The West Austin Studio Tour is a free, self-guided art tour that takes place over two weekends in May. Each year, hundreds of artists in West Austin open their studios to the public. The Tour's organizer is a nonprofit dedicated to elevating artists and their work in Austin and across Texas.
As part of a three-person team, I designed my team's iOS app to address navigation issues for tour-goers. I led user research, development of user flows, and high-fidelity prototyping in InVision and Sketch.
Connecting the Dots
The primary source for information about the Tour and its participating artists was a 166-page hard-copy catalog. This catalog was also converted to a virtual flip book that users could browse online with a special viewer called Issuu:
The Tour's focus on delivering information via the flip book meant that users needed to reference a static map to visualize the locations of all 381 artists.
First, a user needed to locate an artist in the catalog and take note of the artist's number:
Next, they needed to find this number on the map:
Finally, the user needed to manually take note of the address. They could jot the address down or perhaps circle the dot on the map.
If they preferred an interactive map to take with them on the tour, they had to look to a third-party maps app. It took our team multiple attempts to master the process of creating a custom map in Google Maps. We found the process unintuitive and had concerns that the average Google Maps user would have significant difficulty in discovering the process shown here:
Our hypothesis and our goal
We identified an opportunity to address what we suspected were challenges specific to users' ability to navigate the tour. Our top-level goal was to help users connect with artists by making it easier to discover and visit studios of interest to them.
A Five-Day Sprint
During the project-planning phase, we quickly determined that one of our goals was to design a solution that we could put in front of actual users during the first weekend of the tour. This target meant that we had just enough time for a five-day design sprint.
Talking with Users
I conducted interviews with attendees from prior years and I was able to glean the following key insights that drove our navigation solution:
Users need a route
Our interviewees described the desire to make the most of their time on the tour. They described the process by which they had to cross-check artists the catalog with dots on the map to plot a "plan of attack."
They bike and drive
One of our interviewees mentioned she and her friends use their bikes to get around the tour, so she wondered aloud whether a navigation solution could provide an efficient route for both cars and bikes.
Similar apps fall short
When I asked if they had ever used an app for a similar event, I received lukewarm feedback. They described poor value-add, saying that trying to use these can quickly become more trouble than visiting a mobile site.
Find New Artists You'll Love
Our team decided that designing a native app was the ideal solution to the problem, and that it would need to be streamlined to be useful. We honed in on the following functionality:
Browse and filter artists
Although it lacked navigation, the existing website did a good job of presenting information about the artists participating in the tour, allowing users to filter by event type and artistic medium. Replicating this functionality was key to crafting an app that would stand on its own without the need for users to cross-check the website or catalog for artist information.
In addition to the existing filters, we included the ability for users to filter by accessibility. The Tour's existing database conveniently included accessibility information for each studio but lacked a filtering option on its website.
Add artists to your list
As they browsed the full list of artists, users could select artists to add to a personal list, "My List," as an easy way to track their itinerary. Switching between the Full List and My List was featured clearly at the bottom of the view.
Generate your route
An interactive map was critical for navigation. Using the same concept as our lists, we included a Full Map/My Map view. By switching to My Map view, users can view custom pins for each of the artists they saved to their list. From this view, users are able to generate a route from studio to studio.
Crafting the Prototype
With a clear idea of the user flows, I designed a high-fidelity prototype that reflected our vision. Using the Craft Sync plugin for Sketch, I was able to quickly design the views and deploy them to the InVision prototype.
Into the Wild
With our prototype ready, we spent Saturday doing guerrilla testing at various studios around town. We used the InVision application for iOS and Android to let our users interact with what we built. Here's what we learned:
Our design was useful
The simplicity of our design and its functionality was well-received by users. Users commented that the Full List/My List flow was easy to understand. The fact that there were no login or onboarding flows meant users could start browsing and adding artists to their itinerary immediately.
Curation is helpful
Both artists and attendees mentioned that they would like easier ways to share and view curated lists of studios. Attendees wanted a trusted voice who could point them in the direction of artists they might otherwise overlook. Artists wanted to be able to suggest other artists and friends.
Artists want more ways to connect
A number of artists explained that a big part of the experience was staying connected with their visitors after the tour. Social media links in their artist profiles was the obvious solution. One artist suggested that they would like to share their phone number as a click-to-call link that would allow the user to jump from that link to start a call via their phone app.
In five days, we identified a local nonprofit event that had a navigation problem. We performed user research, designed user flows, and built a high-fidelity prototype that we deployed for guerrilla testing.
The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. Our going-forward feedback consisted of testers wanting additional features (curation, sharing, and connecting) that would increase the usefulness of the app for attendees and artists.