The challenge
This was a personal project I started to address a need that I had: I wanted an app for keeping track of places I want to go, particularly for trips.
In my competitive research, I identified apps that use receipts to create itineraries for you (like TripIt) and apps with content about places that you can save (like TripAdvisor), but none that would allow me to save content from anywhere to a map I could reference while traveling.
One part of my concept was a browser extension: I wanted to be able to read about some restaurant in Berlin on a random blog, and simply click a button to save it to my trip plans -- rather than copy-pasting, switching between tabs, etc.
Icons and descriptions of the concept for the app on web, mobile, and offline
Research questions
I decided to take a lightweight approach and planned a qualitative survey with the key research questions:
How do people plan their trips?
What tools do they use?
How do they navigate?
How do people give advice to someone visiting a town they know well?
Method
I created the survey using Google Forms and invited participants via a mailing list associated with my graduate school. I got 57 responses. Since the survey consisted of mostly free text responses, I decided to use an affinity diagram to synthesize the results.
A photograph of an affinity diagram (colored sticky notes on a wall)
Insights
The following are a few key takeaways. The complete set of insights from my affinity diagram were developed into personas and anti-personas.

Staying flexible is important, particularly to recommendations from locals.
Google Maps/location-based apps are really helpful for navigating once there.
But you need to be prepared for cases when you won’t have data (abroad or remote locations).
Many people have success choosing a few “musts” or one big thing per day.
There are some people that really prefer printed documents.
One subcategory of these people is composed of older men.
Personas
From my affinity diagram, I derived two primary personas (below) and four anti-personas (not shown).
Scenarios
I wrote two high-level scenarios describing the product's basic use and a few "extra" ideas. After writing the scenarios, I commented on each place the text suggested something the product must be able to do. Below is a sample; you can also view the full Google Doc.
A screenshot of the Google doc with my annotated scenarios
The end
I decided to shut down this effort, because improvements to Google Maps made it no longer necessary for me.

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