Empowering ocean conservation through a comprehensive redesign

Date:

March 2021

Role:

User Research, Usability Tests, Prototyping, Interactions

Overview: In 2005, Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW pod) became critically endangered, with only 74 remaining. Orcasound emerged as a a grassroots effort to save them through an open-source platform empowering citizens to contribute to conservation. These reports track population, distribution, habitat use, and noise pollution—essential data for protection.

As the lead mobile UX designer, I improved Orcasound's reporting a sound flow by making it easier for users to submit orca sighting reports. This would increase user engagement and collect more conservation data critical to conservation efforts. Working with a global team, I conducted user research, designed a new interface, and conducted two rounds of usability tests.

Orcasound screen mockups of the menu, hydrophone page, homepage, map ui, and reporting a sound
help circle

Problem

For conservationists, there is very little knowledge about orca vocalization  making it hard to encourage the public to help participate in conservation efforts. Currently, there are no existing educational platforms that teach people how to identify the sounds of the southern residents.

This raises a fundamental question: How can we effectively address these conservation issues through our design approach, while also enhancing data collection to support the protection of the species?

Our overarching objective is to create a comprehensive solution that caters to these diverse needs, closing the knowledge gap surrounding orca vocalization, and mobilizing a broader community to actively contribute to the preservation of these remarkable creatures.

define icon

Project Goals

Our overarching objective is to create a comprehensive solution that caters to these diverse needs, closing the knowledge gap surrounding orca vocalization, and mobilizing a broader community to actively contribute to the preservation of these remarkable creatures.

This multifaceted challenge involves various stakeholders with unique goals.

👱🏽‍♀️
Concerned citizen scientists are eager to find a tool for learning and identifying orca vocalizations
👨🏻‍🏫
Educators seek a user-friendly platform to introduce students to the captivating sounds of the sea
👩🏻‍🔬
Scientists require a streamlined user experience for collecting valuable data on orca vocalizations

The Process

Identifying our users

Concerned citizen scientist avatar
Concerned Citizen Scientists: those who have familiarized themselves with the mission of Orcasound and would like to increase their knowledge of orca behavior.
New/Infrequent User: those who have read online about the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) and found Orcasound through a simple google search of ways to contribute towards conservation efforts.
New/infrequent user avatar
Marine biologist avatar
Marine Conservation Scientists: those who are actively involved in conservation programs and collect data in order to influence legislation or policymaking on behalf of marine conservation.
Teachers: those teaching K-12 and would like to incorporate Orcasound’s platform within their science curriculum, especially with younger kids.
Teacher avatar

The Existing Process

The existing Orcasound mobile app represents a straightforward and functional tool created by the collaborative efforts of a global community of dedicated volunteer developers. To gain a better understanding of its functionalities and identify areas for potential enhancement, I conducted a thorough analysis of the current Orcasound app, highlighting both its strengths and areas of improvements.

Initial screens of the Orcasound app

Testing the first re-design iteration with citizen scientists

I joined the Orcasound redesign project during the critical testing phase for the first prototype iteration. To evaluate usability and user experience, we conducted virtual moderated usability tests, measuring task completion rate and collecting System Usability Scale (SUS) scores.

I conducted 5 usability testing across a diverse participant group:

  • Ages ranged from 40-65, spanning key user demographics
  • Participants matched relevant personas: concerned citizens, new users, scientists and educators

This range of qualitative and quantitative data provided valuable insights into how well the redesigned flow resonated across user groups. The data gathered was essential for optimizing the experience and tailoring it to our users' needs and goals.

Affinity diagram organizing the notes and challenges users faced of the first usability test

Synthesis

What are the Pain Points?

By synthesizing the findings from our usability tests, I generated key insights into user pain points. I presented these insights to our core stakeholders in an affinity diagram that mapped out users' qualitative feedback. In particular, I grouped together common frustrations citizens scientists encountered with the report a sound flow:

ideate icon

How users report orca activity in the first re-design:

Our overarching objective is to create a comprehensive solution that caters to these diverse needs, closing the knowledge gap surrounding orca vocalization, and mobilizing a broader community to actively contribute to the preservation of these remarkable creatures.

This multifaceted challenge involves various stakeholders with unique goals.

👂🏼
“Where do I start listing to the orcas?” Citizen scientists were confused on how to initially access and listen to the hydrophones. They expected a clear "start listening" button.
🗺️
“Moving around this map is difficult” Older users had difficulty navigating the map on their small screens to access different hydrophones, which often led older users to abandon the process
“That took such a long time” New users noted reporting sounds involved too many steps. Users expected a single screen and the ability to report multiple sounds simultaneously.
Orcasound's first iteration of the  homepage, map ui, and reporting a sound screen, highlighting the main issues users have with the user flow

2 out of 5

Participants completed the reporting a sound process

85.0

SUS Score from the first usability test (above average but could be better)

There were three major pain points that I decided was important to address in our next iteration

🏠
The navigation bar was untraditional and users were confused by it. Most could not get back to the home page.
🗺️
Having users drag the map around to search for hydrophones was inefficient and troublesome.
🐋
There were too many unnecessary screens to complete the report a sound task.

Testing a Possible Solution

Based on the user feedback compiled from the first test, my design group and I made some improvements to the existing design to test with users.

Home Page

  • New navigation bar and color to match the button colors
  • Added a home icon to give users a more familiar layout
  • Full width image at the top instead of just in the corner in order to excite users more

Map UI

  • Added a clear “Start Listening” call-to-action button on the home page
  • Simplified the hydrophone map UI for easier navigation
  • Under the nav bar tab “hydrophone” so users know exactly where they are

Reporting a Sound

  • Condensed the reporting flor from 5 screens down to 3
Second iteration of the Orcasound reporting a sound experience. Contains the homepage, map ui, and reporting a sound screen

Testing round 2

Once we improved the design based on the first round of user feedback, we ran a second usability study with the new and improved experience. Again, we were looking for task completion rate and and increase in SUS scores.

4 out of 5

Participants completed the reporting a sound process

92.0

SUS Score from the second usability test

Final Hi-Fi Design (My Revisions)

Although we increased task completion and SUS scores, I saw room for refinements like enhancing the map UI for older users and streamlining the reporting flow. The following prototypes represent the research, iterative design, and testing that was crucial to validating my solutions.

Orcasound strives to foster broad engagement in marine conservation, regardless of location. We aim to provide an accessible platform that enables simple participation, sparking curiosity about conservation in people of all ages.

Hydrophone Flow

Driving orca discovery through enhanced movement

The latest user interface comprises an interactive map that seamlessly directs users to select a hydrophone with heightened visual and dynamic features. Each hydrophone site showcases an image and clear instructions for orca listening, thereby promoting exploration, enhancing guidance, and ultimately increasing the number of listeners.

Reporting a Sound

Increasing orca numbers with a better experience

We crafted a reporting flow that incorporates detailed information about the hydrophone, a play button with sound waves, and a clear signifier to confirm the success of the report. This flow has greatly improved the reporting experience by ensuring seamless functionality, while preserving the integrity of the original design.

Evolution of the homepage screens for the Orcasound app

Impact and reflection

Orcasound has been an incredible opportunity allowing me to blend my background as a marine mammal population specialist along with newly developed UX design skills, allowing me to produce a design that I am incredibly proud of. I greatly enjoyed engaging users through usability studies to shape objectives and strategy, synthesizing findings, and collaborating with other designers to produce our strongest ideas.

star icon

Lessons Learned

🌎
Working with a Global Team: The value of a global team with diverse perspectives across design, development and project management. By embracing insights from London, France, Ecuador, India, Australia and the US, we created a more holistic, validated product.
👵🏼
Diverse representation in user testing: Embracing user testing with individuals from diverse backgrounds and age groups, highlighted important accessibility considerations beyond the redesign itself. Consideration for older users unfamiliar with the app, emerged alongside the primary redesign efforts.
🐋
Never stop testing: Even when our designs seemed impeccable to us, our usability tests consistently revealed new insights and areas for improvement. This reinforced the value of ongoing research and the necessity of continually validating our design decisions.

What's next for Orcasound?

As an open-source and evolving project, Orcasound has exciting developments in store over the coming months. Currently, the latest iteration is in the development phase, awaiting further user testing.

  • New Hydrophone Locations: A newly deployed hydrophone in Sunset Bay, following the redesign, requires implementation in the app by our development team.
  • User Testing: Despite the redesign driven by extensive user feedback, additional rounds of user testing are planned to ensure the validation of design decisions.
  • Learning Page and Call Catalog: Beyond its listening platform, Orcasound is expanding with a redesigned Learning interface and Call Catalog. This feature will showcase the diverse orca vocalizations collected by our hydrophones, demonstrating the app's comprehensive capabilities.