Engaging millennials in parks


Problem: The Montgomery Park services want to increase awareness about their parks and get more millennials to go to the parks. They also want to increase park engagement through increased use of park facilities as well as technological engagement in the parks.

Solution: My team and I used contextual design methods to conduct user research, analyze the data, gather insights and suggest product concepts to the clients.

Outcome: Park services incorporated our research findings in their social media engagement as well as website engagement. Although they did not launch a full-fledged app, they used our product concepts like park arts system, relevant outdoor activities, and safety information.

Role: As the lead User Researcher, I kept our team focused on the complex-diverse user issues and the research methodology. I was able to drive the interpretation sessions after user interviews to capture stand-alone interview notes and Experience models. High-quality user observation data led to meaningful insights. I also digitized the Park’s physical Model.

As Project Manager, I facilitated our weekly activities and meetings, communication with clients, deliverables and maintained a project plan.

Team: Vinita Atre, Chris Robeck, Praneetha Sattiraju, Di Xiao

Duration: 6 months


1.Background research 2.Field research 3.Data to insights 4.Ideation 5.Product concepts 6.Client presentation

1. Background research

To understand the motivations, attitudes, and habits of millennials in engaging with local parks, we conducted a literature review of past studies, surveys, and client’s research plans . Through our literature review, we found that..

The majority of millennials value parks highly for nature and the ability to relax.

Millennials have very differing opinions on leisure time ranging from tranquility to excitement and newness.

Ease of travel to parks is important.

Going to parks as kids lead to going as adults.

2. Field Research

Meet our Users:

We interviewed 12 users in total with 4 men and 8 women. They were in the age range of 21 years to 35 years. Our participants came from different occupations and income levels. The occupations ranging from being a student, nanny, artist, Government agent, Teaching Assistant, pizza delivery, and unemployed.

We recruited participants through social media, emails, school PTA organizations, and our own network.

Contextual Inquiry in parks, homes and on the way:

We conducted 2 hour deep contextual interviews with millennials. We met the users near their homes and traveled with them to the parks.

I focused on gathering information about ongoing user experience as opposed to summary data. While asking users about retrospective accounts, I focused on concrete data rather than abstract.

I used the apprentice(me) / master(interviewee) relationship model in observing user behavior along with probing to understand underlying aspects of their activities.

Interpretation session:

To create a shared understanding, after each interview, usually within 48 hours, we conduct an interpretation session for each interview was conducted within the product team. In the session, the field interviewer talked through the events of a single interview while the rest of the team asked questions, wrote interview notes, drew models. I probed and guided my team to capture meaningful insights and interpretations.

3.Data to insights

The lives of millennials are complex and detailed, full of places, activities, and products that are woven seamlessly. We found several issues that come in the way of millennials engaging with parks. They can be seen across various aspects of a millennial’s life by presenting the field data in different ways.

Creating Affinity Diagrams

After each interview, we conducted interpretation sessions to capture notes and experience models for each of our users. We used the yellow post-it for our interview notes, blue post-it for aggregate findings, pink post-it for strategic perspective for findings and green post-it for user needs and issues.

We collected over 700 notes to construct our affinity model in a bottom to top hierarchy.

The complete Affinity model was made available online for record-keeping using Lucid Charts.

Challenges and high level findings

  1. Millennials seek information about parks they want to go
  2. Many users don’t know about the parks near them
  3. How users grew up with Parks determines how they use them
  4. Millennials want a social parks’ experience
  5. Users mostly go with their friends
  6. Millennials want to be able to “Just Go” to the park
  7. Users want to be immersed in park
  8. Users don’t want to do “just” tech things in park
  9. Millennials go to the parks for intense physical activity
  10. Users create or play games in the park
  11. Millennials don’t want to have to leave parks for their basic needs
  12. Users want safety in the parks

Using Inductive reasoning, we can say that millennials want to easily get park information to do low planning social and fun activities by immersing in nature and at times tech.

Creating Experience Models

Identity model to understand users

The identity model shows the various identities or “things that are core to the user and takes pride in”.

A single user may have one or more identity elements. The consolidated Identity model is created from the individual Identity models for each user created during the interpretation session.

Identity models are more direct than user personas in expressing user needs.

Physical model to understand contextual triggers and behaviors

The Physical model shows activities and issues in different focus areas on the maps.

The consolidated Park’s Physical model is created by aggregating individual physical models from each interview.

I created digital Park’s Physical Model.

Walk the Wall

With all the data organized, we invited users, clients, and other stakeholders to conduct an extensive wall walk session. During the session, we wrote down Design Ideas(DI) on a post-it and add them next to any finding/challenge/issue. We immersed ourselves in the data and then created a list of “top issues” and “hot ideas” to address those issues. We prioritized and selected the “hot ideas” that solved most of the “top issues”.


Over the next several days, we analyzed and generated six visions to redefine the day-in-life for our user by solving the key user issues and addressing the identity elements.

Visions were sketched out in the form of stories. These visions highlighted opportunities for product concepts.

We evaluated each of the visions by listing the positive and negatives.

Based on this evaluation, we aggregated and distilled the visions to create 4 fully comprehensive Product Concepts.

5. Product Concepts

Park Map App: Addressing issues like social experience and tranquility, information about parks and facilities in parks, creating-viewing-sharing content in parks, tagging parks with cool activities to improve park’s brand and awareness, we propose a mobile app.

The app also provides an SOS feature to call park staff, handsfree immersion mode to guide users through the interesting things in the park through location detection and voice.

2. Parks Rental System: Millennials want “low preparation visits” to parks. We found that they view parks as places to play, hike and carry out various activities with friends mostly.

The rental system provides a centralized equipment loan service with an app and kiosk interface. There will be smart lockers at parks for easy renting and returning of play equipment.

3. Parks Arts System: To provide users with an excuse to hang out with their friends outdoors, we created Parks Arts System. We found that the park users and non-users both are interested in outdoor activities as seen through our community space enthusiast identity.

The Park Arts mobile app will deliver a social experience of visiting music, theatre, and art events to users. It will also allow users to create events at parks and share them with park patrons and friends. We also addressed the business requirement of modernizing the event submission at parks. Overall this will increase awareness of the parks.

6. Client Presentation

We created a deck of slides to present our findings to the clients. We also presented them with the data through our affinity diagram and affinity models. Our clients engaged in the wall walk session after which we presented our product concepts with them.

After discussions, our clients found Park Map App and Park Arts System to be most suitable for them.

Here is an article on UMD’s iSchool website that talks about our product concept’s presentation to the clients.

The next steps for us included wireframing, iterative paper prototyping and testing with users and then high-fidelity prototyping.

Thank you for reading!

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