Research, UX, UI Design, Icon Set Development / Coursework / 2019
How can we make long-distance thru hiking easier to plan, safer, and more approachable for first-timers?
Topo guides hikers throughout their entire journey, from planning a trip to on-trail safety, navigation, and tracking.
Adventure and Exploration, Conservation and Sustainability
Thru-hiking involves a lot of moving parts. Even before you leave, there's the planning phase—dealing with permits, planning resupply, and sorting out equipment and maps—and the trail itself is certain to throw complications at you the moment you get your boots on the ground. The goal in designing Topo was to have it step in to fill some of those gaps (especially for first-timers) with tools to help plan your next hike, keep track of your equipment, and automatically log your progress each day on your trek.
The Topo project was made up of a couple parts—the design of the app itself, of course, as well as a custom set of graphics to go along with it. Even better, it gave me an excuse to pour through topographic maps for a while; not everyone's idea of a good time, to be sure, but it certainly helped me in deciding to complete my own thru-hike next year (stay tuned).
The biggest challenge with designing Topo was incorporating the tools it needed to do its job—help keep hikers safe and on-track—in a package that didn't force you to be tied to your phone the entire trek. What resulted is the Topo you see the beginnings of below: one that you start in the morning, then stow away in your pack or pocket the rest of the day. It'll do its thing (automatically tracking your progress) while you do yours, and the rest of its features are there should you need them.
One big component of creating Topo was designing an icon set of the key items and elements essential to thru-hikers (unfortunately, most existing icon sets don't have graphics for ultralight stoves). When planning the app, I distilled the icons needed down to the eight essential functions they would represent: the hiker's backpack, trail signage, food information, camping information and regulations, a topographic map, water supply information, a trail log, and resupply information.
While there were initially several styles on the table, I landed on the one that was the simplest and most closely met what users would expect from existing apps out there. All three styles are shown below, with the topmost being the style I eventually settled on.
Part of the allure of the backcountry is going it alone, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have help when you need it: Topo makes sure you get back safely, thanks to updates about trail closures and issues from fellow hikers, and reminds you to take it easy or up the pace a little to keep you on track with your planned route. And with quick access to trail maps, permits, and information about water supplies, food, and resupply, Topo's there to give you as much (or as little) help as you'd like.
Topo’s final design elements lean heavily on the feeling of being outside—from its color palette to the iconography—and it’s designed intentionally to only show you what you need to know, when you need to know it. After all, you don’t take on a thru-hike to spend months with your nose buried in your cell phone.