Creating a Real-Life Choose Your Own Adventure Experience for National Park Foundation

Picture it: the weather forecast predicts a gorgeous weekend, and you make plans with your favorite buddies to do something outdoors—only to be overwhelmed by the number of choices out there. So, what’s an adventure seeker to do? If you’re like most people, you’ll end up back at your favorite trail—again.

Although there’s nothing wrong with revisiting old favorites, sometimes you want the thrill of exploring new territories. To help people like you answer the call to adventure, we collaborated with our partners at the National Park Foundation (NPF) to create the Find Your Park Quiz! This quiz brought new ideas to life on, one of the websites we built together. Read on to learn more about our work with NPF to help make national parks accessible to wider audiences.  

Our Work with National Park Foundation 

A few years ago, as NPF’s longstanding digital partner, we worked together to strategize and build one of their web properties, The website is a combined effort of the National Park Service and NPF to connect park lovers with new parks to explore and educate folks that may not yet be familiar with the wonder of national parks. 

The site provides wayfinding tools for users to “find their park” by selecting a location or an activity of interest. Additionally, NPF provides inspirational content that educates users on ways to explore the unique experiences waiting for us in every park. 

Since the launch of the website, we have continuously looked for ways to improve upon our own work. By regularly reviewing user data and continuously collaborating with NPF to stay aware of changing organizational priorities, we have been able to understand the website’s performance and strategically optimize it.   

Our Human-Centered Research Approach 

In 2019, we took this analysis one step further by diving into a robust research discovery phase. With a few years of existence for the campaign, we wanted to explore ways to evolve the site to grow its value offerings.  

We were interested in both analyzing existing user experience and gathering new information from non-users. This human-centered approach would help us to uncover untapped needs desired by users that would help us make this site more widely visited and valued. Our research approach consisted of the following activities: 

  • Competitive/market research 
  • Website performance audit 
  • Usability testing 
  • Focus groups 
  • Navigation model testing 
  • Card sorting 

By getting in front of both existing and new users, we were able to hear firsthand what actual humans navigating the site were thinking and what they desired out of this experience. We gained an understanding of what questions arose as a user explored the site, what specific language was easy to understand and what was unclear, where the navigation was challenging and where it was effective. These insights directly influenced our teams to strategically rethink sections of the site, including the navigation, user pathways, new ways of increasing engagement, and more. 

Once complete, our research ultimately revealed that with additional engaging features, the site could better serve its audience. To turn people into park lovers, we could create something that takes the work out of their hands and into ours to truly help them find their park!  

Enter the Find Your Park Quiz!  

Our discovery research revealed that what the site does well is provide ways to narrow down the many parks across the country by characteristics like activity (hiking, snow sports, scenic drive, history, etc.), location, or park name. But even with these search functions, there can be a lot of parks to choose from. What we set out to do was take the burden off of the user by building a quiz that let us recommend parks based on their interests. 

As we saw it, the quiz would enable us to: 

  1. Create an interactive activity for users to engage with on the site 
  2. Educate and inspire users on the diverse national parks out there 
  3. Grow park community with increased email signups 

With these goals in mind, we got to work. This was a hyper-collaborative process with many moving parts. Here’s how we made it happen: 

Step 1: Assemble a fearless team 

Our team brought together many disciplines from across our organization including strategy, creative, user experience, data science, web development, and systems architecture. Collaboration and team buy-in from the start was the only way we were able to get to the finish line.   

Step 2: Figure out how to build the thing 

It was clear right away that there were MANY questions to be answered and problems to be solved. To get started, we gathered as a team for many, many brainstorms. With so many disciplines in the room with different responsibilities, we all had several ideas. In these brainstorms, I learned so much from each of my colleagues, not only about their practice but also how differently each of us thinks—which was truly a wonderful experience. 

Our brainstorms started off with pie in the sky ideas and plans. We then narrowed them down to consider feasibility, timeline, budget, and product outcome. As we put our heads together to strategize, we started by listing out some of our questions such as: 

  • What questions should we ask users? 
  • What data do we have access to? 
  • Will the data support the questions we ask? 
  • How many questions do we ask? 
  • How do we power the search results? 
  • What do we need to build for this to function? 
  • What will it look like?  
  • How will users find it? 

It was not a short process to get a true understanding of how to approach this. The collaboration with both our team and our customer was a crucial part of this quiz coming together. With the many heads around the table, we were able to build something great.  

Stay tuned for the next part of this series, where park-loving Data Scientist Joanne Lin will walk you through how we tackled the data challenges to this quiz. But first…take the quiz for yourself! 

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