Wasteless NYC

Connecting New Yorkers to zero waste goods and services

Timeframe
10 Weeks
Project Type
Student Project
My Role
Research, UX Design, Protoyping
Overview

In 2020, I participated in a 10 week long UX Design bootcamp at General Assembly and embarked on a transformative journey into the world of UX Design. During the program, I learned the basics of understanding user needs, crafting intuitive interfaces, and designing solutions that make a positive impact. For my final project, I combined my new design skills with my passion for the environment and I designed the MVP for Wasteless NYC, a community-based platform designed to simplify the process of finding zero-waste goods and services in New York City.

Introduction
It all started with a grocery run for Mamita's coconut cream ices

During a visit to my local East Harlem grocery store for one of my favorite desserts, my eye caught a small, unassuming bulk foods section. There were about five varieties of beans, each offered at a pretty low price. I had a realization: package-free beans existed in East Harlem, a neighborhood not typically associated with sustainable options.

My mind wandered, and I thought, "How many other grocery stores in New York City offer bulk food sections?" It was a question that quickly spiraled into another: "How many other resources for managing personal waste existed in the city, hidden in plain sight?"

This moment was the beginning of my curiosity about the potential for a more community based approach to waste management in NYC.

The Problem
NYC's 0x30 Challenge: A Call for Zero Waste

In 2016, Mayor de Blasio announced NYC's "0x30 Challenge" to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. I’d heard about the challenge before this project, but I didn’t know too much about it until digging into the details. The ambitious goal aimed to revolutionize waste management within the city, however the initial approach fell short in several key areas.

1. Limited Scope

The "0x30 Challenge" primarily targeted businesses, leaving everyday New Yorkers largely uninvolved. This missed the opportunity to engage the entire community in tackling the city's waste problem.

2. Reactive Approach

The initial resources provided to residents mainly focused on proper disposal methods, but neglected to address waste prevention. Empowering individuals with knowledge and resources to reduce waste generation at the source would have been critical to achieving the ambitious zero-waste goal.

3. Lack of Public Awareness

Besides some cool reusable bags and stickers showing how to recycle, the challenge lacked effective communication and outreach strategies to reach and engage the broader public. Without widespread awareness and understanding of the initiative, it became difficult to foster individual and collective action.

These limitations highlighted the need for a different approach to addressing waste management in NYC. 

The Solution
A search directory for all things zero-waste

In a bustling city like New York, it's easy for sustainable options to remain invisible. Queue Wasteless NYC, an app that lets New Yorkers explore a curated directory of zero-waste resources categorized by product or service. With this tool, New Yorkers can identify and utilize local resources, contributing to a significant reduction in waste generation and a cleaner, more sustainable city for future generations.

Discover
Barriers, motivations, and other important questions

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, I took to social media to recruit my interviewees. By searching #zerowastenyc on Instagram and posting in New York City zero waste Facebook groups, I was recruited ten New Yorkers to interview via Zoom. Of the ten, two interviewees were from Queens, one from the Bronx, one from Staten Island, three from Manhattan, and three from Brooklyn.

In this group, behavior around waste-free practices ranged from somewhat active to very active. My questions focused on the types of waste preventing practices they implemented, and their personal experiences when carrying out those practices.

Competitor Landscape

The market for sustainability-focused search directories was rather open. While direct competitors were limited, I drew valuable inspiration and insights from the project The Sustainability Map Project by the Green Spectrum. I also considered Google a competitor, given its dominance as a search engine.

Additionally, I performed a comparative analysis of Happy Cow, Too Good To Go, and Yelp. Though these platforms serve different purposes and are not direct competitors, they offered similar functionalities that informed my design decisions.

Direct Competitors
Indirect Competitors
Define
Going Beyond Environmental Concerns

While environmental concerns were present and guided some participants' shopping habits, they were not the primary driver for most. The main factors driving shopping choices included:

1. Lifestyle

Participants emphasized how their daily routines and activities significantly influence their shopping decisions. Convenience and time constraints often led to choices that prioritized speed and accessibility over sustainability.

2. Accessibility

The availability and proximity of sustainable options heavily influenced shopping behavior. Participants expressed frustration with limited access to sustainable alternatives in their local area, impacting their ability to make environmentally responsible choices.

3. Cost

Financial considerations remained a major factor. Participants prioritized affordability over sustainability even when a more sustainable option may have been available.

Persona

By catering to the broader spectrum of factors that influence user shopping choices, Wasteless NYC would have the potential to achieve a significant positive impact. To ensure the platform would resonate with my target audience, I developed a persona named Kai Johnson to represent the needs and motivations of potential users.

Empowering New Yorkers to Make Zero Waste Choices: A User-Centric Approach

The Zero by Thirty challenge had a massive hole in public awareness and education that Wasteless NYC sought to fill. However, I learned that simply promoting sustainable alternatives wouldn't suffice. I needed to figure out a way to address the practical considerations that heavily influenced individual choices. I asked, how might we empower New Yorkers to make zero waste choices more often?

This question became the basis for Wasteless NYC's design and guided me towards creating a platform that addressed both environmental aspirations and the realities of everyday life. To achieve this, Wasteless NYC would need to:

Prioritize accessibility

Focus on businesses located in and around the users neighborhood.

Provide cost-effective solutions

Highlight businesses that offer affordable prices and discounts to incentivize eco-friendly choices.

Incorporate convenience

Create a frictionless search experience that makes finding sustainable options easy and rewarding.

Develop
Finding the happy path

Given the core purpose of Wasteless NYC was for users to locate specific items, I wanted to create a robust search and filter features for the MVP. I was excited about the potential of Wasteless NYC to streamline the search process for users, leading me to place significant attention in crafting a user-friendly and effective filter function for the initial user flow.

Initial testing revealed significant shortcomings in the user flow. The assumption that users would begin their search by utilizing the filters proved inaccurate, as most users preferred initiating their search via the search bar. Recognizing my mistake, I redesigned the user flow to align more closely with user behavior. Thankfully, I did not have to scrap everything, I just needed to reorganize the flow.

How User Feedback Shaped the Prototype

Over the course of five iterations, 18 users participated in usability testing sessions, interacting with the prototype through the digital testing platform, Maze. While some users initially faced difficulties navigating the Maze platform, I was able to gather valuable insights from their feedback.

Connecting Wasteless NYC to it’s inner New Yorker

The app's UI design underwent a significant transformation with each iteration. The initial design, lacking any references, was characterized by an unfinished aesthetic.

Drawing inspiration from the zero waste movement's emphasis on sustainability and simplicity, the second iteration introduced a color palette that blended natural tones with minimalist principles.

During a critique, my instructor noted that the muted colors and indistinguishable icons hampered the app's usability. Additionally, the app lacked visual cues that connected it to New York City. To address this, I developed a new brand identity for the app and created a color palette inspired by iconic New York City imagery, establishing a stronger connection to the app's geographic focus.

Deliver
Prototype

I created the prototype of the app using Figma.

Outcome
Certificate Secured

After weeks of hard work, I proudly presented my final design to the class in December 2020. My peers gave me tons of positive feedback for the idea and design, and it made me feel optimistic about my new design skills. In the end, I completed the program and received my certificate.

Reflection
What went well
Support from peers and instructors

Throughout the project, I received invaluable feedback on my designs from both my instructors and peers. Although there was a learning curve associated with using Figma, I felt incredibly supported throughout the process. The critiques were consistently insightful and actionable, which greatly contributed to my growth as a designer.

Creating a passion project

Working on a project that aligned with my personal values was game changing. As a native New Yorker and environmentalist, I channeled my energy into making Wasteless NYC a meaningful resource for the city. My vision extends beyond this prototype, and I am committed to turning Wasteless NYC into a reality, empowering New Yorkers to embrace a more sustainable future.

What could have been improved
Asking more in depth questions

In retrospect, incorporating more detailed interview questions about behaviors related to other waste-reduction activities, such as recycling, composting, and secondhand shopping, would have been beneficial. Embracing a zero-waste lifestyle extends beyond shopping habits. Delving into these specific areas would have provided a more comprehensive understanding of how New Yorkers navigate waste management.

Sticking to tried and true UX patterns

User testing revealed a misalignment between my assumptions and user behavior. My enthusiasm for the project's concept led me to overlook established search engine patterns. Even though I never personally utilize filters before searching, my inexperience with UX design led me to believe I was introducing an innovative feature and users failed to complete their searches due to this deviation. This experience showed me the importance of testing designs early and often.

What I learned
A new career on the horizon

Participating in this bootcamp exposed a new passion for UX design and revealed a clear career path for me. The most satisfying part was merging UX with my existing passion for the environment, allowing me to discover the power of design in addressing environmental challenges. The entire process, from concept to working prototype, was incredibly rewarding and provided an understanding of how good UX can impact the real world.