A four week long project for a 4th year experience design course. My role included product strategy, design research and visual design. After the project had ended, I revisited the UI and interactions and decided to do an overhaul working in Sketch and Principle.
To create a solution for the U.S. National Park Service’s business problem: A long-term decline in visitation threatens the national parks with a 20% decrease in visitation per capita since 1987, and when 1 in 4 Americans are under the age of 18, most park visitors are identified as older. In short, how do we increase an appreciation for and longing among our generation to visit National Parks?
Trail Guide offers a quick look into a national park experience by providing an on-the-ground perspective to aid trip decision-making and meet destination searches during the micro-moments of “I want to know” to “I want to go”. It is a component designed within Google Destinations that extends into Google Trips with the goal of increasing recognition around National Parks in collaboration with U.S. National Park Service.
Research + Strategy
Research insights and strategy guided the product essence and its value proposition. After identifying a target audience and moment of intervention to design for, a product idea formed and was refined throughout the process through interviews, online database research, task analysis to uncover online search behaviors, and a competitive analysis to identify brand differences to solidify the current brand’s position. Further research can be done, particularly with American audiences, to glean deeper insight on perceived value of specific content offering.
Process + Approach
In light of the innovation gap and the buildup of bloated complex systems, the project was guided by a concept-first and design research driven approach with the purpose of crafting a solution with minimum effort and maximum outcome for all involved stakeholders. Design sprints were adapted and undertaken over the course of 3 weeks which consisted of rapid prototyping and regular testing of ideas and assumptions. Further possible form exploration can be done to push the platform’s current design.
Framing the Challenge
The first week of the project involved identifying an achievable 3 week goal addressing U.S. National Park Service’s business problem: a long-term decline in visitation according to statistics by the Property and Environment Research Centre: “National park visitation is about 20 percent less than it was in 1987. As a share of the population, park visitation has gradually declined almost ever since” (Shawn Regan, Research fellow).
An early framing question was proposed based on National Park Service’s mission. Solving for the frame, however, would have been both direct and high on the tree, so the challenge was reframed to address a more achievable goal within the time span:
The reframe question was important as it addressed the early stages of encouraging a conservation ethic (Figure 4). So while the solution doesn’t directly solve the latter levels of the goal ie. increasing visitation, it provides more of an opportunity for it to happen through increasing recognition because by increasing recognition, there is greater chance of supporting a love of going to the parks and leveraging the experience from home to travel.
Throughout the process, more specific goals were identified that helped guide broad ideas to more tangible ones. The below goals are discussed in detail later in the process section.
- How might we utilize technology to bridge people’s curiosity of parks to going to one?
- How might we capitalize on the moment of curiosity, excitement and sense of adventure around parks, and use this moment to increase appreciation around the parks?
- How might we decrease frictions and fears around the unknowns about going to a park?
The product’s brand essence developed throughout the process and formed with two overarching ideas that represent mental and physical readiness (Figure 5). The goal was to design the intricate balance between feeling (‘Experiential’) and knowing (‘Informative’), which guided more specific value propositions ie. the contents of the product. Thus, the value rested in offering:
These values purposed to help people better paint an image of the park, so that the more a person feels confident about how well they know park grounds compared to their abilities and interests, the more easily they can imagine being there and know how to prepare accordingly. Interestingly, this idea seemed to better resonate with people who are planners, less experienced and maybe anxious about going on a hike.
In order to distinguish the brand value and position from other similar products, I conducted a streamlined competitive analysis to better understand the value other services offered and the particular moments they serviced (Figure 7).
The above matrix shows a categorization of the different services depending on the type of experience they offered (y-axis) and the target moment they designed for (the x-axis). The services that offer a more passive experience were observed to provide entertainment with rich interactive and media content, whereas those offering more actionable experiences seemed to provide deep utility-based information around trip preparation, which contained dense information servicing audiences already committed to a destination. Understanding the matrix helped inform the placement of the product.
The opportunity for our product, then, was to cater those who had not yet decided on a specific destination but were more curious and considering. In other words, products that support passive moments seemed to align with the micro-moment “I want to know” and products that support actionable moments seemed to align more with the micro-moment “I want to go”.
Identifying a Target Moment
After initial research insights, I saw an opportunity to build off of a pattern that emerged around people’s curiosity around a park. Identifying this moment was important because it positioned the product to meet people where they were at as they were more likely to be searching for park information. This moment where a person searches the web to gain brief information was identified as an “I want to know” micro-moment. Building for this micro-moment was key in influencing the product concept’s position.
Because an opportunity was revealed through understanding brand differences among similar services, the proposed product needed to provide consumable information that provided actionable value since the micro-moment would occur quickly with a few seconds for the product to influence an opinion. Because of this, I saw that the proposed product would benefit from focusing more on the micro-moment of “I want to know” that leaned towards “I want to go” (Figure 8).
During this target moment, a person is in the consideration phase where they are browsing for potential locations to visit (Figure). Web searches may range from broad queries like “Things to do in Hawaii” or “Hiking in Hawaii” to more narrow queries like “Trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park”. Multiple searches are likely to occur in one sitting as a person changes and refines their searches, such that the narrower their search, the more likely they will commit to a destination. Thus, a rich search result that leads straight to the proposed product is more likely to be triggered for narrower searches (See Design Decisions below). The implications for the proposed product, then, is that it would need to support the quick flipping through of information.
Identifying a Target Audience
After interviewing people with various experiences and interest levels around going to parks, the ideal target audience was identified to exist in the continuum between the urban dweller and hopeful explorer (Figure 10). As the primary target audience, the hopeful explorer is most likely to be more curious and looking for new destinations they heard about, and as the secondary target audience, the urban dweller will more likely want to be better prepared and needing more guidance on where to look up information. The weekend warrior as the third target audience, on the other hand, may already have established methods of finding new places to visit and may not find as much value from the proposed product.
The behaviors of the Hopeful Explorer is an amalgam of the several people interviewed. Unlike the urban dweller who may need more of an incentive to go on a outdoor trip, the hopeful explorer enjoys the chance they can get to venture out of the city away from their regular routines. The following motivations and needs are listed below (Figure 11).
User research was conducted throughout the process to inform design decisions. 11 participants took part throughout the course of the project with 4 of the 11 participating more than once. These 4 not only had greater availability, but also fully represented the persona spectrum that we identified, so testing with them as the project developed proved valuable. Bits of information were gathered from semi-structured interviews, online research, concept testing, task analysis and general user tests. The following summary of research influences are presented below that succinctly represents a rather messy process (Figure 12).
Early research informed the first half of this case study (a and b). Later research tested the product against people’s expectations (c). Major assumptions that were placed aside included:
- Designing directly for a conservation ethic. Instead of expecting a particular behavior from the intervention, the project was reframed to support a better connection to the parks.
- Targeting post-trip experience with a trip memory concept. After testing this concept, it was found that people was satisfied with sharing images on social media and flipping through old photos on their phones after a trip, so there wasn’t as great of an opportunity area to provide additional value.
- Designing a standalone microsite. This proved to be more effort than extending off an existing product.
Positioning the product within Google Destinations
Google Destinations contains broad to more specific destinations that search indexes depending on a person’s query, so a list of countries like Japan and Hawaii may appear as a person browses through the Destination database (Figure 13). When Hawaii is selected, more specific locations within Hawaii will appear, such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and within that, top sights are suggested, like Kilauea Iki Trail.
The higher level categories contain their own informative page with suggested places to visit and popular itineraries, but the lower level category ‘Top Sights’ only shows an overview section on Maps. So there was an opportunity to leverage the design for top sights that were trail-related since that was an aspect of the park interviewees mentioned they generally went for.
The image below shows a general flow from search to a Top Sights page designed particularly for trail-related destinations (Figure 14).
UI and Interaction
After the 4-week long project was over, I decided to revisit the design and focus more on the mobile web since targeting micro-moments meant servicing more than half of smartphone usages. This meant a consideration to the product’s context and concept.
I also realized how heavily the interface of the design relied on content, so only the information that supported active preparation were included. Keeping in mind the target moment helped eliminate content that didn’t align with the idea of ‘aiding informed decision-making and readiness’ around going to parks.
Trail info at first glance supports the “I want to know” micro-moment with quick relevant information related to a person’s goals, such as trail difficulty and a park’s unique feature to help gauge suitability.
A trail line marks important stops along the path. The interaction toggle between media content and map provides people with the ability to zoom in and out matching their mental models of learning about a destination as they gather digestible and relevant information to get a feel for a park.
Trail videos show terrain condition and provides a glimpse of park surroundings to better inform people of what they could experience and how they can prepare for it. These videos change where trail conditions change along the path.
A friendly link to download Google Trips appears near the end of the trail exploration for those committed to a destination and want to access the above trail information offline.
Designing a component within an existing product was a challenge because I had to navigate within the platform’s design norms but also consider where pushing the design made sense. The project helped me understand more about the meaning between designing a delightful vs a utilitarian product, and this was especially challenging when I considered the constraint of time: the target micro-moment. Nevertheless, I wonder whether designing for a micro-moment must be a constraint on a design’s ability to offer a delightful experience.
Made in collaboration with Brandon Lal, Kristy Leung, Vickie Yim and Mark Strathern.