Mobile app that helps discover and foster community play


Interdisciplinary Design Studio, Computer Science Department, UIUC

Tools: user interviews, paper prototyping, storyboarding, Sketch

The challenge

Our team of 3 was given an open-ended design task: Create a mobile app to help with play. Faced with such an ambiguous challenge, we broke the prompt down further:

  • What is play?
  • What activities are considered play and what activities aren't?
  • What does it mean to help with play?
  • Are we making play possible or easier, and in what way?

User interviews

In order to address this prompt, we had to understand what play meant to different people. We set out into the student union, where students could be found studying, gaming, and relaxing. We approached people and asked them: “What does play mean to you?” We framed this question loosely to see what associations people came up with. Following their response, we asked them how they organized "playtime" and if they had any barriers that prevented them from playing.

Exploratory user interviews

Unsurprisingly, we received an array of wildly different responses. Play was described as video games, basketball, and even breakdancing. Some people said they preferred doing solo activities, such as drawing, whereas others preferred group activities like multiplayer gaming and contact sports. Our interviewees reported that some of the biggest hindrances to play were finding/making time for play and organizing group activities.


Based on our user research, we designed multiple target statements we wanted to address with our app. We asked ourselves the following:

Our idea

Our idea was Matches, a Tinder-inspired social platform where users can discover activities nearby and organize events with new people who share similar interests. Users can post and promote activities and swipe on events they're interested in. Activities can range from video games to sports to dancing—anything that involves socialization.

Not only does Matches bring people together to play, it encourages discovering new hobbies and interests. With this mobile app, users can compete and collaborate with each other in a variety of activities, creating a local community of facilitated gameplay.

Brainstorm + sketching session

Iteration and prototype

The following is a user flow diagram, which outlines how we envision users will interact with our app. We designed our app around a central feed, which directs to discover mode, a user's activities, profile, and messages.

Then, we wireframed many of the fundamental screens of our app. We included features such as messaging so that users can discuss details of meetups and get to know each other.


Field testing

We returned to the student union to conduct usability testing on our initial prototype. We gave participants our paper prototype screens, and observed their interactions with the app. Our goal was to gauge user reactions and identify usability issues early in the process.

Field testing with prototype

From the feedback we received, we found that most people liked the concept and said they would use our app. The Tinder analogy was useful, but we realized we should not rely on it too heavily, as not everyone is familiar with the Tinder "swipe". Based on the suggestions we received, we added explicit “interested”/”not interested” buttons instead of expecting the user to only swipe left or right. We also added the option of limiting the number of participants to an event and event ratings.

Final design


I had fun working on such an open-ended prompt and talking to so many different people about their hobbies and passions. It was uniquely challenging to consider how people approach play differently and brainstorm effective ways to bring these people together. In future iterations, we planned to incorporate an option to sync with Google Calendar, send out invites to specific users, and allow multiple users to host an event. My roles in this project were primary UX researcher and designer.