Since the advent of the global Covid-19 pandemic, mobile apps offering self-guided walking tours have gained in popularity and have seen no signs of waning as restrictions have eased. Walking tours are a great way for individuals to explore history in real time and space, where history becomes a dynamic field that’s continually shaping one’s present surroundings.
My research will show users strongly prefer in-person guided tours, even if they continue to seek out app-based walking tours for reasons ranging from cost, the flexibility of starting and stopping as one pleases, and not having to rely on reservations to participate in a tour.
App-based tours are growing in popularity yet people are finding these apps are not user-friendly and are not sufficiently engaging them in their surroundings.
To better meet the needs of users, a walking tour app must feel lightweight and easy to use so that the app compliments rather than competes with their in-person exploration. While these accommodations certainly help, the only way to ensure ongoing enrichment from an app-based tour is to help users find others to join them on their tours. People are more motivated, engaged, and inspired when exploring with a group and they are also better able to navigate.
92% of 20 survey participants noted walking tours with in-person guides better engage them in their surroundings than app-based tours.
If the purpose of a walking tour is to engage people in their surroundings, app-based tours are clearly failing!
What if we provide a TourBuddies finder so people can join you on your tours?
This will alleviate the difficulties and safety concerns of navigating on your own, and keep you engaged in your exploration!
Here Comes the Pivot
Meeting random people to explore sites with sounds too daunting!
I definitely want to receive tips from friends on sites to explore...
While users enjoy app-based walking tours much more in groups, getting users to do so with strangers will take time for them to warm up to.
Given these reservations (and the multi-faceted nature of a walking tour app with a TourBuddies finder) the minimum viable product (M.V.P.) aught to first develop the infrastructure based on the immediate user need of sharing bookmarks in phase 1 before embarking on the phase 2 build out of app curated tours.
Hey, wait! Meeting new people to join me on my tours sounds great to me!
my TourBuddies seeker!
"If you build it, he will come"
The TourBuddies finder will be there for you to use as a secondary feature to sharing bookmarked sites . . .
Current digital products for walking tours are not meeting users’ needs because they are not effectively engaging users by promoting group tours.
I want to understand how people experience different types of walking tours and what the different motivations are for pursuing them.
Discover what opportunities exist for learning local history and how people engage in these opportunities
Understand users experiences of digital walking tour products, and their pain points
2 Surveys, one open to all and the other for those 60 and older
Competitive Analysis Findings
None of the current self-guided walking tour digital products have any tool for finding people to join you on your tours
While companies like GPSmyCity have been around since 2008, app and app-based self-guided tours have drawn a much larger audience in recent years following the global covid-19 pandemic
Recent app-based self-guided tour products like Travel Storys and Autio represent a trend toward more lightweight user interfaces that resemble more basic audio tours via headsets with the addition of GPS technology to automatically play upon a user's arrival at each site of interest
I spoke with 6 participants, 5 women, and one man, ranging in age from 26-79, all of whom had some experience with guided tours. 5/6 were aged 26-44 and were either working or pursuing professional education while between jobs, and one woman was aged 79 and retired. 5/6 had experience with multiple types of tours. My interviews focused on their experiences with different kinds of tours with the goal of discovering what opportunities and weaknesses exist with tours without an in-person guide. I organized my interview findings using an affinity map to identify common themes that emerged.
After conducting my interviews I realized I needed to get more feedback from people ages 60 and up. I created two surveys, one that was open to all ages, and another specifically for people ages 60 and up.
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User Research Takeaways
92% of the 20 survey participants felt more engaged by tours with an in-person guide, and 83% of interview participants preferred tours with an in-person guide.
Yet 92% of those surveyed also noted they enjoy the flexibility of self-guided tours.
83% are open to meeting strangers to join them on their tours.
Yet 80% of those open to this also noted strong reservations.
67% of interview participants would enjoy having a digital record of sites they see.
I developed 2 Personas based on my research to help guide my understanding of the needs and mental models of my target audience.
To help define the problem I'm trying to address and to set the stage for possible solutions I used insights uncovered in my research to generate Point of View (P.O.V.) statements and How Might We (H.M.W.) questions.
People's exploration of sites is more enriching when they document what they see as that helps them define what piqued their interest.
To recall experiences of exploring sites of interest because the act of doing so enriches the experience
I'd like to explore ways people can document their experiences on their tours of sites as a way of better understanding what they find enjoyable.
People are fascinated by exploring the built environment as it helps them appreciate how past narratives have shaped and continue to shape the present, yet they lose inspiration when exploring alone.
To have an engaging experience of tours of historical and cultural sites and improve the process of finding sites of interest so one can focus as much as possible on the actual in-person exploration
I’d like to explore ways of better engaging people in their tours of historical sites without a guide because many seem to enjoy the flexibility of exploring on their own.
How might we help people find others to join them on their tours of historical and cultural sites?
How might we help people identify what historical sites they want to visit and record their journey so that they feel empowered and engaged in their explorations?
Using a ven diagram I defined business goals, user goals, and technical considerations to help synthesize the results of my research and to begin exploring solutions.
I discovered the potential for the app to generate funding via data harvesting, which led me also to the goal of making the app available in select cities that span across the U.S. rather than just within one specific region. This, in combination with my realization that I was planning for a long list of features in Phase 1, inspired me to push the actual walking tour section of the app to Phase 2. This way the app will first collect data on what users like and use this to guide investments in content and writing teams to develop app-curated walking tours.
Since I was developing an MVP under tight time constraints, I created a feature roadmap to specify how the app will build a user base serving the clearly defined user need of discovering sites and recording one's exploration.
Secondly, I realized that even if the app-curated walking tours are pushed to Phase 2, there is still value in including the TourBuddies finder within Phase 1. This way users could acclimate to this feature which many found potentially useful but at the same time a bit daunting. By nesting this feature within the "Community" section of the app, users could continue with their primary goal of exploring and discovering sites, while also being aware of this added feature that they may consider trying.
Sketching out some design ideas for the layout helped me determine how to best organize both the distinct pages and the app's structure via the navigation and top bar. I then developed the following mid-fidelity wireframes to test out my design.
Colors & Typography
Inspired by the brand values "Explore, Enlighten, and Gather" I developed a component library and style guide. I intended for the design to be a subtle backdrop with color used only when needed so that the user's focus is on the images of sites to explore. My final design uses a purple color to distinguish the "Community" section from the "Explore" sections of my app. I gravitated towards a serif font for my headers as this connoted a sense of exploration and historical richness.
Blue seemed an apt color choice for the brand since blue is often associated with trust and communication and TourBuddies is at its core about discovering insights on sites to explore via one's social network. Purple was an apt choice for the TourBuddies "Community" as it connotes empowerment and stimulation.
User Testing Takeaways
5/5 completed the 3 tasks well within the target ranges.
Target range for bookmarking was 1m 30s, 30s for the map view, and 45s for the TourBuddies finder.
5/5 wanted to see a color distinction for friends' bookmarks vs their own.
While users had no difficulty viewing the bookmarks of a fellow contact they noted this would make the experience smoother.
4/5 felt the TourBuddies finder CTA was too subtle and needed more color contrast.
4/5 wanted a more clear orientation within the onboarding as to what the product provides.
Explore Page - Before
Explore Page - After
Updated active states so they do not look disabled and used color to distinguish "Explore" site pages
Increased sub header text size for clarity & improved legibility of map icon & arrow to expanded view
Improved default and active states of all nav. elements
Buddies Finder - Before
Buddies Finder - After
Made dates text lighter & fixed an error with the "closed" state of the drop down arrow
Made headers text bigger for clarity & consistency
Increased white space for legibility and to allow users to either message or click to view profiles
Eliminated stroke in active states of nav. items, switched to the body text sans serif font for clarity, and increased padding for nav. bar elements
Community Page - Before
Community Page - After
Increased white space for legibility and to allow users to either follow or click to view profile, & updated default button state for following
Made TourBuddies Finder stand out with more white space and the use of purple to distinguish between the "Explore" and "Community" pages, & updated default button state
My user testing revealed users wanted an orientation to app's core features so I added user onboarding to the prototype.
I kept the onboarding simple so users could quickly dive in and explore the app. The swiping required by the onboarding also reinforces the learnability of the app as it acts as a preface to the horizontal carousel in the "Explore" section of the app.
The first few screens display a blue and purple gradient that pulsates as the app loads.
After the onboarding users are free to explore the app without an account.
Users are prompted to create an account once they begin bookmarking, but are always free to explore sites without an account simply by closing out of the account creation overlay. Sites are sorted by locations nearest to the user.
Messaging & TourBuddies Finder
The TourBuddies Finder allows users to find others to join them on their tours via a messaging platform. This feature is nested within the TourBuddies "Community" where one previews and finds contacts to follow. This way the TourBuddies Finder is visible to explore and entice users, but does not feel like a core function of the app.
While some may love utilizing this feature to find TourBuddies, this feature would likely be heavily used in the Phase 2 roll out of app curated tours.
Core Screens & Features
Filter by site theme/type
Explore sites to bookmark
Toggle to view followers' bookmarks
Explore via the map view
View suggested Buddies to follow drawn from a user's phone contacts or facebook (this is a use case of a new user; this menu would otherwise list Buddies you already follow at the top)
Confirm you want to follow suggested Buddy
View List of bookmarked sites with an option to toggle to followers' bookmarks to view and import
Browse expanded view of sites with image carousel, hours open, and link to Google directions
Find friends to follow and navigate to the Tourbuddies Finder
See follower's profile and followers so you can vet whether you might want to invite them to your tours or join them on theirs
This was a fast-paced 3-week project with the goal of building a minimum viable product (M.V.P.) that addresses a core user need backed by research. While I began with a focus on people's experiences with different forms of walking tours, my research revealed people strongly prefer tours with in-person guides despite continuing to participate in various forms of self-guided tours. Creating a TourBuddies Finder for users to find people to join them on their tours bridges this experience gap in self-guided tours and helps them feel more engaged in the in-person process of exploration. To aid in users' reluctance to use such a feature I nested this feature within the TourBuddies Community, where users could find others to follow, share sites and discover sites with others.
My biggest takeaway in developing this prototype was the importance of identifying just 1 or 2 features that meet a clearly defined user need that is shared among multiple types of users. TourBuddies addresses multiple types of users and use cases, aiding users in the following endeavors:
exploring locally and discovering new sites through the TourBuddies Community
finding sites to see when traveling to new cities
creating a digital record of their explorations
finding others to join them on their tours so they feel better engaged and more secure in unknown areas
As the app collects data on what users share the intention is to use this data to shape app-based tours in Phase 2 of TourBuddies. TourBuddies aims for profitability in phase 2 via the resale value of this data as well as through its freemium business model and partnerships with local tourism bureaus & business improvement districts.
If given additional time I would conduct A/B testing on design options for exploring sites. I would also conduct unmoderated testing with open questions on the experience of searching for sites.
Lastly, given my pivot from investigating people's experiences with different types of walking tours to an app focused on bookmarking, revisiting my competitive analysis to include more digital products focused on bookmarking sites could be helpful for refining users' experiences of the TourBuddies app.