that would help users plan their trips, and attract new users.

Problem & Hypothesis

Last year, I tried using both Foursquare’s desktop and mobile versions to plan a trip. I noticed that it was easy to search for locations near and far on the desktop version, however when using the mobile version it was significantly harder when searching for further travel destinations. I really loved using Foursquare, so I wanted to find a way to make the mobile app easier to use. A way to do this would be to create a way for users to bookmark potential travel destinations, then they would be much easier to navigate to when using the mobile app.

Foursquare’s desktop version

I researched the philosophy that guides Foursquare. They suggest to their users to make a list of favorite spots, plan a trip, and save places you want to go. I was confident that their aim was same my hypothesis.

The screenshot in Foursquare on the App Store — iTunes (Nov 2017)


First, I created a provisional persona of a potential Foursquare user based on online research and people around me who are using Foursquare. Since Foursquare is about discovering new places, I envision the ideal user is a curious and adventurous person.

Job Story & Scenario

I created the following job story with the Jobs To Be Done framework and a scenario.

Job Story

Guerrilla Usability Testing

Testing People in Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco

Based on my job story and the scenario, I conducted guerilla usability testing to test my hypothesis.

I found seven people in a park and asked a few qualifying questions before starting the usability test.

Before I asked them to do tasks, I asked them to imagine they were planning to travel to a new destination (either city or country is fine).

Seven users were asked to do the following tasks on the iPhone:

  1. If you are looking for a place where you’d like to travel, how would you do that?
  2. Let’s say you found a place you like, what do you do to check out that place?
  3. You’re interested in the place, and you decide to plan on travel there, what would you do next?

Identifying and Prioritizing Pain Points

Affinity Mapping
2x2 Prioritization Matrix

I reviewed the user interviews and wrote each users’ pain points onto Post-Its. Then I categorized pain points with Affinity Mapping and prioritized them with 2x2 Matrix.

Everyone I tested could not find a travel destination outside of their current location. Search is most important because if new users couldn’t get results they want, they might churn.

The search feature is the source of a lot of pain, so I decided to focus on the search functionality.

There were a few pain points on the photo feature, where users said they want to see high quality pictures before they decide to travel. This indicates that there is an opportunity for improvement on photo feature.

Task Flow

A users reviews page is important for Foursquare, but most of the interviewees didn’t reach the reviews page when they were looking for a travel destination outside of their current location.

Design Decisions

Before committing to my initial solution, and creating Hi-Fi mockups, I did sketches to explore and find the best solution to the pain points.

Prototyping and Validation

I used Sketch and Marvel to create Hi-Fi mockups to test the prototype with 5 new people.
Below is the prototype I used in user testing and the test results.

Foursquare really helps to find a place near current location, but it’s not as easy to find a travel destination before traveling. Participants wanted to know a recommended destination by Foursquare. I revised the home page to solve the issue of finding travel destinations.

Home page
  1. I changed main visual to city photo based on the user’s current location.
  2. Because users want to find glamorous destinations, I added the featured city feature.
  3. Foursquare has featured spot lists in Lists menu, but the new user didn’t notice the Lists menu. So I moved the spot lists to the home page to get more user’s to use the feature.
  4. I changed the label “Search” to “Explore”. “Explore” literally means to discover a new place, it is more emotional than “Search” for the new home page.

Results: 4 of 5 people explored the home page and tapped featured destination.

Finding a destination before traveling was a major pain point for participants of the study. I reviewed the search flow and modified UI design. The main problem for the participants was finding locations in a city. When the participant enters a city name into the search bar, they get back a name local business that includes the city you typed. My solution was that when a user enters a city name, suggesting search result with the location for the city name.

Search field

Results: Everyone noticed location input area.

Recommended query for location

Results: 2 of 5 people tapped the suggested city.

Suggest search with location for city name

Results: 3 of 5 people entered a city name into the main text field, after that, tapped “Tokyo” button.

Search result

Results: 3 of 5 people were interested in category buttons.

People who are used to the iPhone could not find the share and bookmark buttons. iPhone user’s are not familiar with the floating action button used on Android. They didn’t expect there was “Add to List” button in the floating action button. I moved share button and “Add to List” button to the header to expose.

Detail page

Results: Everyone tapped “Add to List” button easier.

Improving user journey

Overall, the participants enjoyed exploring a new destination in the app that was not in their home city.

The current Foursquare app is helpful but lacks certain features that their users need and expect from Foursquare. But they are more and more exposed to competition with local search platform like Facebook Local, Yelp, and other platforms that have more comprehensive functionality. User’s of Foursquare want to discover new places. However, there is heavy competition in the local exploration market. Foursquare could grow their user base and increase current happiness of existing user’s by being the app that allows people to discover new places, regardless of where you are located at that moment.

As a big fan of Foursquare, I want to use them every time, everywhere. I believe that they will show me an awesome place from now on too. ✈

Note: This is a self-assigned project. I’m not affiliated with Foursquare. Foursquare is my favorite exploration app and I’m exploring how I might make it better. This case study was done in Nov/Dec 2017.

Special Thanks: Zac Halbert, Garrett McIndoe, Joseph Ensminger, Priya Sahdev

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this case study or have any feedback, ping me at namika@hmsk.co or connect via LinkedIn. And please follow me on Twitter👋



A Japanese duo by a product designer and a software engineer in San Francisco.

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