– User-Centered Design project

– Mobile App design

– Sep.2015 – Dec.2015


– Administrated survey

– Conducted interview

– Designed wireframe and prototype

– Created design specs


– Lauren Wheelwright

– Sarah O’Connor

– Xuan Liu

– Gabriela Madrid


Every city presents numerous opportunities for one to experience. Currently, city guide and recommendation applications are too often based around fixed itineraries and impersonal lists of ratings and reviews. Although informative, there is an area of opportunity to actually entice people to go explore. We want to find out if we can utilize technology to get people to explore their city by focusing on the individual’s own interests and intentions. To take a closer look at the situation, we proposed the design question to guide our direction:

“Is there a way to use interactive technology to create a more engaging and personal experience when exploring a place?

Before we jumped into detailed research, we did a stakeholder analysis. By doing so, we can know from whom should we gather information to inform the design.  It helped us not only know who will be target users,  but know what’s the indirect impacts, what supports can we get, as well as what constraints will be presented.

Who will be involved?

New Residents of Seattle

People who are new to the Seattle area and want to know more about new places to eat, drink, learn, play and have fun.

Locals of Seattle

Locals of Seattle who want to rediscover places or finding new locations to enjoy.

Local Corporate Businesses

Small and large businesses of Seattle that want to present their business in the best light, maintaining their brand and generating new business.

Local Tourist Industry

The city of Seattle would have an interest in attracting people to generate revenue.



In the research phase, we aimed for getting a better understanding of the big story to explore the design requirements. As what has been highlighted in design question, I reframed the topic into two parts:

(1) the exploration experiences of target users;

(2) the existing technologies in this industry.

How to approach the problem?

To learn more about users, we chose survey and interview to gather both quantitative data and qualitative information to understand users’ profiles, behaviors, pain points and desires.

To discover what existing technologies are people used for exploration, what are their features and what are areas for opportunities, we conducted a competitive analysis to get a closer look at the current exploration and travel industry.

From the survey and interviews, we found that people consider recommendations, both those given by friends and by recommendation systems, important determinants when deciding a place to go. Also, most of the participants manifest strong social requirements, such as sharing moments with friends and exploring with companions. Besides, from competitive analysis, we found that some products utilize gamification to make exploration both interactive and engaging. Therefore, we conducted a literature review to learn more about recommendations, social network, and gamification from previous academic studies.


Who are they?

Based on research findings, we conducted affinity diagram and I summarized 3 main focuses in exploration:

1) Whom to go with;

2) Where to explore;

3) What to do.

Combing those findings with demographic information collected from surveys, I generated 3 personas, each focusing on one motivation.


How do they plan explorations?

Then, based on interviews and survey findings, we investigated the process of planning an exploration to understand users’ behaviors and desires.

Accordingly, we identified the flow for planning and examined the key factors people take into account in each step of planning.

Key findings & Insights

1. Social desires bring both joys & pressure

Shared experiences is an appealing reason to visit places. 96% of people said that they like to share the places they like with friends. And most of the participants like to visit new places with companions. However, they also articulated a sense of social pressure when planning group activities; fear of disappointing or not meeting certain people’s expectations. Also, 84% of respondents mentioned that in the past they have had troubles figuring out what to do or where to go when planning for outings with friends.

>> Thus, the design solution should focus on freeing people from the pressure of planning to bring back the enjoyment of exploration.

2. Mobile technology featuring recommendations works the best

Mobile applications are the most widely used and feasible technology in current travel and exploration industry. Thus, we narrowed down our focus in design question from “interactive technology” to “mobile technology” to get more specified. The top three applications people use for travel and exploring are Google Maps, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Google Maps focuses on navigation, while Yelp and TripAdvisor are based upon reviews, ratings and finding recommendations within one’s current context. The literature review corroborates how important reviews and recommendations are.

>> To be successful, the solution could be based on mobile platform and need to be able to analyze and present the user with ways to digest this information quickly while allowing the user to get more in depth with the reviews.

3. People value recommendations based on who is giving it

Although people consider reviews (on Yelp, Google etc) serve as supplemental knowledge gathering source, they believe word of mouth or social influence is a more important factor in inspiring what places to visit and see. People highly value recommendations given from trusted individuals— either subject experts, influential friends or acquaintances, or individuals who have similar interests and tastes.

>> To maximize the value of recommendation, the solution should emphasize word of mouth.



Turn insights into design implications

According to research, our design is faced with the following challenges:

(1) Cover 3 different focuses while keep consistency;

(2) Meet social desires while ease the social pressures;

(3) Provide recommendations while emphasize the opinions from friends.

Summary of solutions

First, we turned the 3 different focuses into 3 scenarios, which became the key user flows.

To distress the social pressure, we came up with an inviting &voting process for decision making, which democratizes the planning process and allows users to focus on the joy of exploration.

Also, we consider the separately displayed recommendation the key feature of our solution.  To enable users digest this information quickly, we chose the iteration of “thumbs up or down” rather than “numerical ratings” to illustrate the reviews.

How did we come up with those solutions? Iterations!

all sketch

Iterative ideation with tons of sketches

To explore the best solution, we brainstormed 29 ideas that were visualized with drafts of wireframes. The second iteration started with an affinity task, helping us grouped our ideas into 8 categories and then narrowed down to the top 4 voted features. Based on that, we went more rounds of iterations.

Under each category, we critiqued each idea to see which one is the most promising. We also mixed some interesting ideas into bigger ones and modified some ideas to make them more feasible, useful and interesting.

Each category ended up with a final sketch to represent its features. After finalizing those groups, we worked on identifying the relationship between them, which brought us the high-level  user flows.



Key User Flows

We identified high-level user flows based on:

(1) The 3 main motivation that different personas have when planning for explorations – Who, Where, and What;

(2) The wow idea came from the previous iterative ideation.

We decided that our major feature is a Tinder-like planning process. This idea was an iteration on how to crowdsource opinions to make planning an exploration easier. If a user wants to plan an event, they can begin by selecting who to hang out with, which areas to go, or what type of activity to do. Then, a list of the user’s friends will appear for them to select who all he wants to meet up with. Based on mutual interests, history activities, and recommendations, options will appear for the user to swipe right—I’d go there or do that—or left—no, thanks. And all invitees will receive an invitation and get the chance to swipe right or left for the places the organizer chose as potential options. Finally, the application will determine which place received the most positive response and create an event to put on their calendars.



After finalizing the high-level user flows, we got back to the granular ideas we brainstormed and worked on turning those ideas into intuitive wireframes.

During this phase, I focused on:

1. Fitting those features together with appropriate info architecture and layout;

2. Making the relationships between different pages and interactions easy to understand;

3. Bringing users intuitive and useful interaction for a delightful experience.

With several rounds of iterations, we created a more detailed interaction map to illustrate the flow.



We first tested our idea with a paper prototype and gathered feedbacks from peers. Based on that feedback we refined the wireframes and flows. Finally, Lauren led us to implement visual design and we together created a hi-fi interactive prototype with inVision to demonstrate the interface, flow, and interaction.

>> Play with the prototype <<



Usability Test

With the hi-fi interactive prototype, we tested 6 participants to know their experience in onboarding, creating an action plan, and responding to a plan.

By taking notes of observations and asking for feedback, we found patterns and assigned severity rates to findings. With test results, we analyzed what features should be added and then finalized our solutions.

>> Check the process of usability testing <<


We designed a mobile application that will provide users with personal recommendations about where to go or what to do in their city. It will also easily allow a user to invite friends to join them. The premise is that people tend to go places with their friends. However, organizing outings with friends would also result in an additional level of stress, which can cause people to be less likely to go try something new. In our application, we allow the user to select a few options for what they are interested in doing and then let them send this list out to their friends to help make the final decision. Once all the friends have responded, a final selection will automatically be made and the group can go enjoy their time together in the city.





1. How to build empathy?  Keep open-minded and see what users say!

It is inevitably that I designed and conducted research based on my own assumptions. For example, since I realized gamification was a hot topic in industry, I expected users would manifest the same interests. However, it turned out that respondents cared more about social needs and consider gimification a solo play, which was not that desired in an exploration. Thus, I learnt that rather than focusing on what I expected to know, I have to keep open-minded to understand the real situation and timely verify my preconceptions. Only by doing so can I unveil the real problem and explore the right solutions.

2. How to articulate design decision more effectively? Find support from research findings!

As the design process is very iterative, there is always new ideas pop up and we designers want to have a try. With the time constraints for one project, how to prioritize the features and make a trade-off? First, I will get back to research findings and get support from users. For example, during the design phase, my team focused on creating the planning process, but I wanted to add on the recommendation feature. Although the time was limited, since the recommendation feature was one of our major design requirements, I finally persuaded my team to finalize this functionality in the prototype. Also, if I could do it differently, I would save my new ideas for later phase if we haven’t met the basic requirements and what we want to add is beyond the current scope. Overall, I realize that a clearer scope and frequent design reviews would help the team be on the same page and make a project easier to conduct.