Mountain Project

Creating a more intuitive mobile
guidebook for rock climbers

User Testing • UX • Prototyping

Climbers who use Mountain Project were getting lost– both in the mobile app and outdoors

Overview

Mountain Project is a popular rock climbing app and online guidebook. Climbers use Mountain Project to plan climbing trips and get information about a particular area or route.

Problem

As a climber, I know firsthand that Mountain Project is an indispensable resource for climbing trips. However, it is hard to use. After experiencing and witnessing the confusion of navigating Mountain Project time-and-again, I decided to conduct user research and devise a smoother design.

Goal

My goal was to ease frustration, and to brings climbers to feel that Mountain Project has an intuitive and logical flow.

Role

Individual designer

Scope

Mobile app

Skills

User Research
User Experience
Prototyping

Final Designs

Home page

A single clear CTA guides users to search for areas or routes

Area page

Important information is grouped together and kept above the fold

Navigation page

Search and visual hierarchy allows
for a smoother browsing experience

How might we help climbers navigate Mountain Project more easily?

Job stories and scenarios

I created job stories and scenarios to empathize with users and prepare for usability testing.
💼 Sample Job Story
WHEN I am on a climbing trip
I WANT to easily find an area with routes in my range of difficulty
SO THAT I can be efficient and not waste my time trying to find a climbing area
🎥 Sample Scenario
You're planning a week-long climbing trip with a couple friends. You want to check which areas in Yosemite has routes grades 5.10-5.12. Find Yosemite and see if there are any ideal areas for your group.

Usability testing

I went to my local climbing gym, Dogpatch Boulders, and interviewed 10 people who had used or had heard of Mountain Project. They were primarily boulderers and sport climbers ages 24-36 with varying degrees of outdoor experience.

Some quotes from usability testing include:
"I only ever use search areas and routes. I never use forums, ticks, to-dos, near me, or news."
"Uhhh there’s a lot going on. How do I even find an area?"
"I just want to see where the hard sport routes are. How can I find the hard sport routes?"

Top Pain Points

By analyzing patterns in user responses, I found the areas of friction where a fix would have the most impact while being easy to implement. Unfortunately, some of the larger issues, such as mandatory downloads, were outside the scope of this project due to the magnitude of the engineering effort.
#1
Lack of clear CTAs
Users expressed confusion and didn't know how to proceed upon landing on a screen due to a lack of a clear CTA
#2
Important information was buried
Users had trouble finding relevant information such as GPS coordinates and area news
#3
Confusing navigation
Users had difficulty finding the navigation, as well as searching for a specific sub-area upon opening the navigation.

Problem Summary

Climbers are having a difficult time finding and making sense of the information given to them.

10 out of 10 users said that their main purpose using the app was to search for areas or routes, but were unable to do so without hesitations and workarounds.

I generated over 14 design ideas and through user feedback, evaluated the best ideas for design

Idea Generation

I began sketching design solutions to address the identified pain points. For comparison and inspiration, I looked to similar apps such as 27 crags, a European climbing app; All Trails, a popular hiking app; and Mountain Bike Project, a mountain biking app also owned by REI.

I narrowed my scope down to the Home page, Area page, and Navigation page as the primary areas of confusion. I then brainstormed different design solutions and pulled the most user-friendly elements into the final design.

Lo fi sketches

High fidelity mockups

After three rounds of feedback and iteration, I created hi-fidelity mockups using Sketch and Principle. I break down the final designs below.

Final Designs

Home Page

The one main use case is highlighted with a clear CTA to search areas or routes

Area Page

The area page develops a larger presence through photos, restructured info, and grouped action items

Area Page part 2

Efficient collapsible sections prevent infinite scrolling and digging for hidden information

Navigation Page

Search and improved hierarchy allows for faster and more efficient orientation

Validation results showed significant improvements in app usability

Validation Testing

I created a clickable prototype and tested it on fellow designers, friends, and climbers at a local climbing gym. Testing results showed significant improvements in user orientation and comprehension of the app.

Learnings and Implementation

I was fortunate to get in touch with Mountain Project and discuss my research with their product team. I discussed the engineering, business, and design implications for my suggestions. Furthermore, seeing video footage of their users struggling easily convinced them to accept my design suggestions for the next rollout.
🤖Engineering Implications
1) The search bar on the Navigation page will require the most effort from engineering

2) Optional downloads would relieve a major user pain point but will require high eng effort
📊Business Implications
1) The migration of indoor climbers to the outdoors will bring more beginner users

2) All design suggestions should be considered against REI's branding and app portfolio
✍️Design Implications
1) The search bar will require designs for a flow and results page for implementation

2) Further ideation could clarity the navigation flow, which was a major user pain point

Final Thoughts

While I addressed a number of user pain points through this case study, the largest and most difficult pain points are still outstanding. Mandatory downloads were a huge sore spot and caused friction with every tester. Other areas of navigation still remain fairly confusing. While these are difficult design challenges, climbing will only continue to grow as a sport (Tokyo 2020!) and bring more users to Mountain Project, so usability will likely also grow as a business priority for REI.