Bolder Boulder
Designing personalized resources for indoor rock climbers.
20 Minute Read
Project Time Frame: 2 Weeks
Skills: Mobile App Design, UX Research, Wireframing, User Testing
Tools: Sketch, InVision
Deliverables: User Persona, User Journey, Competitive Analysis, Wireframes
From 2013-2018, the indoor rock climbing industry is estimated to have grown 7.2% compared to the gym and fitness industry average of 3.5% over a similar timeframe. To say this niche sport has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity is an understatement.

Creating educational resources for indoor climbing, specifically the subcategory of bouldering, is a unique challenge. Unlike lateral movement sports like running or swimming where routes are viewed as impartial, bouldering routes are designed by people called “routesetters.” Routesetters are trained professionals that create routes of varying difficulties that a climber attempts to solve. This relationship makes the sport interesting but also introduces a fundamental UX issue.

Bouldering routes are not static. Every single bouldering gym must rotate their bouldering routes to keep things fresh. So, a bouldering app that provides generic information will lack route-specific information (called "beta") to help climbers solve individual problems or apply specific techniques.

In 2 weeks, I partnered with David, an intermediate climber that frequents his local bouldering gym, to design a mobile app to solve these issues. With David's help, I conducted competitive analyses, user interviews, and user testing. To guide the process to final wireframes, I created user personas and a user journey.
User Insights
Deliverables: User Interviews, User Persona, User Journey
I interviewed four climbers at a local climbing gym. I asked about their motivations and goals, what resources they use, and how do they feel like they are improving. I also interviewed a routesetter assistant to get a different perspective on the beginner experience. David and I then distilled the interviews into these user insights.
1. Beginners often are unsure of how to improve. They don't know enough to make concrete goals.
“I don’t have specific goals like ‘I want to be climbing V3s in a month.’ I don't even know if I'm improving each time. Maybe like a little.”
2. Beginners try to make progress by climbing higher levels. They feel accomplished if they manage to do something harder. However, there's often a huge learning curve to climbing even one level higher.
“I’ve been trying for a while to learn how to do V3s but it feels almost impossible. I did one but it was very messy.”

“A common misconception is that if you are V2 and are looking to get to V3, you should keep doing the V3. However, it might be better to keep doing the V2’s since repetition is very important to learning techniques.”
Nathan, assistant routesetter
3. Beginners want to learn and apply new techniques, but users often don't know if they are doing it right.
“I actually love learning new things when I come here. I don't know if I'm doing it right or if I just don't have enough strength”

“Climbers that overly rely on strength instead of learning fundamentals will almost always hit a brick wall. That's why we emphasize fundamentals again and again.”
Nathan, assistant routesetter
Synthesizing these interviews, we developed a user persona and user journey.
Competitive Analysis and Problem Statement
Deliverables: Competitive Analyses, Problem Statement
To understand our competitors and find opportunities for differentiation, we looked at popular rock climbing apps, both indoor and outdoor.
As the two most popular climbing apps, MyClimb and MountainProject tackle different aspects of climbing. In terms of UX, Mountain Project focuses exclusively on outdoor climbing. Its user-driven betas, videos, and reviews provide a guided experience. MyClimb offers support for indoor climbing, finding a specific gym, and social and competitive functions, but it lacks beginner-friendly guidance. It offers workouts, but the workouts are not gym-specific.
Climbing apps like Boulder Trainer and Crimpd focus on exercises, workouts, and logging using accessories. These offer resources for building up strength but don't address how to apply it at the gym.

Piecing together the user and the app context, we arrived at this problem statement that the design is ultimately solving for.
Beginner indoor rock climbers struggle with improving because they lack the techniques to improve. Current tools do teach techniques, but they do little to contextualize them to specific routes, putting the burden on the climbers to know what techniques to use and on what routes.  

We want to help beginners learn specific techniques and apply them to specific routes at their local gym.
Deliverables: Wireframes, Prototype
For this project, I worked out each feature of the wireframe linearly. After completing the prototype, I tested the app using InVision with four users that share similarities to the user persona.
Core Question: Does the user feel like this is beginner-friendly?
The three core elements of the app are addressed immediately in onboarding: finding a specific gym, selecting a certain level, and learning climbing techniques. Little hints help user decipher jargon and make the design beginner friendly. The technique screen lacks more hints on purpose, as it wants users to be honest about their skills.
“I like that there are specific gyms that I can choose. Will it help me find like all the V3 routes in a gym?”
(Regarding Techniques) “I know most of these, but I don’t know if I can do all of them. If it showed me how to practice it, that would be cool”
Home Screen and Finding a Route
Core Question: Does the navigation feel intuitive to users?
The home screen features ways of finding specific routes at the gym. Users can navigate by the current level, a specific technique, or one level higher. The menu icon will open up to account and settings. The tab bar allows navigation to core features. Once in a route list, users can toggle the beta. Climbers that want to "flash" a route cannot look at beta, so the toggle is appropriate. Clicking on the tooltip opens up a pop-up prompt detailing out specific jargon or redirects them to the Tech Videos tab.
“Ok, so this would have a list of all the V1 routes. Is the card below it showing routes for specific techniques? I would be interested in that.”
“I’ve used Mountain Project before, and this is kind of like Mountain Project but for bouldering. That's awesome. I think selecting things on here feel way simpler though if it just remembers what gym you're at.”
Rating a Climb and Progress Tracking
Core Question: Does this help the user track their climbs smoothly?
This design skews the traditional language of "log" to "rate" as it subtly steers users away from feeling like each route is an impartial challenge they must overcome. Instead, the language helps users see routes as a puzzle that is designed and therefore open to feedback. In the Progress tab, users can see all previous ratings and the bar tracks the techniques they are using.
“So I can keep track of climbs for each route? I don’t know if I’ll use it after each climb though. Maybe, but it seems easy enough to use.”
“This seems really simple to do. I like that a lot. I would probably use it when I'm waiting around.”
Technique Videos
Core Question: Would users find videos of techniques helpful?
The Video tab hosts all the videos for specific techniques. Watching videos should help users understand fundamental climbing strategies that they can apply in their climbs.
“This is what I was looking for, like videos to explain stuff. This is great”
Final Prototype
Future Considerations
While the user tests suggest that the design is usable and the UX is successful, further iterations require a working app to solve an issue brought up by tester Rohan and Anqi.

Whether users are willing to be on their phones while actively focusing on a bouldering session is difficult to validate. There is some qualitative evidence that suggests a typical user would be willing to use their phone while climbing. Climbing sessions often involve a lot of in-between downtimes. Our testers mention using their phones while resting between climbs. While many gyms have lockers available, people often go with friends that will watch their things for them. So, it is not unreasonable to assume a climber will have access to their phones in-between climbs.

Another solution that is being worked on is using the Apple Watch. Since the Apple Watch can detect changes in height, this allows a corresponding app to send push notifications once it detects that a user has descended. This might also have issues as it can be risky to wear a watch while climbing, as falls often occur.
Lessons Learned
This was one of my first UX-centered projects, and the most challenging thing of transitioning from UI to UX was staying anchored to a single idea. Throughout this project, I constantly found myself referring back to the deliverables like the persona to stay grounded to not swerve off tracks and "feature creep." I gained a new appreciation for doing projects with an agile approach and making a minimum viable project.