My first digital product design project, LocalGuide is a platform that connects travelers looking for unique adventures with local residents. I designed a holistic experience that allowed users to book time with locals. I completed LocalGuide in July, 2017.
Type of Project:
Product design / UX design / Content strategy
6 part-time weeks
Sketch / InVision / Axure
Wireframes / InVision prototype / UI style guides / Task flows / App map
LocalGuide was an academic project focused on holistic product design within an agile framework. We were challenged to create an end to end mobile experience around travel recommendations. We were prompted to utilize research and synthesis to discover a scope not addressed by current products, and followed the project through from initial conception through UI development and delivery.
After a brief kickoff, I first familiarized myself with the domain. I looked at a wide range of competitors from basic planning apps like Google Trips to more robust recommendation products like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor.
This is a reduced version of my full competitive analysis. All options besides Google Trips offered a more focused experience on their website. This revealed a priority on desktop products and validated a gap in the mobile market that Local Guide could occupy.
The Travel market is heavily saturated with guides, booking platforms, and planners. However, access to locals and obscure travel locations found by word of mouth remained unaddressed by current tools. This was a key area that Local Guide could potentially address.
With a clear picture of the current market, I talked to a collection of eight professionals to gain insights into travel experiences, pain points, and needs. I crafted an affinity map to help uncover patterns to inform my push into concept development.
Users don't like strict travel plans.
Users preferred impromptu travel, with light planning, and consciously left trips open to interpretation and chance.
“If something more interesting shows up or whatever, I like to be very flexible” - Scott, young professional
“We didn't plan anything but lodging” - Liz, young professional
Users prefer traveling with friends, and rely on them for travel tips.
Despite some of my users being parents, they preferred traveling with close friends over family members. They also turned to friends currently living in the destination city for recommendations and tips.
“If we hadn’t had our friends show us around we’d be hosed” - Andrew, young professional
“We did a few things but it was just about being with your friends” - Jeff, young professional
Users prefer tips and recommendations from real people.
This was a key insight. The majority of my users preferred to take tips from people they felt they could trust.
“If friends give us recommendations we’ll take it.” - Horace, young professional
The insights I gathered started to shape not only a potential area of opportunity, but an understanding that my audience were a-typical, spontaneous travelers who desired unique adventures.
My users revealed key insights that clarified my understanding of scope and direction. I felt confident in defining my product, and began with crafting a persona.
Jake is a young professional working at an LA Business Analyst Firm. His passion resides in his love for traveling with friends and close loved ones. He often travels with a close friend and prefers to plan only big-ticket items, leaving the rest up to "winging it" and recommendations from locals or friends. He enjoys finding "hole in the wall" establishments and little pockets of culture not found in your typical travel guide. Forming relationships with Locals are his key to finding points of interest and things to do. Too often, however, he finds his GPS and smartphone unreliable when searching for simple directions and obscure items or locations of interest. He yearns to learn something from his travels, be it about art, his friends, or even himself.
01 — Find unique travel experiences.
02 — Have fun and learn
03 — Bond with existing friends and form new friendships
04 — Find local favorites while traveling
01 — Too many tourist experiences
02 —Travel that is too regimented
03 — Unintuitive map tech.
04 — Being pressed for time
01 — Friends
02 — Locals
03 — Guide books
04 — Creative blogs
01 — LonelyPlanet.com
02 — Google.com
03 — Yelp.com
04 — Medium.com
Creating a full persona helped bring clarity to the problem, and informed a design direction focused on building connections between locals and travelers to prompt unique experiences. Travelers like Jake needed a way to find unique adventures not found in the typical guidebook and enjoyed utilizing locals to find them. This more precise picture of my audience allowed me to form a problem statement:
The spontaneous a-typical traveler needs a way to meet locals during their travels because they enjoy discovering unique connections across cultures and beliefs.
To help define and clarify the components of LocalGuide, I created user stories to flush out essential features that Jake would need. I focused on elements that would directly address Jake’s needs as a spontaneous traveler.
As a traveler who enjoys some structure, I want to book time with a Local Guide so that I can plan my day.
As an “on the go” traveler, I want to see available Local Guides based on location so that I can meet with them as soon as possible.
As an extroverted traveler, I want to chat with a potential Local Guide before meeting so that we can arrange a time and place, as well as introduce myself beforehand.
Developing user stories not only helped me form scenarios that LocalGuide would have to tackle, but assisted in building empathy with my user base and Jake.
At this point, I had a good grasp of the high-level problem. Travelers like Jake need a way to meet locals in order to find unique travel adventures. My early concepts focused on this understanding. I ideated mobile concepts, using 6-8-5 sketching, that connected users with locals. I turned to popular booking sites like Airbnb, and current travel industry standards like Lonely Planet for patterns that could inform my concepts.
Lonely Planet used dots on a visual map to indicate different activities, and had great information on specific cities and their histories.
Airbnb had an intuitive booking calendar that made picking dates easy.
Airbnb also had a detailed accommodation page. LocalGuide needed to emulate this level of detail and clarity.
I focused on bringing the right level of detail and clarity found in analogs to LocalGuide, and coalesced my concepts around the idea of connecting users with locals. I returned to research with each concept to ensure adherence to Jake’s needs.
Initial sketches from my “Airbnb” concept that received unanimous praise from users. This design focused on booking similar to Airbnb, and used a visual map to represent location and types of guides.
With a user approved concept to push forward into mid-fidelity, I constructed an app map to flush out structure and scope of work. I focused on features that directly addressed Jake’s needs and added additional structure and features at a minimum viable level for a holistic experience.
While iterating my paper prototype, I aimed to maintain the level clarity as well as address the feedback I received. Users commented on the unconventional way to book time and the unintuitive filter icon. I also built an onboarding feature to negate user confusion during first use.
I built out an on-boarding to help reduce initial confusion.
[+] Users appreciated the on-boarding and were quicker to jump into using LocalGuide.
I utilized a typical calendar pattern found in analogs like Airbnb.
[+] Users found this method easy to use.
I implemented a map view as the primary method of finding guides.
[-] Users were confused by the odd central button and were unclear of its purpose.
I had a vision for an immersive, image heavy experience.
[+] Users appreciated the approachable design.
To create a UI that matched the needs and personality of my user Jake, I returned to research insights and grounded my UI style tiles in adjectives that matched Jake’s adventurous young character. I approached my two style tiles from opposite sides of the spectrum, tapping into Jakes friendly and extroverted nature in the first iteration while keeping Jakes more modern and trendy lifestyle in the second.
[+] Light / Friendly
This lighter style tile tested exceptionally well with my user base. Although aspects of Jake were “edgy,” the friendly approachable interface mirrored their demeanor when traveling abroad, and was more approachable.
[-] Trendy / Edgy
While this divergent style tile received praise, users felt it out of place. They mentioned that while it was an appealing design, it did not suit a travel product.
I implemented my light UI across the rest of my mid-fidelity screens after receiving positive feedback. During the implementation, I also addressed critical areas of opportunity that arose during mid-fidelity testing. One crucial feedback point I addressed included a redesign of the central “recenter-user” button to a location similar to Google Map’s material design model. I built a functioning prototype using a combination of Sketch, Craft, and InVision before placing it in front of my last round of users.
I received overall praise for my execution and level of fidelity. However, there were minor points of usability that needed addressing before delivery. These included questions around my bottom nav, and it’s lack of copy, as well as the lack of edit buttons and user icons on the map. These were addressed before delivering the final hi-fidelity wireframes.
I delivered my wireframes organized in user flows to increase clarity and negate miscommunication during handoff.
LocalGuide was my first digital experience project and was a breath of fresh air to design at such an agile pace. My biggest takeaway from working on LocalGuide was just how similar the digital design process is to architectural design. It not only reinforced the constant need for iteration, but showed me the value of putting users first.
One key translatable skill that informed LocalGuide’s success was my ability to develop and understand digital information architecture. The ability to think of design as a system, a network of components and inputs that form a whole was a crucial skill taught during architecture school and in the profession. My ability to grasp LocalGuide as a summation of screens, color, icons and user flows allowed me to develop and synthesis LocalGuide quickly and effectively.
Overall, LocalGuide opened the door to digital design for me and reinforced that despite my shift in discipline, my skills were not only transferable but a decisive stepping stone into digital experience design.