Gear Swap

Jana Thompson
9 min readOct 4, 2021


Building an inclusive place to shop and socialize for outdoor gear heads

Co-created with MacKenzie Legg and Kelly Lynch

Note: this project was created to fulfill the requirements of the Prototyping class in our graduate program at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the spring semester of 2021.

All three of us on this project bonded on an issue: when we go into an outdoor shop, we often get ignored. For this particular course, we were given the task of creating an e-commerce site or app. We three all enjoy outdoor adventures in hiking, skiing, and kayaking, but found our experiences with many sites and shops lacking in variety and unwelcoming to us as women. We set out to create a new kind of experience in shopping for outdoor gear and along the way, also found a path to create a space for community as well.


Image by Kelly Lynch


While we began with a general idea of wanting to re-envision the e-commerce space and we wanted to source ideas from others to see what they wanted in not only a site or application providing outdoor gear, but what would inspire trustworthiness in such a company. For speed, we used a quick survey to gather data asking to primary questions:

  • What is your favorite online shopping experience and why?
  • Is there a site where you feel that you can trust the other users? If so, what aspects of that site enables that trust?

When people discussed their online shopping experiences, they discussed liking sites for various reasons such as ethics and ease of shopping experience, while also mentioning that they also liked shopping online for the variety that they couldn’t find locally, which was exceptionally important for outdoor gear.

Value proposition for Gear Swap

For sites that engendered trust, respondents discussed businesses that had good reputations and which had buyer protections in place for the importance of feeling secure in their purchases not coming from fradulent sources. Additionally, several respondents specifically named Poshmark as a trusted site because of its social aspect. You could see more information on what people had sold and had in their “closets” to indicate the type of person they were on the site, whether a casual user who only sold when they cleaned out their closet or a reseller, which influenced the trust level a person could have.

We then followed this up with the creation of three proto-personas, two buyers and one seller, with differing pain points and desires for such an app.

Three proto-personas created based on potential user survey


We drew on a wide range of sites for inspiration for the ideas we synthesized from what was expressed by respondents in our initial survey.

Sketches from the team on a map feature, a product listing, and a user profile

Affordability and Specificity

Several respondents to the survey noted that gear was often out of their price range, and others noted that, despite a high income, they often put off buying gear due to its expense. Finding affordable gear in one key place was something the survey data clearly indicated as a desire. While there are competitors such as the web site Gear Trade, there are differences that we believe would deliver value to users. We proposed to show comparison pricing for the items when new and possibly to similar items on the site as well. Additionally, we would offer a detailed search option for users and show how close of a match the item was to the user’s desired specifications.

In research through user forums, commenters noted that one problem with buying gear online rather than in person was the ability to know the details of the item. While part of this relates to trust (see Trustworthy Marketplace below), the devil is in the details to a serious Gear Head. Creating a site with details such as weight and intended season or type of use for products would no doubt delight the discerning Gear Head.

Trustworthy Marketplace

Based on our survey, one way to provide trust in a marketplace is to let buyers get to know the seller. Respondents noted that Poshmark has increasingly become a site for resellers rather than people simply cleaning out their closets like in the earlier days of the site. By creating profiles where sellers could share their favorite outdoor activities, the gear they use, and their favorite adventures gives a potential buyer trust in that the seller knows gear. Creating a social relationship of reputation with this profile, along with reputation scores such as those used by sites like eBay and Poshmark, enables the buyer to know the gear they are purchasing is coming from a person they can both trust as subject matter expert and trustworthy seller.

Situated Knowledge

Every new location provides a new adventure, but going into that knowledge is power. Hikers checking out a new trail, kayakers looking for a new quiet body of water to explore, or skiers wanting a new challenging run, all go to the Internet to check out what they need to know. By providing a map feature for the app, we hope to give potential users a place to go learn from local enthusiasts or people familiar with the area from former visits. Doing so builds yet again more community and trust among outdoor adventurers. This can also enable those who might have special concerns, such as women who might want to know more about the relative safety of a trail, to find out from people they can identify with the situated knowledge of an area.

Prototype and Testing

Our first step in our prototype was to develop our user flow with Whimsical, so that we could establish which screens were crucial to develop for the experience we wanted to convey in our design.

High-fidelity screens from the Gear Swap prototype

User Testing

After we developed our first high fidelity prototype using Figma, we ran our first two sets of user testing, one qualitative set of tests with Zoom and in-person interviews and one to test usability with Useberry. In our qualitative user testing, we interviewed seven users, 3 from the perspective of the buyer and 4 from the perspective of the seller. There were 10 steps per testing task. Our interviews followed a script where each participant went to fulfill a set of tasks, such as buying an item or listing it to sell, check their messages, look up the profile of another user, and go to the map feature and explore. After the participants completed the tasks, we then asked a set of questions about their experiences of the task and opinions of the prototype.

Affinity map for first round of user testing

There were several takeaways from the qualitative testing that translated into changes for the final prototype. The navigation bar had two issues: one, several of our original icons were confusing and the order of the navigation was confusing as well to users. We did a quick card sorting exercise with our testing participants via mobile to sort to make the order of the navigation bar more intuitive to users. Additionally, two users were frustrated by having no ‘x’ to mark an exit out of screens and we added this as part of the navigation. There was some confusion by some of the terms used in the prototype and descriptions, and we changed those as well.

Overall the response to the prototype were positive. Participants loved the novelty of the map feature and the fact that they could ask locals and people familiar with an area for details about new trails and areas. They also liked the social feature and that they could follow other “gear heads” and learn more about their adventures and their gear used in each new outdoor challenge.

“The platform is so gorgeous… I haven’t really seen anything like that. It’s so pretty and it makes you excited to hike and sell things. The map feature is really, really cool.” — podcaster and data scientist, New Orleans

Additionally, we had 39 participants in a user flow test with the prototype with Useberry. While the majority of participants (38 out of 39) managed to successfully navigate their way through the entire app, the heat map results showed that a mountain icon we liked visually confused people. Many participants tapped on it, but it led nowhere. This leaded to its removal in our final version of the prototype

Heat maps from user testing via Useberry

“I never buy secondhand. This app is unique, though, and I would use it because of its social and informative aspects.” — senior software engineer, Seattle

After updating our prototype based on the above feedback, we did a second round of user testing with five participants, with three of them acting as a buyer and two acting as a seller. We followed this with another round of questions and user feedback.

Affinity map for second round of user testing

“This is such a massive improvement in navigation over other secondhand e-commerce apps. It feels like also it would be much harder to have a fraudulent seller on here than on sites like eBay.” — eBay reseller, Austin

Our second round of feedback validated our changes to the navigation. All of the users noted that the navigation was clear to them. Like in the original testing, the participants were equally split in being confused by or really loving the pie chart like visual in the profile page. There was an updated map feature as well due to its lack of use or confusion from the first round of testing.

“The platform is so gorgeous… I haven’t really seen anything like that. It’s so pretty and it makes you excited to hike and sell things. The map feature is really, really cool.” — podcaster and data scientist, New Orleans

The personalization and community aspects of the site were the features that the participants noted as the most unique value in our prototype, and they noted that it made them feel more willing to trust buying on the app than on other apps as this community aspect made it feel more accountable than other reselling sites.


Video of run through the map, message, and listing features

“I’m generally pro-reuse as it’s the best way to create sustainable futures to keep the outdoors safe and this is a beautiful effort to create a pleasurable experience and a community focused on sustainability.” — artist, Boston

We finished our final prototype and presented it. We feel that we brought all of our secondary research with the direct competitor of Gear Trade, reseller competition such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay, and outdoor gear competition such as L.L. Bean and REI and deliver a new concept that none of the competitors could offer.

We set out to create a prototype for an app that was focused on sustainability, community, inclusion, and trust for the niche community of gear heads who love the outdoors. We delivered a prototype that users loved and said they would definitely use should we continue to develop it.

It’s undecided as of yet whether we will pursue this concept further. Check back in early 2022 when the three of us have time to consider future projects and in the meantime, look at our full prototype here.