Quinn Keast

Helping the Re-TRAC Connect product team set a course to a better user experience

Re-TRAC Connect

Project Lead, UX Researcher & Designer

2016 – 2017

Waste and recycling data management isn’t glamorous. But for Re‑TRAC Connect’s passionate product team, making it easier for communities and organizations to track and share their waste management data is at the heart of their vision for a sustainable future.

Re-TRAC Connect's product team wanted to create a better experience for the people using Re‑TRAC Connect to report their waste and recycling data. The team understood that this was essential to serve their current North American client base as well as expand successfully to new geographic markets. They were primed and ready to go, but they needed a partner to guide them forward through user experience research and put findings into action through a pair of design sprints.

Together with my partner, I carried out qualitative and quantitive research, several hands-on workshops, two design sprints, and a lot of user testing.

Experience mapping workshop with the Re-TRAC Connect product team.

Setting the stage

At a high level, Re-TRAC Connect is a platform to report and manage data on waste and recycling. Organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) operate programs that ask businesses and agencies to report data around the waste they create and their recycling activities.

In the past, these agencies and organizations used paper forms that had to be filled out and mailed in. Re-TRAC Connect lets these organizations create programs that have forms that can be filled in online.

Re-TRAC is used by both sides of this reporting process: by the organizations that create the programs and forms, and the folks who join programs to report data. Making things complicated, the people creating forms in Re-TRAC don't have much experience making usable forms, and are often just re-creating existing paper forms. The people filling out the forms are doing it as part of their full-time job, and have to deal with many different types of forms, data, and unpredictable elements like timelines, due dates, and cyclical reporting.

Re-TRAC's product team decided to focus in on the user experience for reporters. They wanted to find out how to make a better user experience in a way that would work with the existing audience and product: the user-generated content that made up Re-TRAC's programs couldn't be changed.

They needed to gain a thorough understanding of their users, so they could make confident decisions about where to direct their resources for the greatest impact. It was going to be a very collaborative process.

We asked:

  • How can we reach out and learn from an audience spread out across North America?
  • How can we develop a shared understanding of the existing user experience among every member of the product team, from developers to the President?
  • How can we get every member in the product team involved and create a shared sense of ownership in the project and its findings?
  • How can we help the team learn and internalize the process of discovery to guide them in future projects?


Our discovery phase was divided into several distinct steps: first, we needed to build our own understanding of Re-TRAC Connect, while exploring existing artifacts and knowledge. Then, we needed to identify directions for new research. Armed with our findings, we could then identify themes and make decisions, and put our insights into action through a set of two design sprints.

Step 1: Build our understanding

The Emerge team had a lot of great data contained in existing artifacts such as analytics data, customer feedback, and institutional knowledge.

We created a framework for capturing and sharing insights from these existing artifacts—and for future research—among the whole team, and worked together to turn an overwhelming amount of information into clear statements of truth.

Exercises such as a whole-team journey mapping workshop helped the cross-disciplinary team walk through the existing experience, identifying gaps, pain points, and key emotional moments along the way.

Journey map created as a result of the workshop.

Step 2: Expand our understanding

Based on our findings, we identified our top questions and gaps in our knowledge. We then came up with an action plan for performing new research, including:

  • A user survey to collect quantitative and qualitative feedback directly from users.
  • Stakeholder interviews with team members at every level of the organization to understand their role, understanding, and vision for Re-TRAC Connect.
  • A series of one-on-one user interviews with real users across the continent.

Step 3: Define

Everything we learned helped the team create user personas to build a deeper sense of empathy for their users. A themes workshop brought the team together to draw themes out of the insights we’d gathered in our framework document. These themes were then transformed into clear, actionable “How Might We” statements.

Research Results

At the end of the research phase, the team defined 7 design challenge statements that would shape the upcoming design sprints. Based on the research and activities performed throughout the project, they were confident focusing their resources on these design challenges would lead to a real, positive impact on the user experience.

Design Sprints

Following the research phase, I helped lead the team through two design sprints. These design sprints followed a similar process:

  1. First, we chose one or several design challenges statement to guide the sprint.
  2. We pulled out insights from the research phase that were most relevant.
  3. We whiteboarded user flows and potential solutions, using MURAL to create flow digrams.
  4. We went through rapid wireframing and prototyping in Adobe Xd and Invision.
  5. We tested prototypes with real users, and iterated on our design based on what we learned.
  6. Each sprint went through up to 2 rounds of testing.

(Due to NDA, the design outcomes of these sprints can’t be shared.)

Design Sprint 1

Mental models and information architecture

In the first sprint, we focused on clarifing the mental models, information architecture, and language in Re-TRAC Connect.

User flow diagramming

Then, we created user flow diagrams that would put this clarified information architecture into action.

From rapid wireframing & prototyping to user testing

Through rapid wireframing and prototyping, we iterated quickly and landed on a design direction. We put our prototype through its paces through two rounds of testing with Re-TRAC Connect users.

Design Sprint 2

In the second sprint, we built off of our findings from the first sprint and further refined the Re-TRAC Connect dashboard interface. As in the first sprint, we focused on rapid wireframing and prototyping with the goal of getting our ideas in front of users as quickly as possible. Based on user testing in the first sprint, we ended up fundamentally changing the structure of the Re-TRAC dashboard.

In testing, users completed similar tasks in less time than either in the existing Re-TRAC dashboard or in the first design sprint.