This project was created for the 2021 Design for Change challenge, based on the following challenge statement: How might we create social transformation that shifts users towards greener behaviour and sustainable practices?
People often throw out items that are unused or do not serve its initial purpose anymore. This causes a huge problem for the environment, as the items build up in landfills and increase the amount of waste generated. When looking for new products, individuals simply purchase new items from stores, and continue this cycle of purchasing, and throwing out.
Creating a platform where users can find inspiration for what they can do with their disposable items, and provide incentives for users to create sustainable alternatives for store purchased goods.
My Role + My Team
During the project, I focused on user experience research to understand the users and also worked with the users when conducting usability testing to develop our iterations. I also worked on wireframing and initial ideation of the concept into the high fidelity prototype.
I worked in a team of three people, with the talented Yi Nan Zhang and Janice Chen
This project was done across four weeks, in March 2021. We spent a week each on the User Research, Ideation + Prototyping, Testing, and Presentation parts of the project.
Ideation and Research
Determining the Problem Space
When it coming to tackling such a huge problem space such as “social transformation towards greener behaviour and sustainable social practices” there are a world of accompanying problems and potential solutions to go along with it. In order to determine the particular space we wanted to solve, we chose to look at problems that were within our understanding which we experienced as students.
We narrowed it down to one of the following topics:
- Reducing food waste by creating an application to manage what can be made with the food in the user’s fridge
- Reducing heavy meat production by showcasing vegan alternatives
- Promoting ideas for repurposing unused items to reduce waste and landfill use.
We found that while the first two solutions required a lot of initial setup on the part of the user and could result in a lack of adoption, the third solution was both useful and easy to take integrate into the users daily lives.
Understanding Our Issue
The concept we chose to explore was upcycling. Upcycling is the process of transforming unwanted and unused materials into new products of greater quality. We chose to take tackle this problem because it is applicable to a wide audience and can easily help alter social behaviours without additional resources.
Upcycling is something that is commonly practiced in many households already by simply repurposing an old jar as a pencil holder or a using old clothes as cleaning rags. However, we wanted to focus on expanding this by making upcycling a common practice that people actively chose to engage in instead of constantly purchasing and throwing out store-bought items.
An important aspect of having a large population adopt a specific trend is implementing some way to measure that the individual is doing well compared to others, and also having methods of continuous improvement that can be tangibly seen.
In order to understand if this was a problem space that actually needed to be addressed, and to understand how best to approach it, we conducted secondary research on how often upcycling is currently done, as well as examples of large companies and individuals that currently upcycle.
Based on our research, we found that while a significant amount of adults, and large companies are accustomed to upcycling and implement this in their daily practices, there are still a large group of people who do not. Our goal was to target the demographic of individuals who did not know much about upcycling, or even how easy it is to implement it in their lives with minimal changes to their current practices.
In order to get an understanding of the general public’s knowledge of upcycling and gauge their enthusiasm to start learning, we created and distributed a survey which collected basic demographic information, current familiarity, and willingness to start upcycling if they learnt more about the process. Collecting demographic information allowed us to understand what parts of the population we were getting input from, and who was being excluded so that we could make more informed decisions for future iterations.
Based on our user survey, we found that a little over half of the respondents currently do not upcycle, but almost all would be willing to start given that they had more information. This data informed us that we would have to include an educational component during both the onboarding and throughout the application experience as well in order to continuously provide new knowledge on upcycling habits. Since majority of our respondents were in the age group of 18–24, we decided to gear our design and user interface to be more modern, and using topical design methods.
To get a deeper understanding of peoples main motivations and frustrations in the current upcycling process, we conducted user interviews with 7 individuals, who fell under three main categories: undergraduate student, teenager, and adult. Through this process we aimed to pinpoint exactly what could be improved on, and find methods we could tackle it.
Based on the interviews, we came to the following conclusions:
- Access to information: there is a lack of information regarding how upcycling works and what/how people can do, which causes hesitancy to start due to unfamiliarity.
- Inconvenience: users don’t know what items they have to use or how much time it will take to create new items.
- Lack of ideas: it is difficult to come up with ideas for creations based on the items that people have at home, especially when just starting up.
- Competition: people are motivated by competing against their friends, and getting ideas based on what others have done.
- Impact visualization: showing their actual impact will motivate them to do more and give back.
- Saving money: people tend to keep used packaging materials and reuse it for other purposes as this retains quality.
Based on these obstacles and motivators, we came up with our list of system requirements for the MVP of the product.
In order to summarize all the data we found from our user interviews and surveys, we created a user persona which describes the main user base we were targeting the application to be for.
Based on the user persona we decided to implement the following features:
- Inspiration page for users to view others creations, as well as find instructions to create similar products
- Create function for users to post their own creations, difficulty level and required materials
- Points system and leaderboard to encourage friendly competition and create a gamified aspect to creating more sustainable solutions
- Visualized impact in the profile page for individuals to get a quantitative understanding of the impact they have made: we chose to do this in amount of CO2 saved, and number of trees planted (where 100 points equaled to 1 tree)
To ensure that the features we ideated and journey we created actually made a noticeably positive impact on the users’ journeys, we mapped out a user journey of purchasing a new item to its end of usability, and compared the process with and without the application.
We found that while there was still a dip in user emotion when the usability of a product ended, instead of continuing that dip downwards, the new application allowed for the feeling to be reversed. Since the user now had a new challenge to tackle, and was able to both be educated and take part in friendly competition, they felt better about their impact on the world compared to if they had simply thrown out their product.
Wireframing and Initial Designs
Based on our user research, we created wireframes for each of the main features we planned on including. After deciding the finer points of what each of the features consisted of, we drew out multiple layout options for each of them in order to visualize how a user would navigate through it.
Doing this helped us get an idea of which features provided the most benefits to the user and contributed to the user journey. By exploring various layout options in each of the sections, we found common UX principles which could be applied to make the features as easy to access as possible.
Based on our initial wireframes, we created mid-fi prototypes on Figma. Throughout this process, we focused on the most important features we wanted to test, so that we could then get feedback on what to improve for future iterations.
Instead of implementing a comprehensive design system, we chose to use a style guide which consisted of our branding colours, typography choices, and select components to use. We also decided to call the product ‘leafup.’, which was a play on leveling up while helping the environment.
Since this product was targeted at an extremely large audience, it was important to have an inclusive and accessible design. This was done by ensuring that our colour use met the WCAG standards, and that all the icons we used had some form of text accompanying it so as to avoid assumptions for a diverse audience.
Reason for user testing
In order to get an unbiased response to the application, we used non-leading questions such as the following:
- What is the first task you would do?
- How do you find the information on the page?
- What is your thought process when seeing this screen?
- What do you expect to happen based on your actions?
- What do you like/dislike the most?
Based on our user testing, we made the following changes:
- Revamped the impact section to include more tangible numbers which helps quantify the users impact in more common terms
- Added more labels, titles and descriptions to explain the more niche aspects of the application
- Implemented an onboarding process to explain the leaf points system
- Refined the leaderboard to be more indicative of where the user fell in the group, as well as how they could reach the next level
Through a comprehensive onboarding, users are both able to understand the product and also set up their personal preferences to allow for customized recommendations to populate.
Users can read the fact of the day for informative environmental news, and view their current standing.
One of the main features of the application is to easily allow users to upload their upcycled creation as a post for the global community to see. This allows them to get inspired by millions of people and their creations from across the world!
Users can follow quick blogs or videos for an easy tutorial on hundreds of creations.
They can also collect leaf points to compete with their friends, and check their standings on the leaderboard.
Users can admire their previous creations and collections, as well as view, share, and save their impact on the environment.
Learning and Future Changes
Throughout this project, I learnt the importance of having a standardized design system and building with a consistent set of design principles, not only to present a cohesive feel to the application but also to make sure the original goal of the application is fulfilled.
In the future, there are both more features and more learnings which can be implemented.
Firstly, implementing a ‘work together’ feature would be extremely useful for users who want to work together to create a product, which would really foster a community environment. In addition, growing the amount of inspiration we had by sourcing from other upcycling websites and working in a partnership would improve the content the users would have, and keep drawing them back in.
In future iterations, it is extremely important for us to conduct more user research and iteratively conduct usability testing on the product. Since our timeline only allowed for one week of research, validating our findings will allow us to develop more fleshed out features. However in our research, we must also seek out groups that we originally did not hear from in an effort to be more accessible and inclusive in the content that we develop. Since certain demographics were not heard from in the original findings, specifically reaching out to them will ensure that all voices are heard.