A simple mobile solution to empower a newcomer get to know their new city


My first design project came from my client (and colleague) Alé, who had just moved to Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood from Milwaukee. One of her current concerns is getting to know her new city: finding a taco spot, a cafe, somewhere to dance, etc. She explained the importance of finding places with a good vibe that fit her personality and mood. Additionally, she thought that recommendations on sites like Yelp are not always authentic, but are sometimes bought by the business in question.

How can you design a simple mobile solution to empower a newcomer to get to know their new city?

As someone who has relocated several times in my adult life all around North America and Europe, I empathize with Alé’s experience. Being a newcomer can be frightening and stressful, but also exciting and liberating. This became clearer as I interviewed three others who had shared this experience of relocating. These interviews took place either in person over Skype.

The Research

“Describe your experiences finding your way around upon moving to a new city.”

The folks who I interviewed all had all different feelings and reflections regarding their experiences on relocation. As the interviews unfolded, they spoke of the anxiety of reaching outside of their comfort zones, how they use the internet for recommendations, their concerns with transportation, their emotions, and how this process could be less stressful.

I organized the data gathered from the four interviews into an affinity map, grouping similar data points together to uncover patterns and insights:

  1. Newcomers like recommendations, but know that yelp reviews might not be authentic.
  2. Emotions: stress, excitement, freedom, loneliness, discomfort, disorientation
  3. Newcomers extend beyond comfort zones to be social, and enjoy serendipity
  4. Newcomers value safe and efficient transportation when going somewhere new
  5. Newcomers search internet (google, yelp, IG, FB, SC) for events/venues and filter by activity, purpose, food, and pictures

I consolidated these insights into design principles which I used to guide my first round of prototypes.

Solution should:

  1. Query personality, mood, and interests of users and match them with events/venues
  2. Allow users to browse search results that fit their mood
  3. Acknowledge emotions of users, and empower them to extend outside of comfort zone
  4. Facilitate, safe, and efficient transit

Competitive Analysis

Who else has addressed this problem, and where are opportunities for innovation? Sure, there’s the concern about the authenticity of Yelp’s reviews, but what else is out there? I googled sites that are marketed for users who are trying to get to know new neighborhoods, venues, hangout spots, and events.

The first site I found was, Hoodmaps. This site uses crowdsourced data to stereotype neighborhoods. Unfortunately, this approach leads to narrow-minded descriptions of communities, which can be harmfully reductive. Since their data is crowdsourced, it relies solely on the demographics of the app’s user base. Unfortunately, this might not reflect the true self-described character of a neighborhood.

Another app, WhatTuDu, calls itself “Tinder for events”. The user chooses an activity and location, and then swipes (Tinder-style) through the app’s recommendations. The app learns by what the user accepts and rejects. Then, the app connects the user to others who have chosen the same event. I found that this app returned mostly corporate-sponsored events. Perhaps this was because I was a new user, but I generally find these sorts of events overly-commercialized.

The third app that I studied was DownToDash. This app lets you propose your own activities, such as working out, lunch, or sports. Other users see your submission and can choose to join you.

The Goal

The competitor applications focus on user-selected activities and venues based on activity type. This means that there is a market gap for an app that can curate an activity or venue for the user based on their personality and current mood, taking into account the user’s comfort zone, and empowering the to expand their horizons.

Thus, the goal was to design an app that acknowledged the user’s personality and mood and use this data to curate their recommendations, while including a feature that empowers them to venture outside their comfort zone. Simply put, instead of “here are 15 bars in your area reviewed by people and companies you don’t know”, we get, “based on your self-reported personality, current mood, and craving for cocktails, here’s a selection of hangout spaces with atmospheres curated especially for you”.

My next step was to determine where specifically to innovate. What would be the focus of this app? Which features needed to be included in the app, and which could be left out? I decided to focus more on an event/venue/restaurant recommendation engine based on general personality type and current mood, combined with the user’s desire and location. Though my design insights showed that users are concerned with the security and ease of transportation, apps like google maps, citymapper, and ride-shares have cornered this market. I also decided against making a friend-finder. Those who I interviewed expressed discomfort meeting friends online, and would rather rely on a serendipitous live interaction; the assumption here is that if the place and atmosphere is right, people will be in the mood to interact.

The Design

Thus, I focused on interfaces for prompting user for personality profile, their moods, activity, and location, recommendations and descriptions, and maps. Additionally, I designed a welcome page, a log to document where the user has been, and page for the user to review the venue/event.

I finally settled on 10 screens and imported them into Sketch to create a clickable prototype.

I’d like to point out a few highlights: The first is the personality page. It prompts the user to self-describe their personality based on ‘OCEAN model’ of personality psychology. This model proposes that personality can be efficiently modeled in a five-dimensional space. Of course, there are many issues with self-reported personality, but the focus of this app is not a scientific personality test.

Another highlight is the Comfort Zone Challenge. This feature looks at the user’s personality, and provides a slider so that they can indicate how ‘out there’ they want their recommendations to be. The emoji over the slider would be animated to show a neutral face when the slider is on the left, and a huge smile when it’s on the right.

The last feature I’d like to point out is the log, which is useful for two reasons. This is a document of which activities the user has done, and gives the user the incentive to review their experience. Upon completion of a review, the user would receive a reward from the respective venue, benefitting both the user and the local business.

Additionally, the review is necessary for improving the recommendation engine. Speaking with some data scientists about this project, they indicated that the algorithm that would drive the engine would need data to formalize relationships between user personality, mood, activity, and the recommendation. Given that this data would be very difficult to gather, this app would likely need lots of beta testing.


Last Friday, I presented the design to my colleagues and asked for feedback. I received positive remarks on the user review rewards, the personality test, and the comfort zone challenge. They mentioned that my design insights should be limited only to those that are non-trivial, and that my competitive analysis should be presented with less text and more pictures (an issue of the presentation deck itself). Presenting your designs to engage your stakeholders involves captivative storytelling, guiding them through the process of your research and into the design, defending your decisions with design principles and demonstrating areas of innovation.

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