UXD Project


Building real-world and online communities through virtual community farming.

This project was the course project from my UX class at the University of Toronto.

What are we solving for?

Problem: The current state of the online social networking space does not look at social inclusion and belonging through the act of contributing to something together.

How might we create a platform that doesn't focus on just bringing people together, but encourages them to work towards something together?

Objective: To explore a community-centric solution with gamification principles, which will help people forge connections by engaging with physical spaces and forming relationships.


In my Fundamentals of UX course at the University of Toronto, I worked with a team of 3 other individuals (R. Christmas, J. Kerr, A. Slawson) to develop the UX behind a hypothetical mobile game addressing the CHI 2019 design competition prompt: weaving the threads within the social fabric". I worked on delivering:

  • Primary and secondary research and analysis
  • Questionnaires, conducting interviews and user testing sessions
  • User journey and persona creation/refinement
  • Brainstorming, mapping, ideas, and voting
  • Presentations, visual graphics, and diagrams
  • Low-fidelity & mid-fidelity prototypes and interface design

What did we research?

Origins of our concept

We decided to focus on the social inclusion and belonging space after reading a paper by E. Hall. It discussed how marginalized communities, such as people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) or sufferers of mental health illnesses, were able to find support and create communities to belong to through initiatives like community gardening and theatre troupes.

Primary & Secondary

We sent out a questionnaire over social media (qualitative and quantitative questions), and received over 150 responses within a week. Our research was primarily in the realms of social inclusion and belonging. We also conducted 4 in-person interviews, researched academic resources, as well as looked at gameplay analysis, etc.

We mapped out and compiled major themes, which we used to create our persona. We also used this research to further define our problem statement and our solution space.

Who are we designing for?

Enter stefan

What does Stefan need?

After developing a number of ideas, we came up with 4 winning ones: (1) physical incentives, (2) community garden, (3) AR tasks & objectives, and (4) emergency suppy circle.

Initially, we were inspired by the anonymous teamwork factor from a videogame called Journey. However, anonymity was poorly received during our primary research, and we were exploring too many concepts.

What are our goals?

Prototyping & Mockups

User Testing: Round 1

We ran in-person user testing sessions with our low-fidelity paper prototypes with 7 participants. Our testing session was structured as them leading us through Sanctuary, which enabled us to see gaps in our logic and understand actual user expectations and use. We also asked them to conduct a basic heuristic analysis to test that they understood what was happening at all times.

Concerns were mostly situated around consistency and unclear friend directives. We incorporated their feedback into our mid-fidelity prototype, which I created in Figma.

User Testing: Round 2 (Mid fidelity validation)

Using our Figma prototype, we asked 4 other representative users to rate Sanctuary on three dimensions: ease of use, if they would use it themselves, and the general experience. We also asked them about the goals we had set out to achieve (the intentions behind our design choices) and whether or not they were successful.

Sanctuary scored high for 'ease of use' and 'general experience'. This indicated that while our game may have been easy to use and the experience was good, users weren't drawn to try or use it.

We also gathered other feedback and quantitative data, which we used to help shape next steps and our takeaways from the project.

Comments & Concerns

  • "I think it’s more something I’d play with friends I already made, especially for safety reasons."
  • "I believe the games would need to be slightly more complex in order for a person to be able to improve their self esteem through skill based tasks."
  • "If someone is not in the right place/time to interact with people, or have a negative interaction/everyone else is busy with the game, they can’t get the interaction they desire, and it wouldn’t really work out."
  • "It would make me more community-conscious, geographically. In terms of meeting new people, not so much."

From these, it's apparent that Sanctuary doesn't quite work the way we had hoped it to. Or rather, its logic is weak and our attempt to hit our goals was flimsy; our testers were hesitant to interact with new people and the task-based games did not boost self esteem the way we had hoped them to.

On top of these comments, we only focused on the flow of these three goals, and participants were asking more specifics about general user flow and how to use the application. We couldn't answer those since we hadn't thought of them yet.

Next Steps

To get a better glimpse of how we imagine Sanctuary to function in the real world, one of my teammates created a video to illustrate how Stefan used it to make a new friend.

As it stands now, Sanctuary is in flux between the prototype and test stages. In an ideal world, we would be furthering development in the form of high fidelity mockups creating functional prototypes, and more testing.

However, realistically, we would have to backpedal a bit and really take a good look at some of the user feedback we received. Most of the concerns raised were not strictly on the interactions of the game, but on the logic of the projected gameplay, which in turn also affects how we designed Sanctuary.

Extra: Visuals

Style Guide

The class project ended with the mid-fidelity prototype, but I though it would be great to extend it a bit further and imagine the visual language of Sanctuary. Please note that I only worked on high-fidelity mockups, and did not improve or change the flow of the game.

I started by creating a small, basic style guide to keep things consistent.

In the case of Sanctuary, the primary colour is the bright, cheerful green. But I used many accent colours in small doses as well, usually to indicate another feature of the game (i.e. resources, farm, friends, etc.).

High Fidelity Mockups/Solution

I didn't translate all the features or goals explored during our testing and low/mid-fi prototype stages, due to mixed feedback regarding them. For example, our friends feature was not fleshed out well, nor was our farm contribution model. We planned to have players contribute with more mini-games, but that was met with lukewarm response. These features are not explored in the following mockups.

There also is no clear end goal to the game. The logic of the game would ideally be flushed out if we were to take this further.


Sanctuary had very different roots, and it was equally rewarding, painstaking, and fascinating to see it evolve.

We struggled a lot at the beginning to come up with a problem space to focus on, and I do truly believe that because of our initial struggle, we were able to uncover more depth and more ideas than if we had just sailed smoothly from the beginning. It went from potentially being a bridge between mental health and campus resources to an anonymized communal garden, to a community-wide farming game.

That being said, I cannot say that I'm particularly proud of this project for a number of reasons. I think it was a good learning experience, but it really shone light on some issues that weren't necessarily related to the design process, such as teamwork, soft skills, project management, and scope creep. If you look closely enough, Sanctuary falls apart. We prioritized gameplay and not necessarily solving a problem, and it shows.

Given the time constraint (8 weeks), I'm satisfied with the outcome. But if I had the chance, there are many things I would've done differently, such as doing more thorough research on our target audience, creating more personas, prioritizing features and user flow, and encouraging my teammates to take on more hands-on creation roles.

© Tara Tsang 2019