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Having a road trip is a nice way to relax. However, after conducting initial second-hand research, I found an interesting fact that some people are annoyed by the challenge of staying on track of going to the places where they originally set out to go, while keeping the process relaxing and flexible.

 
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The time management annoyance becomes a challenge because people don’t have a streamlined way to estimate how the actual schedule would be like for their trip.
When a trip gets longer, the amount of information becomes indigestible at a quick glance, and the steps people have to take to get the information about from point A to point B becomes tedious. All makes the process of planning and taking a trip not as relaxing as it could be.

 
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The jobs to be done were: helping people to estimate their time better, making the process of planning an itinerary simpler, so they can be flexible with their plan later more easily.

 

 
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After quick research, I realized a majority of the existing apps for road trip were not designed with users in mind and still had many technical challenges not overcome yet, except one app RoadTrippers. Therefore, I switched my main goal to learning from and innovating upon the existing good and popular apps instead of merely doing market research.

On top of using the 10 Usability Heuristics defined by Nielson Norman Group to determine and identify the benchmarks, I also added three other items in my analysis:

1) Learning Curve/Easy to Use,
2) Information Architecture,
3) Content Abundance and Digestibility.

Link to: The Complete In-Depth Heuristics, Competitive and Comparative Analysis

I intentionally chose apps which addressed having trips in general, and which were developed with good user-centered design.
This new direction provided another benefit; it naturally took care of the benchmarks already set by the apps which people actually used for road trips.

 
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In order to have a more holistic and realistic understanding about road trip, for the audience research phase, I deliberately kept my questions broad and revolving around the participants’ actual past experience of taking road trips.
The other research purpose was to verify whether the initial finding about time management was a widely experienced challenge and how people currently cope with it.

I conducted two types of researches in this phase: screener surveys and offsite interviews.

 
 

In the screener surveys, I was able to confirm the fact that time management was the biggest challenge among other challenges during a road trip.

Some other key findings include that the most popular motivation for road trip was to see more of the country; traveler boredom was caused mostly by having too many detours or forgetting to account for driving time; that most people had weekend trips recently; and that the audience was relatively tech savvy.

Link to: The Complete Screener Survey Results.

 
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In the screener surveys, I identified two extremes of personality types who took road trips in very different styles. One type is much more organized, and the other figures things out as they go.  

 
 

The different attitudes could potentially change the direction of the project. Therefore, it became very important to find out more details and the motivations behind through the interview process.

I conducted in-depth interviews with four participants whose personality types sit across the spectrum, and distilled the information down to the Personas and the Empathy Maps.

 
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key insight

One key insight which is not apparent in Personas and Empathy Maps is that:

When travelling with family, even the spontaneous type became somewhat more organized, so different members in the family got to enjoy activities and places they liked in turn.

When I was traveling with my parents and my wife, we would more or less plan before hand, so we could know that our parents could enjoy the trip.
— Interview Participant

This insight gave me confident about continuing the product direction of addressing planing and time management.

 

 
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Once the product direction was re-assured, the user stories to be prioritized became clear.

Link to: The User Stories Document

As a result, the key aspects for Minimum Viable Product were clarified and identified as following:

  • Time spent for traveling between places

  • Ability to adjust time for staying at a place and to add time for detours

  • Having some routes recommended to the users based on input places

  • Having hotels recommended to the users based on preferences

 

 

Because the essential functions for a trip planning app are more or less standardized, the type of card sort I went with was Hybrid Sort, which gave the respondents pre-defined categories but also allowed them to come up with their own.

 
 
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Problem

After conducting the card sort, I encountered some problems with the information architecture:

The users couldn’t decide in which categories in the main menu to put tasks which are related to scheduling and routing.
The card sort results had overlapping categories for many tasks for these two functions.

 
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Insight & solution

Further research revealed that the possible cause was that the tasks could be achieved in more than one category, and the tasks didn’t specify which functions to use or what form the categories are in.

Follow up research is conducted during user testing for the flow, and the participants didn’t confuse the categories anymore when they see the form Day Plan was in.

 

 

Problem

Based on the card sort results, I realized the overlapping natures of Map and Nearby.

solution

Interestingly, one participant came up with this new category called En Route which encapsulated the concept of “your trip schedule on the map”.

Agreeing with this concept intrinsically, I decided to adjust the structure and clearly separate “viewing your schedule on the map“ and “searching on the map and viewing recommendations“ by redefining the features to be En Route and Map.

 
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Considering the purpose of this user flow was for creating the wireflow for testing the low-fidelity prototype later, I selectively did the flow for the planning feature in Day Plan to keep the goals and the scope manageable and clear.

 

 
 

In order to clearly identify the objectives of the user testing, I outlined the scope and the plan for the user testing before writing the user testing script.

Link to: User Testing Scope and Plan Document

Link to: User Testing Script Document

 
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The wireflow below is the latest version after three rounds of design adjustments based on user testing results. The hotel booking section still needs further testing and user input.

Link: Wireframe paper sketches

 
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I uploaded the wireframes to InVision and created a clickable prototype. Then I conducted user testing with four participants on Skype.

The user testing results revealed some invaluable key problems which I was previously not aware of and wouldn’t think of without user testing.

Link to: In-Depth User Testing Notes

More changes were made after further researching and studying.

Link to: In-Depth Further Adjustments Notes

Problems

The key problems revolve round the following aspects:

  • The instructions for intended next steps were not clear and prominent enough

  • The visual feedback for key actions was not prominent enough

  • It was not clear enough that the distance and the driving time were NOT from user’s current location

  • Users like to plan out the places for key activities instead of just leaving time for them

  • Users expected the back button always taking them back to the exact previous screen

Solutions

Proposed solutions were integrated and will need further testing for validation:

  • Making the instructions for next step more literal and visually explicit

  • Adding action notifications along with the instruction to notify about next step

  • Making the text more explicit and explanatory for unconventional functions

  • Adding place recommendation function to all key activities

 

 
 

 
 

The keywords for the visual design and branding are:

  • Relaxing

  • Enjoyable

  • Intuitive

 
 

In order to achieve the desired mood, I experimented with several different designs and color schemes, and found that the soft color between ocean-blue and turquoise gave a more relaxing feel than the bright warm colors, which leaned more towards exciting than relaxing.

 
 

To throw in some conventional impression of “road trip color”, and to add some playfulness to the color scheme with a complimentary color, I added a soft red orange to the scene.

The chosen fonts are also intended to be more playful in terms of shape and less serious, such as most Serif fonts, while being clear to read and not childish.

 
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Clear and intuitive icons and explicit text, notifications and instructions are some of the main focuses for the UI.

Using typography to emphasize and prioritize information is another main point of the visual strategy.

Also, making things which are tap-able or encouraged to be tapped on or dragged around “card-like” is important to enhance the “intuitive” aspect of the brand direction.

In addition, to bring about the enjoyable quality, the visual is deliberately “layered“ and feels as if the users could “physically” interact with the elements, as opposed to the flat visual of extreme minimalist design.

 
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APPLying MVP

Because I intentionally kept my research broad and inclusive, I discovered many different types of challenges in the early stage. Some of the challenges were very, if not more, valid, but deviated completely away from my original product goal.
The desire of addressing most user needs gradually led to “feature creep”.

After discussing with my mentor, I learned the biggest lesson throughout this case study:

Decide on the MVP scope and direction.

The ability to make decisions on what the essentials are and why they are for a product is probably one of most important steps in a product design process.

A few pointers concluded as following:

  • Keep the final goal in mind ALL THE TIME.
    If it has to change, keep the new one in mind

  • Find the universal needs and see if the final goal addresses one of those needs.
    If not, the product direction needs to change, or the product needs to be specifically branded for that specific audience.

  • The final goal should only have 1-2 sentences that address one clear type of challenges.
    It will become more than 1-2 sentences when there are more types of challenges to address

  • Decide on the MVP Persona.
    Primary user stories, the core feature of the product, priority of the features and the sitemap will naturally fall into place afterwards.


Reverse Engineering

Throughout the process, I also noticed another important technique in play; the ability to:

Decide how to go about a content by imagining what the end goal is like.

The most important stage where I truly learned the power of this technique after discussing with my mentor was Prototyping.

I defined the scope and planned the process of the user testing BEFORE I decided which feature and what parts of the feature I would create user flow, wireframes and prototype for.

This technique was great for kick-starting a process when I had zero idea about how to proceed with a stage.

It also greatly helped keep the scope manageable and the focus clear and straightforward.