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Adding a crowdsourced cellular map to a platform for outdoor enthusiasts

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Overview

Project

Mobile Feature Addition

Role

UX/UI Designer

Tools

Figma & FigJam

Duration

2 Months

Context

AllTrails is one of the most trusted and used outdoors platform in the world, reaching 45 million people a year. They help users explore the outdoors by providing detailed information on trails, including maps, reviews, and GPS tracking. However, hikers often encounter issues with cellular coverage while on the trail, which can be dangerous in case of an emergency.

Solution

I implemented a crowdsourced cellular data coverage map feature designed to assist hikers in identifying areas of cellular signal availability during their journeys.

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Research

Mapping the Terrain

An Investigation of Safety Features

I began a comparative analysis of mobile apps used for outdoor recreational activities. The objective was to identify the safety features that currently exist in hiking apps available on the market. This helped me to evaluate and ensure that the proposed safety feature is unique and distinctive, providing a competitive edge to the product.

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Charting New Territories

As I couldn't find any competitors offering this feature, I began to question the feasibility of adding a cellular map with real-time updates. To address this uncertainty, I conducted further secondary research to explore the potential of automatically gathering and sharing cellular service information.

During my research, I found a valuable source that supported the possibility of automatically collecting and reporting data on cell phone service. The article, written by the Joint IFIP Wireless and Mobile Networking Conference, stated:

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In simpler terms, smartphones can be used to gather information about the strength and quality of cellular signals, which can then be used to understand and map out the coverage areas and network structures of various mobile operators.

Unearthing User Perspectives

Before brainstorming any design solutions, I conducted user interviews with six current or past AllTrails users. The following outlines the key findings from these interviews:

  • 83% of users noted their enthusiasm for scenic trails, yet expressed a sense of nervousness when it comes to hiking in remote locations.

  • 50% of users mentioned being worried about conserving their phone battery while hiking, especially on long trails.

  • 33% experienced emergency situations where they lacked cell phone signal during a hike and had to either find or wait for help.

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The following quotes served as powerful tools to ensure that a cellular coverage map was aligned with the wants and needs of users:

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Exploring Different Paths

In order to cater to the diverse challenges and needs that hikers may encounter, I have created three unique personas: Alexandra, Mark, and Sarah. Each of them has distinct experiences, geographic locations, trail preferences, and safety concerns. This approach aims to address the unique challenges that hikers may encounter in terms of cellular connectivity during their outdoor adventures.

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Research Findings

AllTrails is a highly preferred platform among hikers for its convenience and reliability. It serves as an extremely helpful guide for every hiking enthusiast, offering a wide range of information on trails, their difficulty levels, varying terrains, and much more. Even those who use it occasionally find it to be a valuable resource for planning and executing successful hikes.

However, despite its many advantages, the platform does have some challenges that users face, particularly in areas with limited or no cell phone coverage. While hikers can already download maps and trail details before they begin their journey, unexpected obstacles or getting lost on the trail can still pose risks and delays. In critical situations the inability to communicate with emergency services or loved ones can be a significant concern.

Major Insights

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Design

Pioneering a Route

Navigating Unaddressed Obstacles

While a cellular coverage map addressed some of the needs of my user personas, I needed to consider additional enhancements to the feature to fully resolve any remaining issues. With the aim of fully addressing the needs of my users, I identified all remaining challenges and crafted specific solutions for each one.

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Keeping a Consistent Journey

While considering AllTrail's current flow for downloading a map, I implemented two different methods for users to download the cellular coverage map and begin their hike once the download is complete.

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Elevating User Experiences

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Outcome

I integrated a feature into the AllTrails app that automatically collects signal and cellular data, allowing users to opt-in during their hikes without experiencing any disruptions to their hiking experience.

Navigating With Precision

GPS Integration + Live Tracking

Live GPS provides users with a quick and easy way to determine the direction and distance to nearby areas with a good cellular signal. It provides an intuitive and visual representation of their location, allowing them to easily identify nearby signal-rich zones and plan their movements accordingly.

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Empowering User Choices

Downloadable Maps + Voluntary Participation

Users can download the cellular map without sharing personal information, enabling offline usage and preserving privacy. With voluntary participation, users can engage without disclosing personal details, emphasizing user control and privacy while enjoying the benefits of map functionality.

Optimizing Data Management

Customizable Data Collection + Carrier Filtering

Users can control the frequency of data collection to balance real-time updates and preserve phone resources. Carrier filtering streamlines display by removing unnecessary data. These features help hikers navigate trails by managing battery usage and displaying only key information.

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Testing

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Achievements

I conducted usability testing on the app with five participants, all of whom were familiar with AllTrails. The participants were asked to complete three tasks tailored to simulate real-life hiking scenarios.

Participants were impressed by the realistic appearance of the design and emphasized its resemblance to a genuine implementation. One participant commented, "The design and flow was spot-on. It felt like I was using the actual app." Another remarked, "The attention to detail was incredible, I could easily see this feature being implemented in the real AllTrails app."

Participants also found the feature to be highly useful and expressed surprise that it doesn’t already exist in the AllTrails app. One participant exclaimed, "I would love to have this in real life! It's so convenient and I would definitely use it." Another participant mentioned, "I can't believe AllTrails doesn't already have this. It seems like such a natural addition to their platform.”

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User Concern

Participants inquired if they were required to agree to opt-in the feature every time they started a new hike and expressed their preference not to do so.

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Modification

I added a ‘Don't show this message again’ option in the initial pop-up to address concerns regarding the disruptive nature of the pop-up modals.

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User Concern

Participants were concerned the term ‘tracking’ has a connotation of monitoring or surveillance. They felt the terminology was unsettling.

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Modification

I replaced any instances of the word ‘tracking’ with a more favorable alternative term, aiming to cultivate a more positive perception.

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User Concern

Participants noted an additional, unnecessary step to access the cellular preferences menu, and sought a more streamlined method.

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Modification

I relocated the coverage map preferences directly to the options menu, eliminating the need for an extra, unnecessary click through the settings menu.

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User Concern

Participants expressed an interest in a visual representation that would clearly indicate whether the feature is currently enabled or disabled.

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Modification

I incorporated a button representation for signal sharing into the map, which changes to grey when turned off and green when activated.

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Final Prototype

Reflection

Key Takeaways

Through this experience, I learned that assessing the impact of changes on a project is crucial and that it is essential to consider the advantages and disadvantages of revisiting steps. After I conducted usability testing, AllTrails made changes to its map interface. These changes made me reflect on whether or not to align my work with the updated interface or continue with what I had. After careful consideration, I concluded that the UI changes didn't affect my feature's functionality, so it was more beneficial to move forward and meet my intended deadline.

Next Steps

To further enhance the crowdsourced data, I would propose implementing a system that promotes and rewards active user participation. This would incentivize users to contribute valuable data and information to improve the overall accuracy and coverage of the map. One approach could be to offer exclusive benefits. For example, frequent contributors could get early access to new app features and provide feedback on upcoming enhancements. This would not only recognize and appreciate user’s contributions but also give them a sense of exclusivity.

Motiv

Mobile App Design
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RVO Mfg.

Client Website Design
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