trail mix

Engaging trail users by mixing their experiences

A Pittsburgh non-profit, Friends of the Riverfront, wanted to find a way to report issues along the Three Rivers' Heritage Trails. As part of an interdisciplinary team, I designed a mobile application to help the organization that also furthers the organization's mission to help riverfront communities and serves as a platform to learn about trail-goers.

  • needfinding research
  • usability testing
  • product development
  • prototyping
  • UX design
  • documentation
  • high-fidelity prototype
  • findings & design report
  • community presentations

with Stephanie Butler , Jonathan Chan, and Kelsey Stroshane


Help Friends of the Riverfront maintain 24 miles of trail

Friends of the Riverfront came to Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute looking for help. The organization lacked the man power to identify maintenance issues on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on its own. Occasionally, someone would call or email the group about overgrowth, garbage, or disrepair; but more often than not, issues only came to light when its six employees passed the problem biking to work or during a quarterly inspection. The organization wanted a tool to help it find out about problems on trail.


Needfinding and Domain Research

My team and I applied a human-centered design process to investigate the problem and create a solution. We were as interested in learning about the people who used the trails as the trails themselves. Initially, we focused on several key questions:
  • Who uses the trails?
  • How are the trails used?
  • Why are trail issues so infrequently reported?
To find answers, we created and executed a research plan that included ethnographic surveys, interviews, guerrilla research, embodied cognitive research and domain research.

Photo of interview subject

Stephanie (left) and I (center) interviewed many types of people on the trail like commuters, exercise enthusiasts, and pet owners.

What We Learned

We combined the information we gathered from interviews, surveys, and observation in an affinity map and mapped it to the trails. Our data analysis yielded significant insights:
  • There is a passionate community of trail users in Pittsburgh.
  • Trail-goers plan routes and stops before stepping onto the trail.
  • Many people had routines, like specific paths or spots.
  • The majority of people on the trail carry a smart phone.
  • The community members know a lot about the trail and surrounding neighborhoods, but have no way to trade information.
  • Most trail users did not know Friends of the Riverfront maintains the trail.
With these insights in mind, we brainstormed ways to solve the problem of reporting trail issues. Our most compelling ideas relied on capitalizing on the knowledge of the walkers, runners, bikers, and neighbors who carry mobile devices.

Photo of transcribing handwritten notes

I had to transfer my notes captured in the field for affinitying.

Design Guidelines

This meant our challenge was creating a solution that trail-goers would want to use. Rather than designing application that focused on reporting, we developed goals about how to enhance the trail-goers' experiences:
  • Make it easy for people to remember what they discovered on trail
  • Enable people to share what they know about the trail
  • Help people break their routines and discover new things
  • Make reporting issues on trail simple and seamless
Photo of brainstorming with Friends of the Riverfront

We discussed our research findings with Friends of the Riverfront Project Manager, Sam Thomas, and then brainstormed solutions together.

Iterative Design & Usability Testing

We developed the concept for Trail Mix by creating prototypes and testing them with people. I drew storyboards illustrating our ideas for speed dating, collaborated on every version and led user testing. We started with sketches and then made several sets of clickable wireframes using We adapted the prototypes based on the feedback from trailgoers and others.

This biker was one of frequent trail users who participated in usability testing. She told me that the trail can be tricky to navigate due to poor signage and our application woud help trail-goers communicate about what they know.


Friends of the Riverfront adopt our design, Trail Mix

We presented our findings to the Friends of the Riverfront and other local organizations and walked them through an interactive prototype of the high-fidelity wireframes. Friends of the Riverfront and their partners were so pleased with work that they plan on developing the design. If you are interested in viewing the report or presentation, please contact me at tucker.judith [at] gmail [dot] com.