This project comes from me combining two things I love: design and climbing. I’ve been climbing for a couple years now, and even though a pandemic has stymied my growth, I have had a ton of fun growing and learning more about the sport.
When faced with the challenge of producing a mobile app, I wanted to look at what tech is available for climbers. Personally, I use my Apple watch as a fitness tracker but haven’t used anything especially for climbing. I was excited to see what I could produce within an 80-hour constraint that could possibly help new climbers like me improve!
The research process that I followed here involved three stages: Competitive analysis, market research, and a survey. I chose these strategies because they allowed me to work quickly while still getting a robust data sample to work with.
Climbing and Tech
There are a handful of well-reviewed climbing apps on the market today, the most popular based on App Store rankings are: Redpoint, My Climb, and the Mountain Project.
Redpoint and My Climb focus more closely on workouts, while the Mountain Project is a branch of the Adventure Project designed to target many outdoor enthusiasts.
To find opportunities, I did a comparison of features between these three apps.
In comparing these features, I wanted to focus on the gaps and see if route grading adjustments, goal setting, specific features to track, and wearable integrations were important to climbers.
The number of gyms in North America continues to grow, despite challenges that COVID-19 has had on the industry including prolonged & unpredictable closures, capacity limits, and others.
Indeed, growth in other areas such as the r/bouldering and r/climbing subreddits has exploded - the more popular r/climbing grew from 148k members in January 2018 to nearly a million today. The Alpine Club releases an annual "State of Climbing" report which also corroborates my Reddit anectata. In 2018, over 4% of Americans climbed in a gym, 25,000 people watched the ice climbing world championships in Denver, and the world saw a documentary about climbing win an Academy Award. Even more exciting, climbing made it's Olympic debut at the 2021 Tokyo games! Key summaries from the report can be found here.
All of this growth brings new climbers (or "gumbies" as they are sometimes referred to by more seasoned climbers). The Alpine Club estimated that in 2018 7.7M Americans were climbing indoors, an increase of ~500,000 people from the previous year. These new climbers are often, also, willing & able to spend money on the hobby - introductory gear can cost nearly $200 (harness, shoes, chalk etc.) plus membership fees (variable, but often around $80-$120/m). In 2018, climbers spent an estimated $169M on gear alone! This means there is certainly an opportunity for growth in this design.
As a relatively new climber myself, I can attest... it's really hard. You can be physically fit but fall off a simple route. You can be buff as all get-out, but that won't necessarily help you. Staying motivated and not getting discouraged is critical to the growth of a new climber!
On the back of the market and competitive analyses, I did a small survey of 7 climbers to look into the following areas:
- How do climbers set goals?
- What does "success" mean to climbers?
- How important is comparing grading scales between gyms?
- Is there an opportunity in the wearables market?
My survey consisted of 20 questions, the results are viewable here.
When diving into some of my key questions, I wanted to look at success and goal-setting, and found my respondents pretty loose with their goal-setting and tracking. This wasn't too surprising to me, but it definitely changed the way I was thinking about this project! It's clear from these answers that super granular tracking is right out.
The Key Takeaways
- Loose Goal Setting: In general, climbers tend to set loose goals for themselves on short and long term timescales.
- Success Isn't A Number: Success isn’t always defined by how hard a climb is, sometimes it’s more about having fun!
- Comparing Gyms is hard: While this was a small sample, there is good enough data to suggest a way to compare between gyms could be useful but isn't a priority now.
After reviewing the research, I am setting out to create an app for newer climbers looking to track their climbs so they can set goals, and ultimately track their progress. Due to the smaller scope of the project, I will be focusing on two indoor climbing styles - bouldering and top rope.
Following the guidance of my research, any tracking needs to be kept to a few facets: nothing too detailed. Finding a way to incorporate less quantifiable aspects of a climb would be great too!
Because of the time constraints on this project, I set out to define both the architecture of the app but also the “scope zone” that I was aiming to complete as a sub-MVP. In this case, I was omitting the settings and profile sections.
Sketches & Wireframes
Using my IA as a guide, I started mapping out what each page would need and started working through crazy-8 exercises to get some shapes down. After this, I moved into a very rough wireframe stage of the screens defined in my 'scope zone'.
While in this stage, I set up a prototype to run through some wireframe testing with 2 designers and a fellow climber. This helped me clean up two screens in particular:
The 'Record' Tab
Originally I wanted to keep the continuity of a header message from the landing page, but by cleaning up the screen and focusing on what actually matters (where, what, and when) the process is more visually streamlined and simpler for the user. This also leaves growth opportunities for further climbing styles to be integrated, as this design can accommodate more 'style' buttons while maintaining the overall design.
Recording a Workout
This section required me to think about exactly what data was critical to show and record for climbers to track their progress. Keeping in mind that this app is designed to accommodate two types of climbing, I narrowed it down to two problem areas: How to record the grade of the climb and what is actually being recorded.
There are a number of different ways to finish a route: On-Sight (finishing a route without falling and without prior inspection), Flashing (doing the route for the first time without falling but scoped it out and maybe saw others do it), Finishing (doing the route without falling but with previous attempts). Because I wanted to keep both bouldering and top rope styles in mind, I chose to use "Flash" and "Finish" as my recording options. I expect that most climbs will have more finishes than flashes (after all you only have one try at a flash), the proportion of flashes:finishes at each grade will evolve as you become stronger and more capable. Also important to keep in mind what I learned from my research - loose goals are ok! In the end, the design tries to keep it as simple as possible, focusing only on the grade, and easily digestible data visualization.
In the end, the design tries to keep it as simple as possible, focusing only on the grade, and easily digestible data visualization.
The Final Design
For the final design I focused on two areas: the first is the actual mechanics of recording a climbing workout, and the second is reviewing the log area containing histories of climbs and goals.
In this first video, you can see how a user goes from the landing page through a full workout including adding a photo of a particularly tricky route to refer to later.
In this second flow, you can see the climbing log and goals, including how far along a user is on their way to climb for 200 hours by the end of 2021.
Now that the design has it's first iteration finished up, there are a couple ways I can proceed:
- Hi-Fi Testing: I only completed basic wireframe testing on a small number of people, so expanding the text to find any pain points to work on correcting would be my top priority.
- Expanding the "Scope Zone": My initial goal was to create this app within my self-defined zone in the information architecture. Next steps would be to expand the number of screens to include onboarding, login, profile, & settings including more details about climbing style and grading scales.
This is the first time I took an idea from concept through the design process for a mobile app. Unsurprisingly, it was a lot more challenging than I expected! The app market is extremely saturated, so finding a niche to grab on to was definitely a tough task, but isn't climbing about grabbing small things and having faith that you can hang on?