iOS App for local cultural adventures

Idea Generation | Documentation | Research | Wireframing | User Testing

The Challenge

Travel is inaccessible, and local exploration can be overwhelming

In today’s world, empathy and multicultural sensitivity is of the utmost importance, and one way to begin to cultivate these sensibilities is through travel. However, international travel can be very difficult, both financially and logistically. Local neighborhoods and cultural offerings are more accessible, but individuals might be overwhelmed about knowing where to begin. This, coupled with the idea of exploring outside of a homogenous comfort zone, creates obstacles that individuals are not particularly moved to overcome, therefore bypassing opportunities to expand their worldview.

The Solution

Aqui is a local travel and discovery app that encourages individuals to explore different aspects of foreign cultures, depending on their specific interests, as well as provides instructions and a gamification of objectives alongside linguistic and cultural tools, to encourage and empower users to interact with individuals and components of the culture they are looking to explore.

Surveying the User

My first goal was to thoroughly understand possible users for the product. I was unaware of a similar or identical product on the market whose users I could target for the research, so instead, I extended out and researched individuals who were interested in travel. Using Typeform, I constructed a survey that was then distributed across social media channels. I aimed to understand:

  • What technology users carry with them while traveling
  • How users interact with that technology while traveling
  • The likelihood of using apps for recommendations and itinerary creation
  • The current extent of travel of possible users

Results showed that users overwhelmingly own and utilize smart phones and laptops, and of smartphone users, the preferred operating system was largely Apple iOS. Users are technically savvy on their smartphones, and use them for a variety of activities, including checking email, browsing the internet, shopping, utilizing social media, creating content, using maps and GPS systems, blogging, and reading books (among other activities). The overwhelming majority of users also utilize these smartphones as travel tools and to plan travel itineraries, largely because they provide the user with a way to access maps and directions, as well as insight into recommended destinations. Most users stated that they took at least one trip a year, whether domestic or international, but most did not travel more than that.

The takeaways from the survey were that individuals do like to travel, although many do not get ample opportunity to, and when individuals do travel, they tend to utilize their smartphones, and therefore are familiar with the functions of a smartphone as a travel tool. In order for a new travel app meant for domestic discovery to be competitive on the market, it would have to offer both recommended destinations and a way for users to access a map or directions to each destination.

Assessing the Competition

Although I was not aware of a similar travel app on the market, I knew it would be valuable to assess the existing leaders in travel and recommendations apps, in order to best understand what was available to users. I also analyzed these different products’ strengths and areas of growth opportunities, in order to leverage and learn from them. The products that I chose to analyze were the (at the time) newly-launched Google Trips (a travel app providing recommendations and suggested itineraries based on interests and time available); Yelp (an app providing recommendations to both locals and visitors to different cities); and Roadtrippers (an app providing recommendations to users based on roadtrips to and from specific destinations, and the attractions that would be available along the way). See my competitive analysis here.

Identifying User Personas

I then developed user personas based on specific users likely to utilize a local travel app with gamified itineraries and objectives. The goals of these users were to explore specific cultural offerings within their city of residence in a linear and guided way, learn about new languages and cultural customs while eliminating intimidation factors, and expand their overall worldview.

Crafting User Flows

Using the results of my survey as a guide, I began crafting an MVP for the mobile iOS app that allowed the selection of specific itineraries within a city’s cultural offerings, providing recommendations for specific attractions, and clear directions to each location. As the design was meant for a mobile app, I wanted to keep a focus on simplicity and creating a series of actions that would not overwhelm the user as they progressed through the app.

Creating a Brand Identity

My goal in branding was to create an attractive brand identity that would attract my target demographic, while also staying true to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. I wanted to amplify the fact that this app was meant for travel, and would include opportunities to engage in multiculturalism, while also keeping it accessible enough to the general public.

The word “Aqui” was chosen as the title of the project. “Aqui” means “here” in Spanish. The meaning alludes to the location of the user at the time, and encourages them to discover and utilize what is already around them, as opposed to going “there,” to a distant, far off place, in order to take advantage of cultural offerings. Incorporating a non-English word in the title reminds the user of the multicultural emphasis within the app, but the word itself is accessible to most American English speakers, both phonologically and as something they might very well already know, given Spanish’s status as the second most spoken language in the country.

The logo is a stylization of the word “Aqui.” In Spanish, the word is spelled aquí, and carries a tilde above the “i;” I wanted to incorporate that in an artistic way, and so chose to playfully add a flag to the letter. The flag functions both as the orthographic mark, as well as is reminiscent of the flags of different nations. Blue and orange were chosen as the branding colors, as orange emphasizes a sense of adventure, and blue is complementary to it. Finally, I chose to stay within Apple’s suggested use of San Francisco Text for headlines and San Francisco Display for paragraphs.


Revisiting my user flows, I set out to create a simple and exciting way to embark on a suggested itinerary, while completing gamified objectives in order to build a collection of completed, culturally-specific itineraries. I began by laying the designs out with Balsamiq.

User Interface Design

After finishing the wireframes, and gaining a thorough understanding of how to create an intuitive and fun mobile experience for my users, I brought the design to Sketch, where I laid out the User Interface for Aqui. After creating artboards for the gamified itineraries, I exported my work to Invision, where I created a clickable prototype, with the aim of gathering design feedback and user testing.

User Testing and Redesign

After creating a clickable prototype, I wanted to verify that my design was intuitive, and that my users could guide their way through the itineraries. I recruited individuals who frequently utilized mobile travel apps to complete a filmed test. I met with my informants on Skype, and asked them to complete a series of tasks while I recorded our interaction via Lookback.

Overall the informants found the app intuitive and easy to use. They were able to select their current city, desired culture, and desired specific itinerary with ease, as well as access past itineraries and account information. Users mentioned their interest and engagement with the app, and the overall feedback was "when will this be available in the iOS store?"

However, one question that many users posed was how they would be kept accountable for actually completing the objectives listed in the itinerary, and how could the app guarantee that they, as users, wouldn't cheat and simply mark the objective as completed. This posed an interesting problem, as I wanted to balance the encouragement to honestly complete the objectives with the freedom for users to opt out of specific tasks and continue to the next objective, were they to feel uncomfortable or intimidated, or were the restaurant or location simply to be unavailable at the time.

In considering these problems, I decided to utilize a simple confirmation screen in order to encourage users to be more honest throughout the process. While the confirmation screen cannot guarantee complete honesty on the part of the user, it does appeal to their conscience as they are required to positively confirm that they did complete the task. In the future, incorporating the function to "skip task" might also work as a solution, which would allow the user to move on to the next objective, but would reflect the accurate completion level of the itinerary in the past itineraries list.

Reflections and Takeaways

One of the most valuable aspect of this project was familiarizing myself with Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, and practicing working within the constraints of them. At first, this was incredibly intimidating, as the guidelines seemed complicated in their detail. However, I found that, in adhering to the guidelines, I almost found it easier to work and find solutions; the constraints of the HIG allowed me to focus on problem-solving in a simpler and more efficient way.

Additionally, the project tested me insofar as whiddling down what the MVP for a unique mobile product might be. The iteration of the app, in and of itself, was a challenge as I found myself getting more and more ambitious with the possible outcomes, and losing focus of the intentions of the app from the get-go. Multiple times, I had to stop, revisit my surveys and user personas, and redirect myself down the path of solving those problems, as opposed to attempting to create the Next Big Thing in mobile applications. While I was very attracted to including things like a social platform for interaction and competition, and user-generated reviews and itineraries, I realized that the first step must be to launch and test an MVP, and that more details and features could come in the future. This realization allowed me to hone in on the work at hand, refocus my actions and energies, and create a product that addressed the primary goals of the users

Test the Invision Prototype

Please Click Through to the Invision Prototype