Unearthing Sustainable Travel

'unearth' is a sustainable travel app for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint when abroad. It analyzes their preferences and curates sustainable experiences, and provides travellers with the ability to learn more about their footprint based on their chosen activity and transportation methods. The app experience is also gamified so it encourages people to make better choices in order to earn in-app badges.

OVERVIEW

During BrainStation’s UX Design Diploma Program, I was tasked with completing an individual capstone project through an end-to-end UX design process. We were given the freedom to research a problem space to develop and build a unique app solution. The project was completed under really tight time constraints.

Project

Academic
Feb - Apr 2022

Timeline

8 weeks

Role

UX/UI Designer

Tools

Figma, Invision, Adobe CC

Platform

Mobile iOS

APPROACH

I approached the project through a human-centred iterative process that focuses on the users main goals and pain points to come up with a viable solution for the problem space. This was not a linear process and I've had to circle back through many of the steps just to validate my assumptions.

the solution

TAILORING TO THE USER'S NEEDS

  • Uncovered through research, interviewees have varying sustainability and travel goals. Onboarding questions help curate personalized recommendations suited for each user through tappable selections and engaging graphics.
  • Catered suggestions make it easier for each individual user to commit to the goals they personally set.

RECOMMENDATIONS + RESOURCES

  • Personalized greetings, carbon progress tracking and tailored suggestions help users feel connected to their sustainability journey.
  • The recommended experiences target the user's desire for under-the-radar authentic experiences.
  • Carbon information is provided throughout the app so it is straightforward and clear to the user so they’re aware of the impact of their selections.

AWARENESS OF CARBON IMPACT

  • Once an experience has been added, impact cards gradually appear through progressive disclosure, making the info easily digestible.
  • An overview of the user’s carbon impact provides additional awareness, and the impact is clearly communicated through interactive educational elements and gamification, which motivates the users to commit to the cause and travel guilt-free.
DISCOVERY

Travel should not be a guilt trip.

In my past life as an apparel designer, I’ve had to travel a lot for my job. With the countless short-distance flights and frequent missed connections with public recycling bins, I've often considered the impact of my travel carbon footprint and its contribution to climate change. I've heard similar complaints from friends and fellow co-workers when they’re abroad.

Pollution is inevitable, but is there a better way we could manage or reduce our carbon footprint?

secondary RESEARCH
I sought to gain a better understanding of the problem space and uncovered statistics that support the need to scale up climate action in tourism. I discovered that for a one-way flight from London to New York, it would take an acre of forest a year to absorb the entirety of the carbon emissions produced.

The pandemic has also given people time to consider travelling more responsibly. With shifting consumer attitudes and increased interest towards sustainable tourism, consumers need to be provided the resources to make better choices, as well as learn about the impact of their travel decisions.

Percentage of carbon emissions expected to grow by 2030 due to tourism

UNWTO, 2019

of surveyed travellers expect the travel industry to offer more options


Sustainable Travel Report, 2021

of surveyed travellers believe that sustainable travel is important


Sustainable Travel Report, 2021

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS
By researching existing travel companies like Expedia, Momondo and TripAdvisor, I was able to get a gauge on how sustainability features are being offered to the public. On initial review (Feb 2022), eco-friendly tourism did not seem to be a huge priority as it isn't actively featured or promoted, and visitors have to run separate browser searches to learn more about the company's sustainability initiatives.
With all this data in mind, I was able to make the assumption that due to concerns with carbon emissions and climate change, travellers are looking to travel more responsibly and need the proper resources to do so with the expectation that the tourism industry will provide options.
I also had to assume that travellers would be able to use a digital device and have access to the internet when abroad, in order to move forward with a feasible solution.
DESIGN CHALLENGE

How might we help travellers to travel more sustainably in order to reduce their carbon footprint?

PRIMARY RESEARCH

Navigating the Narrative

With the understanding that there is an opportunity here, I conducted hour-long interviews with 3 interviewees to gather more insight into their perspectives. According to Pew Research Center, Gen Z and Millennials are more sustainability-oriented than older generations, and are more willing to take action when it comes to addressing climate change. As a result, these were the main demographic groups I targeted.

I asked a series of qualitative questions to generate data on their behaviour and attitudes. After thorough analysis of the collected data via affinity mapping, I was able to narrow down to the following 4 main themes and insights -

AWARENESS + RESOURCES

Interviewees would like to know the impact of their travel carbon footprint, as well as have resources that can help them make better travel decisions.

SHARED VALUES

Interviewees prefer to travel to places and frequent businesses that share the same values as themselves. They hope to find businesses that make the conscious effort to do the same.

DIFFICULTIES WITH BEING SUSTAINABLE ABROAD

Interviewees expressed they have a hard time being sustainable abroad. A few key reasons include wanting to travel comfortably, not being able to locate recycling, and not being able to avoid single-use items due to sanitary reasons.

TRAVEL HABITS

All interviewees have varying goals due to personal travel preferences and behaviours, but all have the same intention to reduce their overall carbon footprint by striving to maintain the same sustainability habits abroad as they do at home.

Of all the themes and insights, lack of resources and awareness stood out with all interviewees expressing that they just aren't aware of their carbon impact and don't have the resources to do better.

KEY INSIGHT: AWARENESS + RESOURCES

All interviewees voiced concerns about not having enough sustainable travel resources or options, and they’re unsure how they could reduce their overall carbon footprint. They want to be presented with eco-conscious options at different steps of their journey so they can decide how and where they can minimize their impact based on their preferences.

crucial insight to note-

Interviewees really enjoy finding unique and authentic activities and experiences. This was an insight not directly related to sustainability, but it serves as a crucial motivator that I could potentially tap into for my design solution.

THE PERSONA

The Explorer

With the key theme and insight established, I developed a persona and experience map based on my user’s motivations and pain points to help identify design interventions and opportunities.

My primary persona is Tanya Lee, a 28-year-old frequent traveller who is looking for sustainable travel resources that can help her reduce her carbon footprint. She enjoys off-the-beaten path and authentic experiences, and she can't stand single-use waste. Meet Tanya -

Based on the experience map, the below identified opportunities addresses Tanya's personal goals. In particular, providing a platform that recommends eco-experiences or businesses and also serves as an educational opportunity would directly tie in with Tanya's motivations and initial interview insights.

I reviewed the original problem statement to ensure we're on the right track. Through my research, I was able to verify the assumption that interviewees need help with being more sustainable when they travel in order to reduce their carbon footprint, and they want to be provided the resources to achieve this.

USER STORIES + EPICS

Journey to the Task Flow

With a better understanding of our persona Tanya’s goals and pain points, I moved forward with developing user stories and identified epics to help come up with a solution that works for the user’s needs and delivers the most value.

THEME
Arrow Right

AWARENESS + RESOURCES

FOCUS: CORE EPICS
Arrow Right

FIND ACTIVITIES + EXPERIENCES

Arrow Right

TRACK TRAVEL CO2

Arrow Right

LEARN ABOUT IMPACT

These epics were most compelling as interviewees expressed they really enjoy finding unique and authentic experiences, and learning about their impact through these experiences would maximize engagement.
From a long-term growth and business perspective, this would give users more opportunity to visit the app on a regular basis throughout their journey, and it also provides opportunities for potential business partnerships internationally.

sample user stories
01

As a traveller, I want to find "green" activities at my destination so that I can participate in activities that are better for the environment

02

As a traveller, I want to see featured activities that are recommended for me so that I don't have to spend time browsing online

03

As a traveller, I want to be able to set my eco-goals so suggestions are tailored to my personal preferences and I can travel more enjoyably

04

As a traveller, I want to know how an organization or business is being more responsible so that I know that they align with my personal goals

05

As a traveller, I want to have a digestable explanation of my carbon footprint so that I'm not confused about all the technical jargon

06

As a traveller, I want to be able to track my carbon footprint, so that I am aware and can work towards reducing my emissions

THE TASK FLOW

From the user stories and core epics, I was able to uncover the following main user story and tasks to build an extensive task flow solution. There are 2 main tasks the user needs to successfully complete for the flow, as this helps ensure that the solution is adequately targeting the persona's motivations and pain points.

main User story

As a traveller who wants to be more responsible, I want to find sustainable activities or experiences based on my personal goals, and have a better understanding of my impact.

TaskS
01

Find a sustainable experience based on my personalized goals and preferences

02

Plan my journey so I have a better understanding of my carbon impact

Based on our persona Tanya’s motivations and goals, this task flow will successfully help Tanya find sustainable activities at her travel destination, connect her to experiences led by organizations that share the same values as herself, and she'll also have a better understanding of her carbon footprint which will encourage her to be more responsible when she's abroad.

exploration + ideation

Exploring the Solution

To develop app features and UI components that best execute the solution, I sourced inspiration from existing digital products such as travel apps like Momondo, Expedia and TripAdvisor, as well as wellness and fitness apps for the onboarding and gamified elements. I explored a range of ideas and finalized the following top solution sketches -

ONBOARDING: The design rationale behind these screens is to provide options in a engaging manner through the use of keyword chip selection and tappable graphics.

HOME: Since carbon status is a key progress feature, this needed to be clearly indicated with a personal profile. The Features section of this screen also ties in to the user’s preferences as it generates suggested activities related to the user’s selections at onboarding.

EXPERIENCE: Considering there is a lot of information on the Experience screens (About/ Plan Trip/ Images), I considered progressive disclosure through the use of bottom sheets that provides more information when selected.

PROFILE - IMPACT: This screen is meant to feel very rewarding as users earn achievements. The use of badges for a gamified experience would be motivating (similar to active goal-setting apps).

These early sketches guided the initial greyscale prototype for the first round of testing.

USABILITY TESTING

Pilot Study: Testing

With the initial prototype complete, I conducted 2 rounds of usability tests with a total of 10 users to obtain feedback. Through task analysis, I was able to gauge how users interacted with the app to ensure the app is working as intended.

The results were really insightful. There were no major issues with the overall basic functionality of the app, but there were a couple areas that needed improvement to take the app to the next level -

01

BETTER CONNECTIVITY TO JOURNEY

Users felt there needed to be a greater emphasis on the user’s impact and goals (it shouldn’t just be a travel app with carbon information sprinkled throughout). Personal impact and engagement should be more consistent.

02

LESS TEXT, PLEASE

There were a couple screens users felt were too text heavy at a glance and would much rather see information distributed across multiple screens or see more visuals to stay engaged.

Based on design prioritization, I followed through with the following key changes for the next set of greyscale prototypes -

Due to time constraints at this stage of the project, I was unable to fully improve all screens by the greyscale submission deadline, but I took the initiative to further improve the following screens at high-fidelity stage. I also conducted a couple extra usability tests to ensure these added elements are functional and straightforward to understand.

HOME SCREEN - BUTTONS

Users wanted to access their recommendations easily without running a search, so the bar was revised to button categories that lead to user's preferences based on their answers from on-boarding. User's can still run a search in the "Discover" screen.

added to itinerary screen - progressive disclosure

Updated screen to be more interactive with separate cards using progressive disclosure so it is easier for the user to digest information regarding their carbon impact. Users previously felt overwhelmed with too much info on the screen at testing.

UI DEVELOPMENT

Diving into Design

To inject personality into the UI, I created a brand identity. My original vision was to inspire and empower travellers to take that first step towards responsible tourism. I wanted the brand to convey a natural sense of adventure, excitement, hope, responsibility, and boundless curiosity.

With the concept and key user demographic in mind, I pulled inspirational images that reflect the identity. I further developed a colour palette, sourced a relevant typography pairing and created a complete design system. These elements acted as the guide for the entire UI process.

The main difficulty I encountered during this process was creating an interface that wasn't overwhelming with colour, is aesthetically-pleasing, and retains accessibility. After what seemed like the millionth iteration, what worked best for the visual identity was working with light neutrals as a base and injecting small doses of colour within similar tones to help hit the mark. Colours were also tested to ensure they met the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines for accessibility.

logo + identity

For the logo and app name, I tested a few options and went with “unearth” as it hints at exploration and discovery without being too direct. The word “earth” also feels grounded in nature.

I iterated various wordmark concepts to come up with a logo. As the target demographic are millennials or younger, I strived to achieve something that is modern and familiar so I referenced existing social media apps. With the way the “u” and “n” overlaps, it signifies an exhilarating and continuous journey.

high fidelity prototype

Destination MVP

Through the process of ceaseless iteration with usability as the main focus, and after extensive experimentation with colour injection to bring the palette to life, I present to you the high-fidelity solution -

The sustainable travel app that curates experiences, educates and tracks your carbon footprint to help you travel guilt-free.

brand expansion: marketing website

Uncharted Waters

So for the next part of the journey, I encountered the big question: "How are we going to market and convey the value of this app to the masses?" The best products in the world would not survive without a proper marketing strategy.

I proceeded with developing a responsive marketing website and mobile version that focused on building a strong value proposition. The overall tone and narrative is meant to be conveyed in a casual yet professional manner fit for the target market. I gathered feedback after multiple iterations to ensure that the following goals were communicated.

01

Convey a clear message of why sustainable travel is needed, and how the app is able to assist the user in solving the problem

02

Explain key aspects of the app and briefly walkthrough features like onboarding, curated experiences, and carbon tracking through gamification

03

Provide potential users with peace of mind in knowing they are downloading a good app through established partnerships and testimonials

further brand expansion: multi-platform

I considered further avenues and platforms to expand our reach. Since our persona would always be on the go, she'll need a device that is lightweight, responsive and easy to carry. Tanya would want to track the journey to her selected destination, her carbon footprint progress, and also see any accomplishments as she achieves them. I decided to go with the Apple Watch to make this a reality.

future thinking

Making Waves

People are now more excited than ever to travel after having been in lockdown for a couple years. As the climate crisis is only set to escalate in the coming years, I see my app holding a place within the tourism industry to generate awareness and educate the public. I also see partners within the industry following suit, and offering more sustainable features to their customers to further support the conversation.

If the app could be properly scaled with adequate financing, partnerships and outreach, people may use the app not only when they travel, but also locally, to discover sustainable experiences within their community. I believe people might find the gamified features engaging and motivational for daily use.

NExt steps - what's next for unearth?

Venturing into the Unknown

IMPROVED + EXPANDED FEATURES

There is so much room to further explore features within the app. Through the interviews, I discovered that finding recycling and having a general sense of a city's sustainability goals is something that is also lacking. It would be great to be able to implement the "City Guide" part of the app to address those needs (a non-functional icon currently exists in the Nav bar).

USABILITY TESTING + FURTHER RESEARCH

Further testing and research will need to be done more extensively as 8 weeks is not enough to develop a completely immaculate solution. Another crucial point to note is that at late stage testing, there was important feedback I did not have enough time to incorporate so it would be great to execute further changes. It would also be helpful to gather more information through additional primary research to improve the solution.

key learnings

Not All Who Wander are Lost

IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGES, BE RESOURCEFUL

School can teach you a lot, but it could only teach you so much within the allotted hours. Through countless hurdles, I've had to be creative, resourceful and scrappy to self-learn and piece together missing parts of the project. My solutions aren't perfect, but it's been so rewarding to watch myself overcome challenge after challenge. It comes easy when you're passionate about solving problems. I even learnt how to build a website in Webflow!

TRUSTING THE NON-LINEAR PROCESS

There is no “perfect” or “final” design or solution as the whole process is a continuous loop. To create a successful product, I have to keep iterating and gathering feedback in order to improve on the solution. Also, there were moments where I really struggled with uncertainties, but having faith in the research, the overall process, as well as having the support of the BrainStation instructors, TA's and my peers really kept me headed towards the right direction.

You've reached the end of this case study - thank you for spending the time. If you found any of it interesting, you might find it even more interesting to connect with me directly so I can walk you through my design process. There are also other insightful case studies listed below that may pique your interest. Have a great day!

Asset Credits: Icons - Material Design, Icons8, Vecteezy | Photos - Unsplash, Pexels, Savee | Mockups - Grana Studio, Figma Community: Luong Nguyen

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