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Design Challenge for Deloitte Digital
How might allow users to explore important historical events?
Uber Interstellar is a mobile app designed to help users move through both time and space to explore significant historical events.
Why Time Travel?
I started knowing I wanted to scope this problem tighter. We already feel overwhelmed when it comes to picking a place to go to dinner, so one could imagine the decision fatigue that may come with selecting any place on earth, at any point in time.
To better understand what needed to be designed, I wanted to understand the why behind the app. Why would a person time travel to begin with*?
I texted some friends asking where they would want to time travel to and why. The top reasons where:
Visiting their own memories (nostalgia) or seeking info about their future
I chose to focus on education and learning for a few reasons:
Biggest impact area - contextual learning is proven to result in better learning outcomes
Personal interest and background. My old company ran tours around with the world that had educational themes and were run with experts (ex: tour Egypt's pyramids with a Smithsonian museum curator).
Business case: Easy to imagine a travel agency across time and space.
Viewing one's own life is messy (and, according to SciFi, can lead to the grandfather's paradox).
Besides learning more about user's attitudes about time travel, I also found that:
People have a really hard time remembering specific dates. They are more likely to understand decades, but can best remember events.
Users are also bad at understanding a timeline of events that are not related (e.g. most people find it shocking that Martin Luther King and Anne Frank were born the same year).
I also looked at some analogous spaces to generate ideas and understand user behavior, since direct observation in this instance would be impossible.
Spaces I looked to for inspiration:
Traveling through time
Traveling through space
Nobody wants to waste time on an experience if it isn't great. Seemingly everything is rated these days (uber rides, netflix shows, books...) so people have a higher chance of not wasting their time on a subpar experience.
Difficult even in the present to understand where one is in time & space when you're moving great distances. Crossing the international date line is already disorienting and results in frequent "what time/day is it?" moments.
*Assumption: in this scenario, users can't "interfere" with the past or future, and are merely observers to the space/time they are visiting.
watching movies (Netflix)
reading books (Kindle app)
museums and historical walking tours
I created a site map to visualize the system and to identify how a user would navigate through the app.
The main flow I thought through having a user explore trips, book a trip, and then return home.
Initially, I had a lot of ideas of how this type of "event driven" app could fit into an existing app. You could link it with a person's Kindle app, allowing them to immerse themselves in whatever time and place their non-fiction book describes. Or it could be linked with a history course syllabus, really bringing new meaning to contextualized learning.
I ultimately chose to go with a less structured approach, one for an adult who is simply interested in self education opportunities. I figured there would be a business case here: an interstellar travel agency. Because of the scope and assignment requirements I did not explore the business side of it, but I imagine it would be a subscription service like Netflix (documentaries = trips).
Because of scope, I kept my designs to showcase events that occurred in the past.
Sketching & Version 1
Visualizing time and space
My initial sketches explored timeline views as it seemed like the obvious way to showcase time-based events.
But I kept going back to the fact that the average person has a really bad grasp of dates and users would waste time aimlessly scrolling through years.
I had also considered a map view but people also aren't great at estimating locations, especially not across the world. There are also issues with say, wanting to visit the Austro-Hungarian Empire which one could not find on a recent map.
I ended up focusing exclusively on event-based options, shown here as cards. For flexibility, I did give the user an option to input their own time and location, though it is not the main screen or focus.
Initiating Time Travel
I originally had someone walking to a portal, which as an avid Harry Potter fan growing up, seemed like a likely mental model for many users. But after thinking through each step on a screen, I realized it was unnecessary and users could use a simple fingerprint scan to acknowledge consent, which helped streamline the flow.
Also, users would need to seamlessly switch back and forth from the past to the present, regardless of circumstances. A fingerprint scan ensures anybody can safely time travel at any point in their journey.
Finally, I had initially had users jump directly into traveling once the chose their destination, but after doing research I saw how carefully people chose experiences and wanted to provide contextual information to both help people make a choice, as well as provide background information that would help scaffold what they would see when they got to their destination.
Given the time constraints, I wasn't able to usability test the final designs with anyone which I would have done normally.
I also would have done more research on how people categorize and think about historical events. For instance, one person I asked simply said she wanted to go to "The 70s", while another person, a history major in college, drilled down into a specific event in the Qing Dynasty. I would have loved to think through how this product could (or couldn't) serve both type of user.