I designed a camping trip planner microsite for outdoor retailer REI. Campers can use the site to find the perfect campsite, coordinate their packing lists with friends, and access expert advice.
Discovery & Research
Understanding the Competitive Landscape
REI has an interesting brand and position in the marketplace. The company is a co-op, and they have a ground-up, “we’re all in this together" attitude. The ads are real pictures of real people, as opposed to glossy celebrity endorsements. REI prides itself on hiring and training knowledgable employees who actually participate in the outdoor activities that they are pushing.
I didn't know that much about camping, so I did some user research in order to better understand the landscape. I interviewed an REI employee who is also an avid camper. Working at REI has given her a great understanding of the different types of campers and their different needs. For example, car campers have completely different requirements than primitive campers, who have completely different requirements than thru hikers. The interview highlighted for me the importance of making the camping trip planner site flexible enough to be useful to everyone.
Sketching & Ideation
Figuring Out the Basics
At the beginning, my design was all over the place. There were so many aspects to the project, and I had a hard time organizing my ideas. The site needed to have a way to research various campsites, as well as a way to organize the packing process. I did a card sorting exercise to help flesh out the site navigation, but basically just realized that my approach was incorrect, which was frustrating, but still informative. I kept working on different aspects of the design, and then going back and reworking stuff when I realized it didn’t make sense in the scheme of the project.
Narrowing Scope & Structure
Finding Focus: Yelp for Camping
Each step in the process helped me narrow my focus, from designing the navigation bar to organizing the site map. Every new step made me identify something from my previous steps that didn’t work. Building out the wireframes was very helpful and concrete, and finally helped me to solidify my design.
I eventually decided on a “Yelp for Camping” design. I learned from my research that campsites (like restaurants) often have a mediocre online presence, and campers have a desire to be better informed and prepared for their trip. I think this design fits in well with the REI brand (great information from camping
experts all in one place).
I settled on the following Site Goals:
- Help people plan their camping trip from beginning to end
- Encourage, educate, and empower people to camp
- Provide a great resource for campers
- Build trust in the REI brand
Working Out the Details
Building out the prototype made me realize just how big the scope of my project was, but it also helped me solidify many aspects of the user flow. The Campsite Finder section helps campers to identify different campsites and learn all about their various features and amenities. It also links to the official campsite websites to facilitate making reservations. And the Packing Planner provides an interactive packing checklist that can be accessed by multiple campers. The site also links directly to all of the Expert Advice and Shopping sections that are already present on the REI website.
The biggest challenge for me in designing the REI microsite was in figuring out how this site would integrate with the actual camping locations. Should users be able to book their reservations directly on the REI site? Ultimately, I decided that it would be more useful for the campsite locations if there were no integration, and the REI site instead just linked to the official campsite websites. I reasoned that if there were a buy-in required by the campsites, the REI site would become more promotional and exclusive, and less a place to find resources. My initial reaction was to go with the integration. But after analyzing all the variables, I realized that the Yelp format would actually be more useful to the campers.