REI Adventures: a UX Case Study

Adventure planning at your fingertips — is there an app for that?

Imagine this: you’re new to the area, and you want to embark on a spontaneous backpacking trip for the weekend. You’ve heard of a lot of great local spots, but don’t even know where to start or what you’ll need. How many miles will you be walking and how light should you pack? Will it get cold at night and should you invest in a heavier sleeping bag? What if there are bears?

So you scour the inter-webs reading product reviews and park regulations. You open tab after tab of potential trail and campsite routes. And you make shopping lists which quickly add up to several hundred dollars worth of gear.

And finally you breathe a sigh of frustration, close your computer and decide to worry about the trip another weekend.

I’ve been there.

And every time I hit this wall of “I’ll let someone else worry about the details” or “I really don’t need any of this stuff yet” I think wouldn’t it be great if there was an app for that?

The Problem

Planning outdoor trips is hard, and unfortunately there’s not a single source of truth for everything you need to know. I visited REI, my usual go-to for outdoor intel and equipment, and found a plethora of expert advice, blogs and reviews. I thought to myself, there must be a way to utilize all this great content from the community to empower users to plan their own adventure. And so it begged the question:

How might we streamline the shopping and trip-planning experience to encourage adventurers to engage with REI and get outdoors?

My goal was to encourage more experienced adventurers to share their vast knowledge and engage with the community, all the while empowering newer adventurers to get outside without the high barrier to entry.

I had a clear vision in mind: adventure planning at your fingertips. Where you can build an itinerary, create shopping lists, and collaborate with your friends all in one app. Or, if you’re new to the area or to the outdoors, you can simply use someone else’s itinerary, tried and true.

The Users

Before my initial interviews with users, I settled on two distinct user types: amateur adventurers and expert adventurers. All of my users expressed frustration at the disorganization of outdoor information online, and saw a huge opportunity in an adventure-planning app experience. I only hoped I’d be able to bring my vision to fruition and squash those pain points once and for all.

After the interviews, I summarized the user research and insights into concise user personas.

User Personas

The Process

With my initial user research completed and a clear goal ahead, I got started with the following process:

  • Ideation, Lightning Demos & Crazy 8s
  • Wireframes & Prototyping
  • Usability Testing

Ideation, Lightning Demos & Crazy 8s

I quickly honed in on the product feature I wanted to focus on: itinerary creation and suggestion, and built a sprint map based on the following statement:

How might we match itineraries to users based on skill level and activity?

Sprint Map

Eliciting inspiration from a variety of sources such as 57Hours, Roadtrippers and TripHobo among others, I practiced rapid iteration to see which ideas I was excited about. Throw ’em at the wall and see what sticks, right? Through these sketches I started thinking more realistically about the product and how a user might interact with it.

Lightning Demos

Wireframes & Prototyping

Inspired by the lightning demos and crazy 8s iterations, I started wireframing my vision. I wanted to take the user through an intuitive search journey where they can explore existing itinerary options or build their own, and create dynamic shopping lists that redirect traffic to REI. All available for download or offline use. Everything you need to know in one place.

Wireframes & first prototype

Usability Testing

When the interactive prototype was ready, I invited some of the same adventurers from my initial user research to participate in usability testing.

My goal here was simply to see which features were intuitive and which might be confusing. I asked my participants to think out loud and walk me through how they might interact with the app as a user. Some tasks I had in mind included

  • How would you find an itinerary?
  • How might you narrow your list of options?
  • How would you start creating your own itinerary?

From the interviews, I gained invaluable insight to what was missing from the prototype, and had a list of items I wanted to revise. For instance, the itinerary creation screen needed a lot of work, and was missing elements that made it unusable. I was surprised to find that my expert adventurers were more likely to use the search functionality while my amateur adventurers tended to browse the recommended itineraries first. Finally, many users were concerned with the crowdsourced nature of the app, and worried that duplicate or fake itineraries might appear. These insights generated an amalgam of new ideas, suggestions and enhancements, many of which I incorporated into my second prototype.

Second prototype

So what’s next?

Based on the research collected from the usability testing and initial user interviews, my vision is clearer than ever and my assumptions were validated. Even the most experienced adventurers don’t have a succinct or reliable way to plan adventures — an opportunity that has long been overlooked.

As for recommendations: iteration, iteration, iteration. With more time and more testing, I could probably have left no stone unturned and made sure every possible user interaction was reflected and accounted for. But until then, this project has been a great experience and one I am truly proud of. Case (study) closed.

This case study is the final result of an 8 week UX Design class under a Master of Professional Studies at MICA. The user research presented here was collected by me in a previous course, and all subsequent design and research was also carried out by me. I am not affiliated with REI or any other business mentioned here.

UI Designer @ Yext. Aspiring artiste and devastatingly underprepared