Austin Recycles is a mobile app that helps everyday users in Austin easily manage and reduce their household waste through recycling. Our app is a timely resource for those who want to minimize the negative environmental impact of their day-to-day lifestyle. Austin Recycles focuses on household practices to serve users’ everyday recycling and responsible waste disposal needs. It will be useful for multiple types of user with varying levels of experience with recycling and smartphones. Our goal in designing the app is to provide tools for making the choice to recycle simple and accessible as part of a joyous and sustainable lifestyle.

| Research Methods |
Contextual Interview. Affinity Diagram. Competitive Analysis. Personas. Taxonomy. Sitemap. Usability Testing.

| Design Tools |  
Paper Sketch. Prott. Axure.

| My Role |
User researcher. Information Architect. Interaction Designer.

Research process

Competitive analysis

     To identify the most effective method of communicating what materials to recycle and where to recycle them. We chose the sites based upon the services we intended to include in our app. We included national sites for their organization and management of comprehensive recycling information and city sites to provide community context for delivering that information. We only found one comparable mobile app, illustrating the need for more mobile apps for recycling.


     We are designing a smartphone app for a class project to help people in Central Texas recycle. We want to know more about what Central Texans want to know about recycling before we design our app. Could you help us by answering a few questions?

  • General, Introductory Questions
    Tell me about your home and how you recycle there. Can you walk me through all the items you recycle in a typical day?
    Tell me about the recycling you do out of the home.
  • Everyday Recycling
    Describe what items you recycle on a daily and any barriers to recycling you encounter.
    Describe what items you recycle on weekly basis, and any barriers to recycling you encounter.
    How much time per week do you spend on recycling?
    Who do you interact with recycling on a weekly basis?
    What do you do if you have questions about recycling?
    Walk me through what you do when you consider an item you are unsure you can recycle or not.
    Describe some of the difficulties you have with recycling.
    Recycling Hazardous Waste and other less frequent items
    Describe what items you recycle infrequently (batteries, paint, tires) and any barriers to recycling you encounter. Walk me through the process of recycling hazardous household waste and similar items.
  • Recycling and Technology
    What existing sources do you consult when you have questions about recycling?
    Have you ever used a website or mobile app to research recycling?
    What apps do you use most regularly on your phone?


From our contextual interviews, we extracted data points and group them in the affinity diagram. The two main groups we had were about recycling and technology uses.

working on the unlabeled group


The four personas we constructed are an amalgam of the draft personas as shaped by our contextual inquiry:
● Housewife and mother, Lifen Huang
● New resident, Rachel Liu
● New homeowner, Thomas Hester
● Mid-career professional, Mia Simon
Our personas allow us to focus on specific user needs and tasks when drafting the app. We adopted one group member’s very detailed persona layout to format all others to better communicate both depth and breadth. Like the personas themselves, the formatting helped ground us during the next stages of app development. 



We created a controlled vocabulary of material types for recycling. Much of the terminology was adapted from that used by the Recycle911 app and website. With these top level categories in the place we began organizing the vocabulary into a hierarchy. The taxonomy goes from broad parent nodes to child. We kept the taxonomy broad and shallow in order to better engage users and allow them to make progress quickly.
     We conducted card sorting exercises with four people to confirm our adaptation of the vocabulary and its organization into the hierarchy we had created. The results led to a few changes within our taxonomy. Most significantly people demonstrated confusion with the differentiation between Hazardous vs. Household categories so we adopted Hazardous vs. Non-Hazardous instead.


     Because we designed a mobile application, we decided to keep to a broad and shallow navigation structure – a fact reflected in our site map and from the taxonomy.



Personas and scenarios make clear which functions to prioritize and help conceptualize template layouts

  • For less experienced users, like Lifen, search functionality is important
  • For users like Tom or Rachel, browsing/taxonomy and personalization are important
  • For users like Mia, content features like contact information are important

Thinking through a set of user tasks clarifies page-to-page navigation

  • Can I recycle milk cartons curbside? - searching feature
  • Where can I recycle this paint? - which category
  • Can I create a profile and find the nearest drop-off site? - location
  • What materials does a drop-off site take? - Location details


We went through two phases of design:

  •  Beginning with sketches as preliminary wireframes, we added interactions to these initial layouts using the prototyping tool Prott.
  • After usability testing, we moved our designs into Axure RP, incorporating the taxonomy from the results of our card sorting research and usability feedback. 

Usability Testing

We conducted usability studies using a cognitive walkthrough evaluation. Each group member asked a friend to help with being an evaluator, so we had 4 evaluators, and conducted two rounds (once with the Prott prototype before the presentation, another was with the Axure prototype and after an update). In the evaluation, evaluators walk through four tasks, then answer several questions about each step from their own perspective.

Before the testing, we provided a brief explanation to evaluators by way of introduction to our app, and with instruction about how to conduct the evaluation. We also guided evaluators if they encountered any problem or obstacles.

  • Sufficient Evidence
    Will the correct action be sufficiently evident to the user?
    Will the user know what to do?
  • Visibility
    Will the user notice that the correct action is available?
    Will the user see how to do it? (e.g. see the button and recognize its effect)
  • Feedback
    After the action is taken, will the user understand the feedback from the action correctly?