Digital Application for Waste Management Intervention



Design Question

Preliminary Research

User Interviews



Key Themes

Design Solution


Reduce, Reuse, Redesign, Recycling

Universtiy of Washington HCDE 518, User Centered Design
Fall Quarter (September — December) 2020

John Fowler

PhD Student, Portfolio
Usability Testing, User Research, User Interviews, Analyze Tab Design

Jaqueline Higgins

UCD Student, Portfolio
User Research, User Interviews, Competitive Analysis, Prototyping, My Rici Tab Design

Rory McCaffrey

MS Student
User Research, User Interviews, Community Tab Design

Emily Stensland

MS Student, Linkedin
Usability Testing, User Research, Prototyping, Analyze Tab Design

John Fowler

Jaqueline Higgins

Rory McCaffrey

Emily Stensland


The prompt for the class was to find a topic we are passionate about which relates to the broad scope of health. We chose to pair environmentally conscious efforts with digital activism in the exigence of COVID-19 which has forcibly moved a number of activist movements to online platforms.

We wanted to explore how to make change more accessible for all users. We held initial biases that current digital, environmental activism teetered on either sides of an extreme gradient; shallow (clicktivism) to demanding a high degree of political participation which often has monetary, time-based, and social constraints. We spent ten weeks following the human-centered methodology taught in HCDE 518, which led us through preliminary research, interviews, personas, sketching and ideation, prototyping, and gathering-feedback.

Our prototype can be accessed through the following image and the submitted and the comprehensive design solution can be found through this google drive hyperlink (40 pages).

prototype link

Link to submitted prototype

How Can We Reduce Personal Waste?


Preliminary research consisted of using IDEO’s design exploration cards; Learn, Look, Ask, and Try to identify current barriers to waste disposal and understand what alternatives are available for people to use.

Five Why's

Methodology :
An informal interview process taken place with a friend over a thirty minute period. After the initial "Do you recycle" question, every answer was responded with a "why?".

Findings :
1. Doesn't produce that much waste.
2. Small home-scale recycling efforts don't help
3. Not comparable to the amount of waste produced by large companies
4. Difficult to find adequate support for recycling.
5. There should be greater incentive and ease to use the recycling system.

Affinity Diagram

Methodology :
Draw a map of the relationships at interplay surrounding the topic. While this method can reinforce personal biases, it makes the participant aware of what they currently know, what information is missing, and the regions available for intervention. The associations started as broad groupings and then divulged into more hypserspecific and useful suggestions.

Findings :
1. Waste disposal aids, commonly known at festivals or other public gatherings, help people better dispose of garbage by directing waste to the correct bin. They have a key social aspect and spark conversations for attracting other people to their organization. However their presence could also have a social limitation such as embarrassment or humiliation for not knowing a perceived simple task.

2. Appropriate social groups are commonly used for incorporating activity. Social relationships like family or friends can be used to gamify activities, share information, and encourage persistent action. These relationships are also especially critical because of the physicality of waste disposal as opposed to shallow clicktivism.

3. The institutional level of recycling is not very well known and easy to understand. I personally knew very little about the iconography commonly associated and attempted to explore ideas to make them more comprehensive.

4. The last grouping highlighted differences in waste processes according to the function. Is there a standardized way of generating and disposing waste? How could similarities as well as sensitivities attributed to concepts of cooking, arts and crafts, and cleaning be levied in a new system. An understanding was developed that waste is a byproduct and end result of each process. However, in order to address unsustainability, recommendations should be heard at the beginning of the process.

Affinity Diagram


The two interviews that I conducted were all greater than an hour and because of the open-ended design question we had no specific demographic in mind. Because of the difficulties of talking to strangers during this time, my interviewees were both acquaintances that I knew prior. This sample size could have skewed results as they shared common characteristics of being similar in age, sharing the same gender, and having common cultural backgrounds. However, due to the distinct differences in discussed topics and their perceived behavioral patterns I would believe the potential change to be inconsequential.

The interview structure was a combination of scripted and unscripted questions. The questions discussed general lifestyle habits, such as what digital applications they currently used or what they look for while shopping. The interview would then progress into more topic-focused questions like the ease or stories associated with waste disposal processes. Because I wanted to see if they naturally considered waste in their daily rituals, I tried to give them as vague of an introduction as possible.

- Typically don’t go searching for the information, but once they learn something highly relevant like a toxic warning or company-ethics, they’ll usually attempt to go with more inconvenient but sustainable option

- One story talked about how they kept reusing a plastic water bottle even at parties to impress their friends

- Both interviewees felt that waste conversations are highly dependent on the local community and one noted how waste seems to only be a relevant conversation the younger you are.

- Endorsements and appearance of officiality are important to help make information reliable especially when there are so many different variations of information on the same subject.

- One discussed the perceived physicality of information, having discussions and tangible mechanisms make it harder for the topic of waste management to be ignored.


Four personas were developed based on a combination of the interviews performed by my teammates and I.

Layout of the personas is credited to Jacqueline Higgins. Associated portraits are for better conveying stakeholders and are courtesy of unsplash.com.

Primary Persona


Along with the interviews, I created a flow chart to depict the actions of users to visualize the possible areas for digital intervention. This flowchart took my idea of different processes for generating waste and attempted to find shared traits regardless of activity; like cooking, gardening, arts and crafts, or DIY repairs. The final result, this flowchart of making things, breaks up the process as shopping(getting materials), making (some function performed with the materials), and disposing.


Purchasing was inspired by my interview of people’s shopping experiences. Again with quarantine due to COVID, we were unable to naturally observe them performing these activities. A flowchart was especially helpful in visualizing how people make decisions and choosing what to purchase. Questions of consideration are not the same between individuals, but are personal reflections that ultimately decide whether or not to purchase the item. Common questions revolved around price, company ethics, and personal health.


Using, is the primary function that I believe most users focus on. They take a base material and perform some kind of action on it like cutting, mixing, or moving. Once the action is completed, then they enter another state of consideration like before. Reflection comes in questions of quality and completion, either prompting users to throw away or continue adjusting the object until completed.


Lastly, disposing is the final section in waste management. The flow chart raises awareness of multiple sections of consideration involving time, effort, and personal beliefs. Lack of institutional support like waste bins or personal beliefs on the impact of their efforts are very important determinants of whether an item is going in the trash or effectively recycled. It’s important to note that these beliefs were supported by both interviews. One noted the inconvenience of composting in their apartment as the bin often gets filled up quickly and the bag tended to leak down his leg while throwing it away. The second interviewee mentioned that it was an unreasonable expectation to walk several blocks for the chance to recycle when there’s a trashcan right next to them.

So Why?

Waste management is not an end-process consideration. It’s important to layout the entire, holistic process to identify possible ways to influence people for more environmentally-conscious behavior. In the shopping mechanism how can we make information for purchasing decisions more accessible with the minimum required steps. In making, are there certain methods that can be done to reduce the byproducts or support the longevity of creations. And most importantly how can we get people to care about their impact when disposing, especially when it may be perceived as inconvenient.


Personal Accountability | Technical Assistance | Social Accountability


After establishing points of intervention and talking to users we narrowed our product to emphasize three main themes for gaining and retaining environmentally-friendly habits.

Personal Accountability

Personal accountability is manifested in the My Rici, homepage of the application. Its features help maintain personal goals through challenges, journaling, and rewarding users with graphs related to their recycling efforts. The challenges are meant to gamify the process of eco-friendly lifestyles and can help families or friends work to achieve common goals or compete against each other. The gamified process enables users to gain a hobbyist perspective on environmental conservation. They can learn about the environmental-friendly efforts while at their own pace. The journaling feature is based on an interviewee’s perspective on how to make the conversation surrounding sustainability more tangible. By providing a mechanism for personal reflection, then there is a chance that more users will be able to change their mindset. The last feature of My Rici, is the data visualization on the front page to show that their efforts are actually impactful. By providing graphs about their activity over time, users can get the feeling that they are making an impact.

Technical Help

Technical help describes inconveniences that can only be satisfied through an outside source. The Analyze feature aims to answer confusion regarding recyclability, sustainability, and reusability of products. Users scan the product in question with their smartphone camera and using computer vision, the application identifies what it is. Based on the product, it then produces relevant information on the best or alternative ways to dispose of the product. We believe that this feature is a critical component of our application so we wanted it to be easy to find and accessible regardless of where they are in the app. This approach enables users to access the Analyze feature without forcing them to engage with potentially unwanted features.

Social Accountability

Because we can only do so much by ourselves, the Community tab is for engaging with our neighbors. It advertises events such as workshops, lectures, or volunteer opportunities. Local forum posts are used for soliciting advice, engaging in dialogue, or spreading awareness about regional topics. By having a platform for community-based discussions, it allows for more accurate information to be shared and another mechanism to interact with your community. Posts are anonymous, with the exception of a select few, to help circumvent possible embarrassment when asking for help. While a friend feature is also utilized in the application, the philosophy is less about trying to become a social butterfly, but rather sharing your accomplishments with those who mean a lot to you. Friends can see events that you are going to, community posts, and awards that you’ve recently received. By seeing other people engage in environmentally friendly ways, having easy access to accurate information, and better awareness of events to help in your community, users can have more assurance in retaining sustainable habits.

prototype link


Community Calendar Map

This screen provides the user with a game-board-like calendar view to engage in community events and monitor end dates of challenges.

community home


The screen provides the user with a list of friends and their recent achievements. While we don't expect people to have the same social interactions as on Facebook or Twitter, we believe a convient in-app function for sharing achievements with those who mean a lot to you would help encourage retaining habits.

list of friends

Friends Conversation

A sample of how friends can interact with each other. They can help share in-app events or look at each others' achievements for a greater sense of competition.



Local, community events that happen around you. A variety of currated content based on location, dates, or topic can be easily accessible. The events can span educational workshops to volunteer clean-up opportunities.

Events List


Just in case you run into questions or have thoughts about local policies that you want to advocate, an anonymous forum is open to use. Similar to events, the posts are accessible by topic (Discussions, DIY tutorials, Politics, local resources) and date posted. Posts are completely anonymous to advocate for greater discussion and discourage social intimidation. However, when friends make posts or comment, their pictures are shown to also encourage responses.


If you like the page layout and want it for your own work, feel free to copy my github. Apologies in advance, if my naming conventions don’t make sense, feel free to send an email and I’d be happy to clear it up for you.
- Rory