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Project:   Less
Incentivizing behavior change with reusable bags
Capacity: MICA School Capstone Project (8 Weeks Total)

Role(s):   UX Research, UX Design, UI Design
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Project Background:


Our world’s environmental health is changing rapidly, and single use bags are a big contributor to this global environmental crisis of climate change. 23 billion plastic bags were used by customers in New York City alone in 2015. Retailers, both small and large, contribute to this by buying and supplying these bags even though research has shown that companies benefit financially from having a more eco-friendly business.

The idea of switching to reusable bags has failed to take off as general practice in individual customer habits because of the ease and convenience of single use bags in the market today and the lack of association with using reusable bags at establishments other than grocery stores.


How might I design a better way to motivate and remind customers to use reusable bags in retail shopping in order to reduce the negative impact plastic single use bags have on the environment?

Problem Statement:

The average customer struggles to consistently use reusable bags in retail shopping. Customers need an easy, memorable, and incentivized way to use reusable bags in their retail experiences because they often are on the go and single-use bags are the simple and convenient alternative.


I sought to design a solution for shoppers that will provide motivation and incentive to change customer’s habits of using these single-use bags. I am aiming for a convenient and habit-changing solution to this problem by giving both the customers and the retailers a chance to capitalize on the benefits of reusable bags.

Outcome: Less. A simple, hassle free, rewarding mobile app that incentivizes customers to build the positive habit of using reusable bags while not disrupting the current shopping experience.



To first understand the current options for users, I conducted external research into the current market.

The only current solutions were simple reminder alert apps, habit changing apps, specific in-store initiatives, and bigger single use bag bans specific to certain locations. After comparing these competitors through a competitive analysis, I identified three potential areas of opportunity.


The opportunity to make this solution an accessible one, will open it up to anyone with a mobile smart phone.

Wide Range/Adaptability

The opportunity to focus on any potential retail store rather than one specific store or city. It opens this solution to a wide range of stores and increases the range of users available to reach.

Community and Individual Incentives

The opportunity to focus on not only reminding users, but incentivizing customers to use reusable bags beyond the satisfaction of just the good deed itself. I could focus my solution on individual gain as well as altruistic motivations.

I created a discussion guide and conducted user interviews to deeply understand their current shopping experience, their thoughts on reusable bags, and what helps them form a habit. 

Example Questions:

"Can you describe the typical experience of you going to the grocery store?”

"What motivates you to build a habit?"

"Was there anything in particular that was a turning point that solidified that habit in your day to day?"

"How would you describe yourself when it comes to shopping?"

"How, if at all, do other people play into you using reusable bags or not?"

"What is your biggest barrier to using reusable bags more regularly?"

"What establishments do you think of when you think of using reusable bags? Why?"


After the interviews, I synthesized my notes using affinity mapping.


From this, I was able to discover six main insights -- five of which to focus my solution on to have the most impact on the user experience.


Six Key User Insights:



External Prompting/Motivations

Users like participating in sustainable actions, but need external prompting and motivation to actually engage in doing so.

Achievable Personal Reward/Gain

Shoppers want to change their less-than sustainable habits for the btter, but find it difficult to form these new habits if they aren’t personally rewarded in some sense.

Heart & Hands

Reminders Enforced via Association

Shoppers want to use reusable bags for more than just grocery shopping, but have trouble remembering to bring them because of a lack of association with reusable bags and establishments other than grocery stores which causes frustration



Branding Barriers

Shoppers would like to use reusable bags more, but find it uncomfortable or wrong to use a bag for something other than its intended use.




Shoppers would go the extra mile to do the right thing, but they overall value efficiency and convenience – sometimes making it hard to implement day to day.


Consistent Shopping; Changed Behaviors*

Shoppers enjoy shopping often with reusable bags but have switched to online alternatives that block them from using their reusable bags to the fullest.

*Did not address this insight due to scope and time constraints.

From these insights I crafted a simple user journey as-is map (of a user going shopping after work), focusing on the users emotions, to get a wholistic view of an entire experience and identify the main areas where I could improve the experience.


Arriving at the store, and at the checkout are the two main areas where customers who don’t use reusable bags feel the most frustrated and annoyed with the experience and their own forgetfulness. On top of that, the emotions are amplified when the journey repeats, getting more and more frustrated each time.


I proposed the solution of a mobile app where users will be able to increase their usage of reusable bags by being reminded and incentivized to do so while simultaneously giving back to the community.


I chose this solution because it was a way to have multiple incentives that all were interconnected through on journey and path. I decided on a mobile app because consumers shop while out an about, and a mobile phone is convenient, fast, and always on their person. Since this solution will be a digital app that can be used at a variety of store, my target audience is wide: individual consumers, ages 20-70 that have access to a mobile smart phone.

Design Process:


I then started iterating on possible ideas, features, screens and experiences for my solution. I created a simple storyboard of how a user could go through one flow of my app and also made a mind map that included my assumptions and questions.

I defined the scope of this project, based on the amount of time (8 weeks) I had at my disposal, and decided to focus on the individual experience and view. The individual customer side of this app is intended to be the main and most interactive side of this solution.


I started sketching out the main flow and features my app would have. I first focused on functionality starting with low-fidelity sketches, and then participated in critiques and group brainstorming discussions in order to iterate on my idea. I continued with this rotation all the way through to my high fidelity prototype.

Critique Notes:

  • Focus on organizing and designing from the user's journey rather than individual screens

  • Revisit the idea of the home page: focus on what would be most helpful for the user to see first thing.

Critique Notes:

  • Remove either: "my rewards" page and a "my shops" page because why would the user need to go to see all of their rewards in a separate location and view from their shops?

  • Move the tote tracker to a more prominent place that would incentivize them even more and not bury it in a secondary page.

  • Add tutorial onboarding for clarity.

Visual Design

In order to make sure the app lived up to its functionality goals, the visual design choices of this app focused on four design principles: Consistency, Clarity, Simplicity, and Friendliness. I explored multiple options and also made sure all of my final design choices were WCAG AA accessible on a mobile phone. I chose do go with a color palette of neutral, organic, and earthy palette of greens, dusty blues, and tan. 

I defined the typography guidelines in order to maintain consistency and chose the pairing of IBM Plex Sans and Ramajara. By choosing a mixture of serif and sans serif fonts I was able to achieve the delicate mix of credibility and friendliness. The typography, paired with the colors and iconography, were all able to curate an approachable, minimalistic, yet professional app visual design.

User Testing

I tested three users (ages 29-65) trying to make sure all users could give me a different perspective.

The users provided great feedback and I was able to adjust my designs accordingly. The following were their main points fo confusion that I addressed:


  • Redesign the main bottom navigation options and utilize the hamburger menu in order to be more intuitive

  • Add an option to skip the beginning tutorial for those who want to figure it out on their own, but have it accessible at any point in case of emergency.

  • Explain the reward process more clearly since other apps have similar reward programs that function differently (When I use a reward, does my total go back down to zero, or does it build upon itself?)

Insight: Both users said that they would rather have the milestones be harder to reach, but build upon-able rather than restart back at zero but be easier to reach. They explained that they would be less likely to cash in their bags saved, and might never do so with the second option, therefore leading to a drop off in usage for my app at some point.



I was able to create a high-fidelity user journey-centered prototype in order to be used for future testing and iterations. I created an app that not only curates an enjoyable, simple, and rewarding shopping experience, but incentivizes and encourages building a good habit for those wanting to do their part in helping the environment.















As you can see above, the user's journey with Less (green dot path) is significantly improved from their journey without Less (gray dot path). The user even gets an added bonus interaction (starred) from the prompting of achieving a milestone and a reward.


I was able to successfully meet deadlines and got positive feedback from tested users:

“Well, that was easy. Overall this app was great. It made sense. Being alerted was super straight-forward and logical" - Kim

“This is so pretty! I would use this. It was clear, easy to use, and intuitive. I like that when you show up at the store it reminds you of your coupon, too.” - Laura

“I could definitely see myself using this. It is a very easy learning curve yet yields a great payoff...not just for me, but for others too.” -Brian

Final Thoughts:


1. Whats the best way to help remind and build the habit of bringing reusable bags without being annoying, overly obtrusive and resulting in a frustrating experience?


My solution: I first experimented integrating with google maps or one's car bluetooth but still ran into this problem. Although it does not completely solve the problem, the choice to change the reminder until AFTER a shopping trip (to be prepared for the next) instead of before the current shopping trip cuts down on the amount of unnecessary notifications and was approved by the users tested.


2. Simplifying the experience (and limiting friction points) with so many moving parts and features.


My solution: By adding in the tutorial onboarding experience and making sure the iconography, text, and interactions are as clear as possible I was able to navigate this challenge successfully according to the users tested.


3. Users struggling with using bags branded for other shops at their competitor shops, as well as finding it strange to put new clothes they buy into a reusable grocery bag, for example.


My solution: I asked follow up questions and learned that even a small change of a simple unbranded bag would help prompt them to use it at retail stores. Therefore, I added the Tote Tracker feature, to not only further incentivize users to use the app, but then once the milestone is achieved, they get a free bag to then use comfortably at retail stores.

Next Steps:

1. I would like to test the changes I made due to user testing and continue with iterating, testing, and building out the full experience. I also plan to go through this same process and curate the Company side of this experience. I will create a desktop site that lets stores join, review, and monitor their impact and savings.

  • I also would like to specifically explore the Tote Tracker feature and see if that can evolve meaningfully.


2. I also would like to explore the sixth insight from my affinity mapping and user interviews. I want to explore adding an option to the online shopping alternative, such as potentially a “skip the bags” option when picking up curbside or something of that nature.

This project really helped me understand the importance of critiques. Even just talking through my designs and hearing myself explain it out loud helped give me clarity that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten.


I also learned how to step back and understand how much of an MVP is feasible. This project helped me understand scope because I looking back I think I would have chosen to focus on one feature instead of both the charity giving and the rewards program. Although I am happy with what I designed, and thought my scope initially was solid, I think I could have put a lot more thought, effort, and testing into one feature rather than spread it over two.

Lastly, I chose to design this project in Sketch - a newer program for me, which helped me understand that program much deeper. I also transitioned my files over into Figma for prototyping and that process was also very helpful to learn, go through, and troubleshoot.


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