Designing sustainable retail for National Parks.

This project contains three deliverables including a research essay, a sustainable packaging solution, and a sustainable ecommerce platform. Initially, I was responible for researching and concluding how to reconfigure design standards through packaging design to alter the unsustainable consumer relationship. From there, I determined the best way to apply a sustainable visual language to packaging. I was then tasked with creating a virtual platform that focused on sustainability. This project was completed for class.

What started as an essay discussing the successes and failures of sustainability in corporate design, transformed into a user experience study on how sustainability could be integrated into physical and online retail. This led me to consider possible outlets for sustainable retail. Visitors of National Parks aligned with the research in both my essay Eliminating Destructive Design and my case study defining the principles of sustainable packaging.

Download Eliminating Destructive Design

A focus on integrating sustainability as an incentive in retail.

I considered various sustainable retail decisions such as Starbucks' choice to discontinue distribution of their plastic straws and how Thai vendors in Bangkok are using plant material and trash to redefine product packaging. These gave way to a greater approach to create three icons corresponding to three different sustainable waste streams. A set of principles were established in response to the hypocrisies and conclusions made in my essay. I considered these incentivizes and thus created Incentivizing Consumer Responsibility.

Download Incentivizing Consumer Responsibility

Sustainability must be intuitive to the consumer.

During this visual response to eliminating wasteful practices, I wanted to reinvent the recycling symbol in order to better direct consumer waste. I focused on three categories, recyclable, biodegradable, and multi-use. These three focuses incentivize designers to reconsider function, form, and visual aesthetic in their design process. A recyclable package uses pre-existing waste streams established by counties, hence the county name located in the lock up of the icons. Biodegradable packages use natural materials that can be disposed of anywhere. Even if these products became litter, they would safely degrade. A multi-use package has the intent of being used after its initial use. This entirely prevents the package from entering any waste stream.

What if stamps could be applied post production?

I considered the best way to integrate this icons into the design and production process. I determined that producing linoleum and woodcut stamps that could be used by distributors would allow small businesses to make the choice themselves on labeling their products as sustainable. This could be supported by a retail site that is dedicated to communicating these sustainable categories. The ink stamping was not possible with the materials I had on hand but provided proof my idea was feasible. The following images serve as an experimental look into how stamps could be used on the exteriors of packages.

The next step was to improve the sustainability of packaging on retail sites. I chose National Parks as an entry point into this market. I wanted to explore the factors that make National Parks appeal to customers and how those might translate into a website.

How can retail be as authentic and intuitive to my target market of adults and young families?

My target market is focused towards parents and adults who have the means of going to National Parks. In my research I aimed to focused on thirty to fifty year olds within the Washington area of have a consistent income. I determined this was my audience because of the National Parks annual breakdowns of visitors. I found that the majority of individuals were in their adult years and many had families. This group is able to purchase composting and recyclable bins which allows them to improve their personal waste streams.

What content did I need to add to the site?

One of my hypotheses, which I later confirmed, was how unnecessary information is often included in retail sites. Therefore, I broke down what merchandise sites needed to be usable as well as considering sites like Kickstarter and Etsy for individual features. Overall, I determined I needed five pages. My primary page would include access to the product catalog and individual campaign pages. The secondary pages would showcase all my products based on selected filters. My tertiary pages would breakdown the costs and provided the opportuntity of a customer to purchase the selected products.

Through a series of interviews and surveys with over fifty individuals, I was able to make conclusions about what makes experiences at National Parks special and was able to identify how Farmers' markets have a similar demographic and relationship in their experiences.

In both situations, I had hypothesized that consumers are looking to have an honest and trustworthy experiences at Farmers' Markets and National Parks. My findings found that the most important feature of a retail space was the quality of the products with the trustworthiness and knowledge of the sales associate being an important aspect. Because a website is not able to do that, I wanted to provide transparent information across the platform.

One of my earlier ideas was to create an end goal for consumers buying park merchandise. In my survey, I found that an overwhelming number of individuals had donated to a good cause. This creates a viable target market to make part of the proceeds go towards a supporting campaign for the park.

Some other observations from my survey include inaccurate photos compared to the actual product, unclear delivery times, and an abundance of unnecessary choices for similar products. I proceeded to use realistic photos of the product in use, a single delivery option, and a reduction in amount of details on product pages.

An additional focus point was designing a retail system that focused on seasonal campaigns. I took influence from natural systems throughout this design. I determined that seasonal campaigns for different parks would allow each park to be featured and drive sales for limited time offers. Additionally, a limited stock of products would be produced creating less waste as products become outdated.

I created a minimal user journey and site map to reduce excess information.

I wanted to simplify the amount of pages to create an easy to understand and intuitive site map. The user can always return to the home screen which directs them to the full catalog or individual campaigns. I established that product pages would be embedded into a slideshow display system to prevent additional load times.

Visually I identified how maps are intuitive, trustworthy, and antiquated. Many of the first National Park surveys are available online. Maps are recognizable as being related to nature and many maps of keys and other type that is structured and easy to follow. This became the starting point for my visual design.

I started sketching wireframes and designing userflows for the customers.

I established a priority pyramid and broke down my project into the goals I intended to complete. I wanted to establish the start to a sustainable retail business model. I designed a transparent and ethical interface with price breakdowns on product pages.

I started designing the first drafts of what a desktop retail site would look like.

Please note that all product images are not taken or designed by me.

I observed that the maps were unclear and the platform did not symbolize retail.

After conducting user-testing and running through a design critique on these first drafts, I found that the map abstractions were confusing and hard to recognize. While the idea made sense after an explanation, it was not intuitive. Those conversations also led me to conclude that my first splash page was not indicative of a retail site. I needed to add product images to help create an intuitive and seamless experience. I also wanted to add some introductory text explaining the mission of the business to add honesty to my site.

Another moment that felt inaccurate was the use of a standard layout for my product catalog. The goal of this site is to excite the consumers to get outside and explore National Parks. A standard catalog scrolling layout lacked visual interest. Instead, I designed a slideshow effect seen below.

These are my explorations for mobile design.
What did I discover in user testing?

I had the opportunity to sit down with individuals within my target market to complete various objectives on my platform.

When considering the overall layout of this retail website, we discussed how a fourth page can be added in the navigation bar to differentiate monetary support (donations) from customer support. Additionally, specific campaign pages need a breadcrumb to indicate where the user is in location to the welcome page.

Contact information, while listed at the bottom of the page, is not located elsewhere so in the future if I were to add additional pages to this platform, I would add a specific customer support page for policies and frequently asked questions. This page could be access via the main navigation bar and footer.

Another important change is located on the checkout page that provides information on the item in the backpack (shopping cart). The recommendations section is too distracting and will be removed. The total cost located at the tob of the Backpack Overiew table needs to be moved next to the checkout button. The progress bars need to be introduced earlier in the customer's experience, likely as soon as the welcome page. The donation details in the second form is going to be broken up and added to a third form on the checkout page.

I received additional smaller details however, the changes listed above are more important and directly affect the user experience of purchasing an item on the National Park retail platform.

Experience my final prototype:

You can interact with the final prototypes using a live preview.

What did I learn from this experience?

Sustainable design is a systematic problem. There is no one solution to reconfiguring the consumer relationship with sustainablity. Instead, sustainability has to be integrated into the retail experience from the first interaction with the customer to the last. The user experience must validate and emphaize with the customer by creating an intuitive and rewarding system for being sustainable. If not, the user will choose wasteful systems.

I did not expect that a research essay would inspire me to pursue sustainability beyond finishing the paper, but I was wrong. I now consider sustainability in all my work. It is easy to ignore the wastefulness in the products we design. Society is not designed to be sustainable. However, with enough thought and research, it is entirely possible to be sustainable. The response to this project has been similar, my approach makes it easy to be sustainable according to my user testing. I hope that this project can inspire other designers to be more sustainable as well.

Despite my fulfillment in the work I did, I realize there are many more growth opportunities in my design and research. As all things are in design, I am left with more questions and more ideas to solve this problem. For one, I want to look more into how ecommerce can integrate with physical sales. As society has moved more towards curbside pickup, is that a more sustainable solution than individual deliveries? Additionally, I want to learn more about my National Park consumer market and identifiy similar markets I can expand my platform into. I focused on a minscule market compared to how my research essay defined the problem as a systematic issue across the world. How does my platform change if it becomes a global ecommerce platform? In regards to the design, I want to spend more time capturing users when they first enter my site. I played it safe based on my user tests and I want to further explore how I can create an experimental introduction into this sustainable website.

Overall, I believe my work is a step in the right direction when reconsidering the consumer relationship with sustainable packaging and education. I explored various options and concluded on one direction that worked successfully.