A three-week design sprint to a total site overhaul for an exceptional public program called Trailhead Direct, a partnership between King County Parks and King County Metro.
My Role: Project Manager, Information Architect, & Content Strategist
Team of 3
Project Length: 3 Weeks
Skills Used: Stakeholder Interviews, Information Architecture, Usability Testing, Project Management, Content Strategy
A site redesign for a King County Parks program “Trailhead Direct,” incorporating a range of new content and educational elements. My role, in addition to managing the project, was to compose and strategize the content and information architecture so that it was not only better for the client’s current user base, but also to reach and educate new users in an effort to broaden access to green spaces for people from underrepresented communities.
Trailhead Direct is a joint King County Parks and King County Metro project that provides weekend bus service to local trailheads during the summer season. It was developed to ease road congestion at trailhead parking areas and keep nearby roads safe and clear. There was a pilot season in 2017, but Summer 2018 was the project’s first full season, offering three different routes to the Issaquah Alps, Mt. Si & Mt. Teneriffe, and Mailbox Peak.
Trailhead Direct has succeeded at providing affordable transit to trailheads, but the lack of educational information is leaving users unprepared for their hikes, which leaves them less confident in their ability to take the trip, and potentially puts their safety at risk.
By increasing the spectrum of educational materials and planning resources, we empower new users to feel safe and ready to enjoy the outdoors while getting there in style.
From our first meeting with our stakeholders, we were able to determine that these were their overall goals for the project:
A general site redesign, for a responsive site with a mobile-first design.
The site should emphasize both transit and hiking equally
Incorporate storytelling, interactive, and educational elements, emphasizing information and community engagement.
Content topic ideas included etiquette, gear, safety, accessibility, trail info, difficulty, attractions, landmarks, other activities near stops.
Focus on equity and broader access to green spaces, especially engaging youth and families in underserved and/or marginalized communities.
On Representation & Belonging in the Outdoors Community
The outdoors community has some issues with diversity and equitable access. Trailhead Direct's own research shows that over 80% of survey respondents self-identified as white, as did about 75% of participants in our own surveys, and there is a visible socioeconomic element as well. Outdoors culture emphasizes preparedness requiring high-priced gear, and getting out into nature usually requires a vehicle. It's easy to feel excluded when the barrier to entry feels this high.
.People who are not widely represented in a community (in this case, lower-income communities or communities of color) frequently do not feel as comfortable or as welcome to participate, feeling tentative about being in a place where they don't feel they "belong". If you don't have a car, and don't have cash to burn at expensive outdoors shops, and you don't see anyone that looks like you, it's hard to feel like you belong in this community, and that these spaces are for you. The benefits of spending time in the outdoors are numerous: aside from exercise and beautiful views, spending time outside is great for overall physical and mental health, and everyone should be able to take advantage.
In what ways could Trailhead Direct help overcome these barriers? Trailhead Direct is working to close the “getting there” gap by providing cheap access to popular King County outdoor areas, the next step is providing educational materials to make sure everyone is safe and prepared to enjoy their time outside.
Defining the Project Scope
Due to limited time and resources, we knew that we would not be able to take on a full community outreach program and do it justice in the time allotted for the project, and we knew that something this important shouldn't be done haphazardly.
We decided that the best course of action at this stage would be to split the difference: focusing the UX research and design on improving and refining the experience for current Trailhead Direct users. Additionally, our researcher would speak young people with an interest in the outdoors, as well as organizations focused on youth access to the outdoors, and we would be able to use the insights gathered to inform our content and educational materials (more novice-accessible information about things like etiquette, safety, gear, etc) which would endure and stay relevant through future stages of the program.
The user persona defined by our team's user researcher.
The persona we were designing for was a reflection of the current user base: a young, social, city-dwelling professional who uses public transportation, and is a novice hiker that likes to spend a few hours on the trail on the weekends.
The unexpected element that ended up informing the work of each member of our team: from research, to IA & content, to visual design.
One of the most surprising things that came to light throughout the course of this project was how universal the issue of weather was for outdoor veterans and novices alike. Our first clue came from the surveys conducted by our user researcher, in which the weather forecast was named almost universally as one of the things people most want to know before heading into the outdoors, and interviewees named "unexpected weather" as one of the things most likely to cause problems during their activities.
It felt like kind of a "well, duh" moment, but this alerted us to the gap in the availability of information that could hugely affect the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of people engaging in outdoor activities, as many people don't know (especially if they're new to outdoorsy activities) that the weather on the trail may be wildly different from that at the nearest town or even at lower elevation. We knew that we needed to prioritize getting this information to Trailhead Direct users.
Information Architecture was unexpectedly challenging for this project. I took for granted what might be 'discoverable' or obvious to the users of the site, and to remind me yet again that I am not the user. In both the open and closed card sorts , most of the disagreement among participants' were related to weather. To our users, there wasn't necessarily one logical place to find this important info, so we made sure it was accessible from multiple areas of the new design.
Open Card Sort
Early in the project, I conducted an open card sort test, giving participants a broad swath of the types of information that the new site might contain, and asked to sort and label the information in whatever categories felt logical. There was a fair amount of agreement among participants (with the exception of a few wild cards, like weather), reflected in the below chart. The number shown at the intersection of two items indicates the percent of participants that put these items in the same category.
Closed Card Sort
I formed five categories that agreed most with the results of the open card sort, and conducted a closed card sort (in which I gave the categories and asked users to sort potential site features and content in whatever way felt most logical) to make sure that these groupings would make sense to our users. The categories offered to testers were "Transportation & Schedule," "Trails," "Preparation," "Activities & Attractions," and "About," and based on the general agreement reflected in the matrices below, I knew I was on the right track.
Popular Placement Matrix
Final Site Map
Below is the final architecture of the site redesign, with page and category names refined by usability testing and iteration. With this navigation and labelling in our final prototype, our users could access everything they'd need to feel safe and prepared.
This project was quite content-heavy, and given the time allotted and the client's goals of equity and access, the content strategy came down to these three major concerns:
Assessment of what it means to be prepared, outside the limited lens and language of prescribed outdoors economic status/culture.
How trail etiquette can be communicated and explained in a positive and welcoming way.
How to make people feel prepared and welcome to enjoy and feel like they belong in the outdoors.
The following are some detailed examples of my content strategy work for this project:
Gear Page Content
"Respecting the Land" Page Content
Usability Testing & Results
Our team shared usability testing duties, following a script outlining a scenario that would lead participants through various parts of the site. There were four iterations of the redesign, each version tested by 3-7 participants.
Their feedback lead to a total restructure of the navigation of the landing page, the fine-tuning of an already-well-scored trip planning page, and more intuitive directions and preparedness tools.
After they completed the scenario, we asked our testers to fill out a SUS (System Usability Scale) score sheet for our site redesign, scoring its usability out of 100. We were able to raise the score 6.67 points from our first version to our last, and users were overall highly satisfied with the design.
The Final Product
Presented using the final version of our prototype (designed by our visual & interaction designer), this video walks through the different sections of the new design, including the landing page, the trip planner, trail information, and preparedness materials.
My team collaborated to develop recommended 'next steps' based on both our own work and the needs of our client. A few examples of the recommendations made that were more directly related to content and community outreach.
More detailed accessibility information about the trails/natural areas themselves (ex. incline, or a detailed description of the trail itself), so that people of all ability levels can know which spaces served by Trailhead Direct are able to suit their needs.
Collaborate with organizations that have experience working with low-income communities and communities of color. Leverage their expertise and existing community relationship to amplify strategies for improving social equity. These organizations may be able to help you develop strategies for measuring equity.
Develop metrics for measuring equity of access, and prioritize expanding access for disadvantaged communities. For instance, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is using an empirical equity metric to prioritize capital improvement projects in neighborhood parks. The metric goes beyond facility condition to consider area demographics and community needs.
Incorporate information about the indigenous histories of these areas For example, land around Mt. Si is sacred to the Snoqualmie Tribe, and visitors should be easily able to learn more about the custodians land they're going to visit.
More detailed information about non-hiking outdoor activities available at each trailhead area, so those not necessarily interested in hiking can still find ways to enjoy the spaces served by Trailhead Direct