Personalizing the outdoor experience through data-driven recreation recommendations
MyREI is a website that streamlines the steps needed to enjoy the outdoors. Using customizable, data-driven recommendations, MyREI shows users outdoor gear and activities tailored to their personal needs. The site also makes it easy to plan group activities by providing a number of collaboration features. My role was to design this new site using UX methodologies and deliver wireframes using Axure RP.
REI (mock project)
Design a website that will help people plan and manage camping trips, including interactive checklist features that allow groups of people to plan trips together. Create wireframes and user flows that demonstrate a someone navigating through the site.
UX Methods Used
Competitive & Comparative Analysis
Design Tools Used
Pen & Paper (sketches)
Omnigraffle (user flows)
Axure RP (wireframes, prototype)
Team Members & Collaborators
UX Designer: John Brodish (me)
In a recent market research study regarding camping in the United States, participants cited lack of time due to work and family commitments as the main reasons for reducing their number of camping trips. REI, a major outdoor retailer, wants to remove barriers like these so more people can enjoy the great outdoors and, subsequently, purchase more of REI's products. REI wants to create a new website that will help people plan and manage camping trips. The website will be true to REI’s brand in look, feel, and tone, but exist separately from REI.com.
• Design a site that enables groups to find and book camping trips and outdoor activities
• Design the overall layout and global navigation for the site
• Design an interactive trip checklist that all campers can access
• Show when an item has been purchased, not purchased, or doesn't need to bed purchased (i.e. already owned)
• Allow users to assign items other campers in their group
• Allow users to add additional items to the checklist
• Allow users to purchase items from the interactive checklist
REI can drive more business to its main site by making it easier for people to find opportunities to use their products.
Identifying how to efficiently accommodate multiple trip-planning and e-commerce features into a simple, accessible user interface was one of the tougher hurdles to overcome in this project.
Research & Planning
Our client laid out a pretty clear picture of what features they wanted to include on the site, as well as how it would function. In order to best meet their goal of driving more business to REI's new site, I first needed to understand the users who would be using it. I also needed to know more about the market REI's new site was entering.
REI already did some user research themselves. They provided 3 personas to help guide our design. My plan was to extract insights from the personas, then gather more information through supplemental user interviews. I wanted to analyze competing and comparable sites to identify a desirable role for REI's new site in the marketplace. After creating a framework for my design, I could begin constructing the wireframes and testing them with users.
Included in REI's project brief were 3 personas to help guide our design: Gloria, David, and John.
I began by analyzing these three personas to get a better sense of who was going to use this site.
I noticed that while these people did enjoy the great outdoors in different capacities, none of them had any pain points related to camping trip-planning. In fact, some of them didn’t even camp. When Gloria and her book club friends went hiking and had to spend the night somewhere, they just booked a hotel. Likewise, John was the only persona who indicated having work and family commitments.
While the personas offered some valuable insights for my design, I needed more information to understand how to effectively meet our project goals.
I reached out to friends, family, and others to discuss how they planned their camping trips and made purchase decisions. In a few days, I was able to speak with 10 individuals with varying degrees of interest in outdoor recreation.
• While people rarely go camping, they do find time to engage in casual outdoor activities
• Camping trip-planning is often dependent on the activities involved
• People cite a lack of time for camping due to family and work commitments
• Few want to be the "planner" or "organizer" on group trips
• Everyone prefers quick and easy navigation
• Uncertainty about the right gear to buy makes online shopping tedious
• High product ratings, positive reviews, and recommendations from friends are what most often influence purchasing decisions
I learned full-on camping trips were a rare occurrence for most people. Like REI described, most people just don't have the time to plan out-multiday excursions. Many, however, did have time for outdoor recreation for an hour or two after work or on weekends. Most people, like REI's personas, were casual outdoor enthusiasts; weekend warriors, focused more on doing outdoor activities with their friends than planning big camping trips.
Comparative & Competitive Analysis
In order to identify a desirable market role for REI's new site, I researched sites and services in the trip-planning space. While browsing the different sites, I made note of the processes and features they used, identifying useful conventions that could be implemented in the design of REI's new site.
Market Research Insights:
• REI is well-positioned to lead in outdoor recreation gear provision
• Many sites handle trip-planning well, but few touch on outdoor activities
• Most outdoor enthusiasts organize on forums and facebook groups
• Many competitors lacked the ability for groups to plan trips together
• Sites like Amazon, Facebook, and Reddit inspired a data-driven approach, to provide consistently relevant content
Early into my research, I noticed this was a heavily-saturated market. Big names like Google, Kayak, KOA, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, the National Park Service, and WikiTravel all offered trip-planning services to their users. In fact, REI, itself, already had a trip-planning site called "REI Adventures," which provided information on parks around the U.S. However, it was plagued by poor navigation and limited trip options.
Few of these sites focused on the outdoor activities to supplement a camping trip. By focusing on these activities rather than trips, REI could distinguish itself in the market, in addition to its current advantage as a retailer who can provide the plan as well as the equipment. This assessment fit with our user interview insights as well, suggesting a need for change in project scope.
There appeared to be a greater opportunity for success in adapting REI's vision to comply with established user behavior than trying to change their interests and available free time. This meant appealing to the users' larger interest: outdoor activities. REI couldn't reasonably expect to change the frequency of people's camping trips by introducing a new website to the market. However, since outdoor activities are a major component of camping trips, there is still potential for them to increase camping trips all the same. This approach would allow REI to realize its vision (albeit indirectly) while capturing a wider audience.
Including REI's requested group planning/organizing features was a must. This would be a major competitive advantage for REI. Supporting it with social features, such as social media log-in, group chats, and planning/checklist interactivity would satisfy both users and my client. Ensuring the processes to manage checklists was smooth and efficient make REI a market leader.
It was also important to make finding activities and gear easy, customizable, and efficient. The information architecture needed to support a wide audience of outdoor enthusiasts of different ages and abilities.
Thinking about all of the site's parts working together: activity planning, group support, interactive checklist, gear purchasing, etc. -- REI could market itself as the definitive one-stop-shop for everything outdoors.
There was an opportunity to capitalize on all the data users would generate while using REI's new site. REI could learn from this data to provide users with a personalized experience, offering gear and activity recommendations tailored to their individual needs and behavior -- much like how Amazon recommends products to its users. This inspired MyREI.
MyREI would act as both a social network and outdoor recreation assistant, making outdoor recreation easy and accessible. Users create profiles to track their personal preferences and previous purchases. Recommended gear and activities are displayed based on these inputs, as well as friend's purchases, reviews, sales, and promos. A "Gear" section would allow users to keep track of what gear they own, which would inspire activity recommendations. Likewise, an "Activities" section would allow users record the activities they've done or would like to do, and subsequently, the user would be recommended gear for those respective activities.
For example, if a user has a lot of hiking gear, new hiking trails would be recommended to them on their homepage. Likewise, if they've indicated they like kayaking, gear related to kayaking would also be recommended. It all depends on their personal preferences and activity.
When users chose an activity, they would be prompted to plan it with friends. Using built-in chat and the interactive checklist tool, multiple people can plan activities together. They can adjust the date and time of the activity, as well as indicate what gear and supplies they each are contributing to the activity. Afterwards, they can review the activity, which would lead to new activity suggestions on the MyREI homepage.
I sketched out different ideas first and put them in front of people for feedback. This helped me identify changes to make as I settled on an appropriate design. For example, I initially designed the site with a staggered product/activity view, to foster exploration. Feedback indicated that switching to a simple, two-columned layout would be better for a consistent browsing and navigation experience.
An early, rough sketch of the home page for REI's new site.
Card sorting with prospective users helped identify what information to prioritize on the gear and activity pages.
I created detailed wireframes in Axure RP to help showcase the full scope of the site's functionality. I used these wireframes to create a prototype and give a live demo of the user flow, and further demonstrate how the different pieces of the site work together.
With the 2-week timeline, I was able to design, test, and wireframe some of the main pages of the site to showcase the overall design concept. This was my first time using Axure RP, so I didn't get as much done as I would have liked to. It would be fun to revisit this project in the future to explore its full potential.
What I Learned
• The back-end development required for my design may have been outside of the scope of a real project -- but this wasn't a project with any defined budget or development constraints, so I decided to have a bit of fun with it.
• During the user research process, I found it interesting that many "expert" outdoorsmen likely wouldn't use a site like this, as they already had extensive product and activity knowledge. This supported the design decision to focus on casual outdoor enthusiasts.
• I learned a lot about prototyping in Axure RP, a relatively new design software to me at the time. Always remember to keep your layers labeled and organized!
• Managing my time effectively on 2-week timeline was difficult -- especially when learning a new design software, Axure RP, was factored in. While I am satisfied with what I was able to deliver on that timeline, pacing myself and allotting specific amounts of time for the different discovery/design phases might have been more effective. Then again, as they say, every project begins over time and under budget. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
• I enjoyed conducting the competitive analysis for this project because there were so many similar sites to explore. The process exposed me to a lot of nifty design conventions that offered inspiration for MyREI's design. It also taught me a lot about how to find a competitive advantage when competition is stiff.
Want to learn more?
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