Individual Design Exercise
Mismanaged litter such as plastic, glass, and metal poses a significant health threat to wildlife and the environment. The cost of cleaning up litter in the U.S. costs more than $11.5 billion each year. Approximately $240 million dollars is spent by educational institutions to clean up litter and government bodies spend approximately $1.3 billion. Continuing population growth remains a concern as well as a larger population outweighs the reduction of litter on a per capita basis.
The psychology behind littering gets more interesting. Research has shown that littered areas promote littering behavior from its constituents and clean areas tend to dissuade it. Furthermore, studies have found that the farther you are from a trash receptacle, the more likely you are to litter. I’d like to believe that people do care enough to throw away their trash, however it can often be a hassle or too inconvenient for them to find a receptacle.
I designed Trashify, a mobile app, which helps people find trash, recycling, or compost bins near them. The app utilizes crowd-sourcing to build a strong community which helps update the location of trash bins and rate them by cleanliness. With these features, people can quickly be guided to the closest waste receptacle to throw away their trash responsibly!
To begin we conducted a quick domain analysis to uncover existing pain points in any current solutions to this problem. A competitive analysis is a preliminary research method that is quick and informative; it also provides great supplemental information for more in-depth user research.
From this domain analysis we found that
There are no other products or applications currently out on the market that are designed for locating nearby public services.
Google Maps and Yelp have a very active communities with a great collection of businesses and organization, but there is no content regarding any public service locations.
People have no way to find a nearby trash bin without first having to look around for one in person.
Locations of public waste bins can change, which is why having a crowd-sourced product is important. Users can constantly be updating the locations of these places.
With that said, it’s obvious that there is a need here that is not being fulfilled. We hope to create a well-designed product that quickly helps users find trash bins with minimal effort.
The goal of this project is to decrease littering and improve the quality of neighborhoods and streets. However, before we even begin jumping into ideas or solutions we first have to make a connection with our target audience. We have to better understand why people litter in the first place to make more informed design decisions.
Catching people littering and then chasing after them to interview is a difficult task. So instead of that I stopped people on the street and asked them if they ever littered and what their rationale was for doing it. After interviewing around 5 people I found that, much like the literature suggested, that:
The majority of them didn’t see a trash bin or receptacle anywhere in sight when they did and so did not know what to do with their trash
Some felt that it was okay since the area was already littered
Did not feel like holding onto their trash as it was inconveniencing them
Believed that their trash would just decompose naturally
Surprisingly some people did value a clean community, but just became desensitized to living in littered areas
Some people just did not care
Because of these common issues, litterers tend to continue littering when they have the opportunity. The lack of discoverability for trash cans and where to locate them is a contributing factor to this type of behavior. And unfortunately for a small majority of people, they just don’t seem to care very much.
“Unfortunately I have littered before but I didn’t do it on purpose. Someone would clean it up eventually.”
User Needs & Pain Points
Before ideating I decided to create a holistic context map as an artifact to refer to. It can also be referred to as a living model that we could use to collaborate with team members or stakeholders.
With this discovery research session and being able to define the user needs we could begin ideating and thinking of solutions. It’s always best to not limit yourself during this stage and just come up with as many ideas as possible. Being thorough with all possible solutions helps create confidence that the product has been thought through carefully. Ideas are cheap, but developer time is not.
I wanted this app to be inclusive and be accessible for everyone. This meant we had to dial in the usability and intuitiveness of using it. An exercise to generate guiding principles was to deconstruct the optimal experience and identify the antithesis of a user friendly product. When we can identify and analyze the most un-optimal user experience we can begin to solve for the user needs in a more creative way.
So first let’s ask what the challenges are that we’re solving and how we might fix them.
HMW design for a user who is already averse to throwing away their trash?
HMW quickly and easily show a user where the nearest trash receptacle is?
HMW personalize the experience by showing nearby waste bins that coincide with where they’re already going?
We understood that users won’t always throw away their trash, many of them may still continue to litter. But chastising them and patronizing them will dissuade them from using the app again. It is better to be understanding and realizing that people aren’t perfect and have flaws. Instead of negative reinforcement, providing positive reinforcement will retain users and I hypothesize that it’ll make the adoption of the app much easier. With that said we wanted this product to follow these three core principles.
With that said I began to design wireframes and lo-fi prototypes to test with our users for feedback.
IA, Wireframes & Lo-Fi Prototype
After completing the wireframes and building out lo-fi prototypes, I gathered some users again to test the conceptual designs. Many users liked knowing that the app could automatically load their location and show a comprehensive list of all nearby trash receptacles. Many of them also suggested that getting directions would be helpful, but that was a feature we already had covered.
Don’t Make Me Think
However, a common issue or request that we found was that since this was an app that was meant to help them locate the nearest trash receptacle, they just wanted to find the closest one near them. Rather than having to scroll through the list and choose which one they wanted to go to, they expected the app to just automatically guide them to the nearest one.
The goal of the app is to help users get rid of their trash as quickly as possible and move on with their lives. I decided to add in a feature to automatically guide the user to the closest waste bin whenever they opened the app. This would do the heavy lifting for the user but still give them the option to choose from the list.
Another common observation we found was that users were trying to toggle between different types of waste bins. For example, could they find the closest recycling bin instead? Or could they find only compost receptacles? This was something we had not considered and decided to incorporate in our high-fidelity designs.
With that said I decided to add some more guiding design principles that I hadn’t considered.
High Fidelity Design
For the high-fidelity designs I wanted to gather feedback to validate my assumption that users expected the application to automatically find the closest receptacle to them. I was also curious to see if my design decision to simplify, consolidate, and group information together helped users quickly parse through information. And lastly, I wanted to continue to gather additional information to help me solve for any overlooked user needs.
Validation Testing w/ Prototype & Redesign
Users were unsure what the Plus Button on the map meant. To reduce clutter and clarify the functionality of being able to add a waste receptacle we moved the feature to the top near the search bar. Many users were still having trouble having the app clearly show them the nearest trash bin and navigate to it. I continued to iterate on this design and decided upon a dialog box that appears when a user first opens up the app. This way the user can just press one button and be guided to the closest trash bin.
I also streamlined the photo taking ability to make it easier for community contributors to add their local public trash bins. Streamlining the ability to add new locations makes it so the app can constantly be up to date. Especially since after a while users would eventually become familiar with where trash cans are and not need to use the app anymore. But, people wander and they travel and they can end up in unfamiliar places. In this case, having strong crowdsourced data from users helps locals keep their community clean.
Expanding to More Public Services
Giving users the ability to locate waste bins is helpful but being able to also mark where public restrooms, emergency call boxes, and drop-in mailboxes would also be tremendously useful. Having a dedicated product that keeps track of all your local public services so you can quickly move on with your life would be extremely helpful.
Connecting with Local Jurisdictions
Another key feature that would augment the utility of this product and also help out local government bodies, would be the ability to flag trash bins which need to be emptied or have maintenance done. This could improve the relationship between citizens and their local municipalities by building a direct relationship between the two. Having users flag trash bins that need maintenance may also improve the cleanliness of communities as they can be routinely cleaned when needed.