Kelly Phillips


A field guide for being local on vacation



Millennial travelers value authenticity when they travel, but uncovering that insider knowledge can be time-consuming. This is a huge opportunity to rethink the traditional travel guide, helping people feel less like tourists and more like locals. With this insight, we designed Atlas, an app that acts as a field guide to being local on vacation.
2-month project with Sarah Cohen and Karen McClellan — 02/19 - 03/19


My responsibilities included joint UX research / UX design with my teammates, and individually owning UI design for Material and iOS.  


Online Research, Interviews & Card Sorts, UX Collage, Persona, Mental Model, Rapid Sketching & Ideation, Wireframing, Prototyping



Always looking for the “duct tape” around us.

As a UX design student, I keep track of inconvenient things that bug me—the “duct tape” in life—because (1) it trains me to see the world through the lens of human-centered design, and (2) it uncovers opportunities for innovation. That’s how this project began, as an item on the Bugs Me list.

A friend traveling to Mexico City mentioned that she had found a Google spreadsheet with tips on the best taquerias and local gems, because none of the travel sites were “local enough.” Together with two of my classmates, I decided to explore ways to help travelers find the insider knowledge they needed to make every trip feel like it was guided by a local.


How might we connect culturally savvy travelers with authentic and local experiences wherever they go?


The SOlution

An app to make every trip once-in-a-lifetime.

Atlas collects insider recommendations from travel influencers and locals, then makes those tips easily discoverable through a content strategy based on the way millennial travelers build their real-life bucket lists.


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Travelers are on a quest for local and authentic

After the initial “aha!” moment, when we saw how travelers were crowd-sourcing authentic recommendations in Google sheets, we needed to dig deeper into how travelers plan their adventures. We wanted to know, “How do you decide where to go?” and “What makes or breaks a trip?” and “What does ‘authentic’ mean?”

To answer these questions and understand users better, we conducted secondary research (including travel media), interviews, and card sorts. Then, we synthesized our insights using personas, a mental model, and a UX collage. We ended up with 5 key insights:


RESEARCH Insight #1

Travelers think in terms of “bucket lists”

During user interviews, we learned how travelers think about and plan their vacations. We found that travelers “collect” experiences, valuing unique and authentic meals, adventures, and serendipitous moments that add up to a one-of-a-kind trip. This collector’s mindset lends itself to daydreaming about future destinations long before the planning actually begins.

"Every trip should be your best trip. We want to do things and eat things that are totally unique to a place."

— Allison, 27.

“I’m always chasing the best places to go climbing. I just got back from France.”

— Brigitta, 34.

“I’m always thinking about where I want to go next—right now I’m thinking Cambodia and Laos.”

— Jonas, 26.


RESEARCH Insight #2

Locals’ knowledge is highly valued

During a series of card sorts, we wanted to understand where trip inspiration comes from and which recommendations are most trusted. We found that the most highly prized suggestions come from locals or trusted friends who have personal experience in a location.


RESEARCH Insight #3

A tourist doesn’t want to feel like a tourist

As we began synthesizing our research and mapping out user personas, we saw a trend: our target travelers want to immerse themselves in a place by seeking out experiences that are culturally significant, but not overtly commoditized as tourist activities.


RESEARCH Insight #4

Spontaneity and discovery make the magic

We wanted to further understand how travelers plan their trips, so we mapped out the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings we discovered during research into a mental model. This exercise revealed a tendency for travelers to leave space in their trip plans for spontaneity, and that the best experiences originate from tips from locals or fellow travelers, accidental discoveries, and serendipitous moments along the way.


RESEARCH Insight #5

Comfort is a vibe

Sifting through insights, we discovered another pattern: travelers seek out a certain vibe that they experience as comfort away from home. As one traveler told us, “If there’s one whiff of corporatism, I’m not staying there.” Another mentioned that she was terrified of tourist traps and wanted to stay off the beaten path.

My team created a UX collage to help us translate this insight, along with the others we collected, into a visual medium and prioritize their impact on the MVP.



Turning insights into MVP features



UX Process

Collaborative UX with rapid sketching and force ranking

Based on our prioritized research insights, my team began a collaborative UX design process, starting with rapid sketching and force ranking. This was a great way to start visualizing how to translate research into design and make sure we were aligned on the product’s core purpose. 

We ended up with 3 key features: the wayfinder, the bucket list, and a content strategy that supports discovery.


UX Process

The Wayfinder

When it comes to navigating your way around a new place, easy wayfinding is what makes travelers feel like locals. We developed a visual itinerary builder that allows users to understand proximity and transit while planning adventurous days and maintaining flexibility.


UX Process

Content strategy that supports discovery

The core experience of Atlas is the discovery of tailored, authentic recommendations. We ideated a content strategy that would cross-link bookable products (accommodations, activities, and restaurants) with editorial content to enable themed discovery.


An onboarding quiz, in addition to cumulative user engagement patterns, feed into an algorithm that personalizes suggestions to match the user’s travel vibe.


UX Process

The Bucket List

Our insights show how travelers start planning their trips months before they book anything, so we designed a way for users to keep track of their bucket list items inside Atlas. They can save product pages or editorial content by location or theme, then easily book inside the app when they’re ready and check destinations off their bucket list.


UX Process

How it fits together

Here’s a look at how all the features fit together in the app’s information architecture. Content points toward product pages, and both content types can be saved in bucket lists for easy booking later on. Booked experiences populate itineraries, which allow for easy, on-the-go planning.



Capturing the wanderlust vibe



Branding + UI

Conveying insights visually

The tone words that inspired our brand were: clean, organic and eclectic. We took visual cues from field guides, travel journals, and hand-made collages. The UI was designed to evoke feelings of wanderlust and dreamy travel adventures, and help it stand out amongst countless other budget-friendly travel apps.



Designing for native apps



Material to iOS

Translating our designs

We originally designed the UI using Material Design guidelines. Once the UX was locked in, we translated the navigation structure and component styling to fit the Human Interface Guidelines.


Apple Watch

Filling in the gaps with the Apple Watch

Because Atlas is a travel app, we also saw an opportunity to extend the user experience into watchOS. First, I mapped out a user journey, focusing on a day during a trip. This revealed several moments of friction that helped us understand how Atlas might become an Apple Watch complication.


Atlas for watchOS lets travelers lean into the magic of spontaneity and make the most of the travel hiccups that require a change of plans.