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Design Thinking ICM517

App Proposal for the City of Shanghai

How I used design thinking methods to determine an app’s purpose and its information architecture.

Recently, I wrote about the interconnection between Information Architecture (IA) and UX design, especially when it comes to building digital products like websites and apps. In that article, I explored the information architecture for the city of Shanghai.

About Shanghai

Shanghai—also known as the Paris of the East—is China’s largest city, and located in the Yangtze River Delta area. Equally charming and modern, the city has experienced rapid development in recent years. From the traditional shikumen lane houses, street food vendors, temples and parks, to the high-end shopping malls, cute cafes, hip restaurants, and cocktail lounges, Shanghai is the perfect juxtaposition of old and new, east and west, historical and modern, local and international.

Yonk Kong street in the Former French Concession. One of my favorite streets in my neighborhood, Yong Kong is filled with international restaurants, bars, boutiques and coffee shops, with traditional apartment buildings resting quietly above the businesses. Photo by Ulrich & Mareli Aspeling on Unsplash

The Shanghai municipal website communicates the city’s plan for 2017-2035 is to continue its growth and become an innovative, sustainable, safe, and international cultural hub.

Researching the Shanghai Municipal Website

The Shanghai municipal website is a valuable resource for current and prospective residents of the city. It provides a ton of resources and articles related to life in Shanghai. As I researched the site’s information architecture, I uncovered the website’s three primary audience groups:
1.) Newcomers outside mainland China who want to work, live or study in Shanghai and need guidance on immigration policies and processes.
2.) Current residents inside mainland China who wish to stay in the know of any news, events, tourist attractions, policies, and city developments.
3.) Businesses interested in moving or expanding their operations in Shanghai.

As I broke down the IA of the website, I realized that it mainly caters to three audience groups.

Because the city caters to three distinct audiences, it makes sense that a robust website would exist to provide valuable information for each groups’ unique and individual needs. Much of the website’s content is highly beneficial and relevant to these user segments.

Opportunities for a Shanghai App (or mini-program)

Although newcomers and businesses may occasionally check for information, residents would benefit the most from staying up to date with news and checking the site regularly. This insight leads me to propose developing an app (or WeChat mini-program) for the current residents of Shanghai that provides all of the news and resources they need to enjoy life in their city on a daily basis. Apps allow for quicker accessibility than websites which make sense for resources that users will frequently revisit or need in a hurry.

Shanghai municipal website keeps content up to date. All of the posts shown above are from this past week alone.

What are WeChat mini-programs?

WeChat mini-programs are apps built inside the super-app, WeChat. Since everyone in China is already on WeChat—in 2020, there were over 1 billion active users—WeChat mini-programs have become increasingly popular.

Image courtesy of Business of Apps website.

The mini-programs are accessed inside WeChat and don’t require any additional downloads from the user, which makes them extremely convenient for the users. Even Nike and Burberry have WeChat mini-programs that users can browse and shop through.

A few screenshots of the Nike mini-program inside WeChat.

At this point of the project, I am not certain whether a mini-program or app makes the most sense, but this will be something I continue to investigate as we move further along the design process and make critical decisions about functionality and usability. If you’re interested in learning more about WeChat mini-programs, I’ll leave some resources at the end of this article.

What is my app’s purpose?

Now that an audience has been determined, its time to define what the purpose of the product is. I did this by developing a series of How Might We questions that explore how an app can improve the daily lives of its user audience.

How might we build a Shanghai city
app/mini-program that helps its residents….

– navigate their city better?
– enjoy all Shanghai has to offer?
– connect with their community?
– receive updates on the latest news and policies?
– learn more about their city’s past, present, and future?

Landscape Matrix

After identifying my app’s user base and purpose, I conducted a landscape analysis of other city websites worldwide. My goal was to understand what other cities are doing differently or similarly to Shanghai and uncover any opportunities. With every city’s website, I learned just how differently Information Architecture impacts a website’s navigability. Although plenty of information overlapped, each website’s content was labeled, prioritized, and organized very differently. 

Conducting a landscape matrix helped me understand how different cities present and prioritize content.

It was fascinating comparing European and Asian municipal websites to American websites. European and Asian websites seemed focused on providing information on city news, lifestyle, and culture. American sites concentrated more on addressing citizen concerns and addressing practical issues. 

Sydney’s website was easy to navigate and struck a nice balance between everything you need to know and everything you want to know to enjoy life in Sydney.

Content Ideation and Grouping

After conducting the landscape analysis, I began brainstorming content ideas that would be meaningful to Shanghai’s residents. This ideation happened quickly and fluidly as the landscape analysis already had ideas brimming in my mind.

Throwing ideas on the wall using post-its and markers, with tunes in the background.

After posting all of my ideas up on the wall, I conducted a content grouping exercise and categorized my information into buckets, then labeled each group (taxonomy). After this exercise, I felt prepared for site mapping.

Making sense of ideation by content grouping and labeling.

Proposed sitemaps

Below is the proposed sitemap for the shanghai app.

Proposed site map for the new Shanghai app.

Although this feels like a strong start in understanding what I am building and the content my product intends to provide for its audience, it is necessary to remember that information architecture is flexible and evolutionary. As new information is discovered and priorities change, information architecture documents like this site map should be reviewed and updated.

I look forward to taking this project to the next step and sharing more developments with you soon. In the meantime, here is a pdf document laying out the process above.

Resources and References

A little bit about WeChat

Apps Within Apps: UX Lessons from WeChat Mini Programs by NNG

Why and when users like to use WeChat mini programs by UX Spot

WeChat Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020)

A little bit about Shanghai

A Short History of Shanghai by the New York Times

Shanghai Travel Guide by Travel China Guide

Shanghai Municipal People’s Government

12 Reasons Why You Should Visit Shanghai at Least Once in Your Lifetime by Rachel Deason of Culture Trip

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