Mountain Project

Reaching new heights in usability
Overview

Finding climbing areas in real life is difficult enough

Context

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.

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. My goal was to improve usability for current users on the iOS mobile app.

Disclaimer: I do not work for nor am I affiliated with Mountain Project.

Key Skills

User research
Information architecture
Rapid prototyping

Role

Individual Designer

Scope

Search flow for
iOS mobile devices
Final Product

A salient design for easy navigation of Mountain Project

Validation testing

In the new design, users were able to accomplish the given scenario 90% of the time, compared to 25% of the time for the original app.
Research

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've heard of Yosemite but aren't sure if it's in season or has the right type of routes. Find Yosemite and see if this is an ideal destination.

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.
"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?"

"What are these buttons? Are these places to climb?

"I just want to see where the hard sport routes are. How can I find the hard sport routes?"

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.
I discovered the main pain points congregated around the search flow.
#1
‍Confusing Home page
Users expressed confusion and didn't know how to proceed upon landing on the Home page
#2
Overlooked buttons
Users overlooked the buttons providing desired functions, such as filtering routes and  areas
#3
Hard to find info
Users had trouble finding relevant information such as GPS coordinates on the area page
#4
Difficult navigation
Users had difficulty searching for a specific sub-area upon opening the navigation

Key takeaway

In 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.
Ideation

14 design ideas boiled down to 3 main screens

Inspiration

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.

UI sketching

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.
Prototype

Before and after: improved clarity and prioritization get climbers through the crux

Hi-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.

Home page

Reduced CTAs

Navigation page

Added search

Area page, part 1

Restructured hierarchy

Area page, part 2

Increased efficiency

Prototyping

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.
Conclusion

As climbing grows, usability will rise as a business priority

Handoff to Mountain Project design team

I was fortunate to get in touch with Mountain Project and discuss my research with their product team. Seeing their users struggle with navigation 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.