UX Focus: Adventure Tell iPhone App

Note: This post is an in-depth look at the User Experience (UX) behind the Adventure Tell iOS app. For an overview of the project as a whole and for high-fidelity screenshots of the wireframes posted below, please see my portfolio entry for the project.

Discovery

Having surveyed existing outdoor apps, in virtually every case the focus was on delivering an informational user interface. Trails were usually presented in a long list, sorted by proximity to the user by relying on the phone’s GPS, the primary referent being the name of the trail. While such a UI might be a good reference for a hiker who already knows the local trails, one of the primary purposes of the app was to aid discovery of the outdoors, a concept which could apply equally to an experienced hiker looking to explore a new area as it would for a first time hiker unsure of where to start.

We believed that allowing users to discover new places visually was a better solution than asking them to read a series of meaningless trail names – it would be experiential, not informational. (The analogous behaviour we used as our starting point was seeing a breathtaking photograph posted to a friend’s Facebook wall and being inspired to visit that place.) A related issue was information hierarchy; a flat list of individual trails doesn’t give the user a sense of overview that is important when discovering a new area and choosing where to visit. The assumption is that users will choose to go to e.g. Red Rock Canyon or Mount Charleston (both local hiking spots close to Las Vegas), and then decide upon which individual trails to attempt. We validated these assumptions by conducting user interviews and online polls, an approach which gave us qualitative as well as quantitative data.

Wireframe-Discover

Presenting the user with the main hiking areas nearby instead of a meaningless list of trails allows the app design to focus on a smaller number of general areas and bring the photography to the foreground. Tapping one of the large photographs opens up an area information screen with a slideshow of images as well as pertinent information about the area such as a description, admission costs and opening hours (particularly relevant to National Parks), local conditions etc., There are circular badges corresponding to the activities possible in that area (e.g. hiking, canyoneering). This kind of information is common to an area rather than specific to an individual trail, so logically that’s where it should be in the information hierarchy. It also permits the user to get a sense of overview without having to dive into several trail descriptions.

Wireframe-Discover-Trail

Having decided upon the area to visit, the user is presented with a list of trails. Again, the emphasis is on presenting photography, though the name and length of each trail are also included to allow users to distinguish trails with similar cover photos and to make a preliminary assessment of the time they might need to tackle a particular trail.

When the user chooses a trail, they are presented with a trail info screen containing the most pertinent information about it. Users we interviewed at all experience levels primarily wanted to be able to assess the difficulty of each trail. This is generally an individual evaluation (some users care more about distance, others are more concerned with elevation), so it was important to make this information prominent within the interface.

We also found out that part of the reason people do outdoor activities is because it gives them a sense of personal accomplishment. Enthusiasts in particular are often highly competitive with one another. And when people have great outdoor experiences they want to share them. All of these factors led to the inclusion of accomplishment badges as a way for users to make their personal mark on the Adventure Tell community, to keep them engaged with the app, and to incentivise the behaviour that would help us grow the app’s value and help us solve the content acquisition challenge (for example, incentivising users to add new trails by featuring them as the “discoverer”). These behaviours are already well established in apps like Foursquare, so there was a good precedent for the interaction model.

Including points of interest was a way to further highlight and encourage user generated content (specifically geo-tagged photographs), while the trail route would help fill out the user’s mental model of the trail.

Monetizing the App

A number of potential business models were discussed over the course of the weekend – everything from disrupting the hiking supplies industry with Redbox-style supply dropboxes / kiosks to a freemium model with a paid “pro” version of the app. None of these models felt right – they all took us away from our core activity of helping people discover and experience more outdoor activities.

Our solution was to introduce transactions into the app in an organic way. The current model requires people to first work out what activity they want to do, then research the equipment they might need, and in many cases figure out how to get there or who runs a tour. By integrating this information directly into the app, we stayed true to our core activity, and make money by removing even more of the friction between discovering something and experiencing it.

prep

 

We would list out the equipment necessary to tackle a particular trail (or other activity) as well as any guides or tours operating in the area as part of the “prep” area in the app. Buttons would initially link to large retailers like REI to prove out the concept, but could eventually be replaced by affiliate links or eventually wholesale products (one idea discussed was the ability to have a pack containing all the required equipment for a trail sent out in advance).

Closing the Loop

If the app is to genuinely help its user community discover new things, that community needs reasons to contribute new content to the platform. This is far more likely to happen if the app adds value once the user is actually out on a trail. We achieved this in numerous ways – for example, users would have the ability to take photographs of points of interest they saw along the way (which would be automatically added to our database and geotagged), which they could choose to share to their social network.

However, the most innovative solution was around me now, a live map view which used the phone’s GPS and internal compass to literally point the user in the direction of points of interest nearby.

Wireframe-AroundMeThe map would show the trail route and the user’s current position, but would update dynamically to highlight interesting places. Each place would be indicated by a photograph, directional arrow, and distance from the user’s present location. Each marker would be sized and colour coded according to how interesting the place was, this data being sourced from up / down votes as well as the number of times users had visited that particular point of interest. Markers would initially be seeded but would eventually be far outnumbered by community-generated content.

Wrap Up

In our surveys, 85% of people said they wanted to get outdoors more, and they would do so if only it were easier to discover new activities and places. The strength of the Adventure Tell app is that it focuses squarely on solving this problem by removing the boundaries between people and experiencing the outdoors. Whether through discovery (“where shall I go?”), key information (“what will this activity be like?”), or execution (“what equipment do I need and how can I get there?”), the app has a cohesive value proposition, differentiates well from its competitors and has an organic route to monetization. All things which should help it stand out in a crowded App Store.