To empower outdoor trip leaders to coordinate carpools with less effort
Self-initiated 5 day project (November 2016)
1. Lay the foundation to guide the project
As a mountaineer, I have waited on carpoolers to wake up from sleeping through a 3am alarm. At the wee hours of the morning, no one enjoys waiting on a latecomer in the dark and cold. Super early starts are required at times so a team can safely descend just as the sun rises to avoid slushy snow.
There is a significant tax that falls on an trip leader's shoulders to assemble a team, coordinate over gear, and plan the route accordingly with weather conditions. It is time-consuming and can be vexing when strangers are involved.
Even though this is a problem that is applicable across many outdoor activities, I wanted to segment the user demographic down to just mountaineers to provide constraints and focus. This is essential for making decisions easier and filtering out the noise that accompanies solving a problem for a large user base.
- Mountaineers tend to be dedicated to the sport because it is such an involved pursuit
- Similarities shared across climbers and mountaineers
- Technically competent on the mountain but can be technology adverse
- Tech can fail from lack of reception, risk of battery failure, and extreme weather conditions
- Smartphone usage is for coordinating beforehand and possibly taking pictures during
- Thick winter gloves are used often and affect dexterity
If available, I would collaborate with a researcher to understand the problems better. If not, I'm all about going directly to actual users and just conversing with them. The goal would be to understand what mountaineers are ultimately trying to achieve and where innovation is most strategically needed.
Is it at the start of planning when everyone is coming together for the first time? Are there pain points with a rope team that often climbs together? What annoying thing happens too often? Do trip leaders assume the role out of seniority or because others are too lazy?
I would visit local climbing gyms and mountaineering shops to ask about trip planning and coordinating frustrations. I often utilize a Day In the Life Of chart to gather data points around stress levels to get a deeper understanding of the targeted user. After getting as many as I can, I would overlay the graphs to see similarities and discrepancies of stressors and pull insights from specific age groups, gender, or other data points.
Communication is tedious—it is split between multiple channels and requires the trip leader to manage the coordination with numerous people. Waiting for responses gets tiresome across large groups.
2. Explore ideas and quickly prototype potential solutions
Multiple navigation and concept models are explored in low fidelity--without visual design--to move fast. The goal here is to visualize a general strategy that solves key problems for the user while being easy to use. Very little effort goes toward visual design to avoid designing the aesthetic and interaction problems at the same time. It is essential that while these are being shown to get feedback that the audience does not give too critical feedback--thinking this is the final design.
- "Piano keys" (left): essentially a check list of key info
- "Metro map" (middle): similar to Piano Keys but visually structured around wake up, pick up, and arrival times
- "Chatbot" (right): removing input forms and letting users fill in trip details organically
I went with the Chatbot model because the other two started to feel like it burdened the user with questions. If people were coordinating a trip in person, it would be in the flow of a conversation and I wanted to continue that feel through a cyclops monster persona.
Why a cyclops? Because of the imagery of a cyclops that lives out in the remote wild or up in the mountains. Because an anthropomorphic persona would have less expectations to be perfect than an automated, intelligent system.
Depending on the project needs, I mainly use Principle to knock out multiple prototypes of the fundamental micro interactions (e.g. getting trip info and adding it to a carpool). Ideally, the prototypes would be utilized to test out ideas amongst a team and actual users. I have often used paper physical prototypes to quickly demonstrate the modular pieces to a design as well.
INSIGHTS FROM PROTOTYPING
- Chat bots transform the mundane task of coordinating with multiple people into something more conversational and less about filling out text fields
- A messenger app allows for a singular focus of Q&A--allowing for simplicity with UI that comes and goes as appropriate
- "Savings in time feels like simplicity" (Law 3 from The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda)
- Bold and light-hearted with emphasis on functional parts of a design (highlighting zippers on a jacket in a bold color)
- Subtle touch of an aspirational lifestyle (big lofty goals, beautiful landscapes, ...etc.)
- Monotone with bold color accents
Sarcastic with a bit of dark humor and slur words as if that's how a cyclops would chat
3. Funnel insights and research into the most compelling solution
After exploring solutions for this 5 day exercise, I deduced that a chat bot app is an effective way of gathering and sharing info in a familiar quick message format.
- Robust: A system is needed to handle the variety of ways to express one thing (e.g. an address, time, ...etc.)
- Guided: By providing answers to questions Cyclops asked allows for a more guided workflow--rather than designing for various language patterns
- Lighthearted: Briefly exploring a cyclops persona to ask and respond to users was enjoyable
- Approachable: The tone and delivery of messages by Cyclops is key to the feel of an interactive app
- Focal point: I tried to design a single chat screen that would scale across all scenarios (plan, coordinate, navigate) but ultimately thought a user would benefit from a separate trip summary screen
- Lightweight: Streamlining ways to edit trip info directly instead of drilling down to another screen was key to maintaining a lightweight and fast feel
- Multi-faceted: I wanted to make it clear when Cyclops was the one asking/responding and taking action on info carpoolers provided. My solution was utilizing messages that spanned the entire width of the screen and different typography to show that the app was taking action. This is an area that I would invest more energy in to see what opportunities and feedback a chat bot could provide.
- Gradual: An area I did not get to explore more was a trip summary header that became more alive with more trip info. I imagined it as a subtle feedback of successful coordinating to a mountaineering team
As mountaineers can be minimal and engrained in their way of doing things, I would get feedback from the mountaineering community by visiting the same mountaineering shops and climbing gyms in during the research phase to continue the train of thought. Obtaining feedback from new participants would also benefit with a fresh set of eyes.