UpZone: A Creative Sustainability Game

Designing a creative solution to help families reduce household waste.

My Role

User Researcher

The Timeline

12 Weeks
Aug 2021 - Nov 2021

The Team

Yugvir Parhar, Madeleine Paulsen, Yufeng Ritz Wang


This work was a part of a semester-long project with a focus on sustainability and the user-centered evidence-based design process.

In this project, our team researched parents who upcycle to design a solution that addresses the barriers they face when repurposing items in their home.

My Contributions

  • Designed surveys
  • Developed interview questions
  • Conducted semi-structured interviews
  • Analyzed data using affinity maps
  • Assisted physical and video prototyping
  • Created prototype evaluation protocol
  • Led play tests and rapid discount evaluation
Upcycle (verb): the process of repurposing waste or discarded material in creative and useful ways.

The Challenge

Upcycling extends the life of products which ultimately helps conserve energy, resources, and the environment through creativity and resourcefulness. Through research insights we discovered that many parents upcycle to reduce household waste, to spend less money on new items, and to engage with their children in a creative hands-on activity. However, many of these parents also face barriers to upcycling including a lack of time, supplies, and creative ideas.

Thus, we sought to create a solution that both reduces the barriers to upcycling and supports the existing practices and creative spirit of the upcycling community!

The Process

The Result

Our user-centered design process led us to the creation of UpZone: the upcycling card game + phone app that supplements a user's upcycling process by providing a fun, collaborative game for both children and adults!

In this game, players work together in 3 rounds to gather materials, brainstorm project ideas, and build new creations using materials found in and around their home. Players use the material, build, and action cue cards provided to inspire creativity in the upcycling process and learn about sustainability along the way!

Game Card Design

Digitally designed game cards with large bold text for legibility and bright nature-related colors relating to elicit associations with sustainability and the Earth

The Physical Game

Once printed, the game features a set of instructions, physical cards, game chips for keeping track of progress,

Game App

An extension of the game that features the rules and a timer for each round, and serves as a repository for additional information about each material, build, and action card for additional inspiration and facts about sustainability.

Playing UpZone

Players work together in a race to gather materials listed on Material cards from around the home, brainstorm what to create using Build and Action cards, and finally construct a new creation before time runs out!


Initial Exploration Research

We started off our dive into the world of upcycling with literature searches about upcycling, a competitive analysis of products and services that support or encourage upcycling behaviors, and an observation of online communities where people who upcycle congregate. 

We used these methods to discover who was upcycling and what were their user characteristics, or personalities, beliefs, and motivations. From this information we were able to construct visualizations of user characteristics and user goals. 

Key Findings

Understanding the Users

User Characteristics

We identified five personality attributes of parents who upcycle based on an in-depth study of upcycler types using the value-motivation axis system. Parents may be motivated by extrinsic (e.g. saving time, money, optimizing resources), or intrinsic (e.g. personal expression, sense of accomplishment, home beautification) motivations. At the same time, parents exhibit value orientations that range from universalism (e.g. reducing household waste in service of the environment) to particularism (e.g. focusing on self-satisfaction, personal fulfillment).

User Goals

We also found that parents who upcycle have specific environmental, economic, personal, and family goals they are trying to accomplish that our system must support. We later validated and updated these findings validated using research methods like surveys and interviews.


Problem Statement

Following our initial exploratory research we developed a problem statement:

"How might we design a system that both reduces barriers and supports the practices of parents who upcycle?"

To learn more about what those barriers and practices are, we set out to conduct additional research target at our user group: parents with children under the age of 18 who upcycle. 


Purpose: We surveyed parents who upcycle in order to validate the user attributes and goals we identified previously from literature and the observation of online communities.

Process: We distributed a 17 question survey to various Facebook and Reddit groups screening for parents with children under 18 who upcycle. We developed the questions to understand their current behaviors, attitudes, and needs.

Outcome: We received 106 survey responses and used the results to develop our design requirements.

User Interviews

Purpose: Semi-structured interviews allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of our interviewees’ upcycling behaviors as well as their motivations and goals when completing the activity.

Process: We recruited 4 parents with children under 18 who upcycle. We asked participants open-ended questions in a semi-structured format that enabled us to adaptthe conversation and dive deeper into individual responses.

Outcome: Interviewees discussed their previous upcycling projects in depth and were eager to share past projects they had worked on and the various uses of their upcycled creations. We were also able to gather qualitative information about the end-to-end upcycling process in much greater detail than the survey allowed, which helped inform our hierarchical task analysis. In addition, we were able to dive deeper into how parents upcycle with their children and how their children respond and engage with upcycling.


Survey Findings

Affinity Mapping

Design Requirements

From our survey and affinity map findings, we generated the following functional and non-functional design requirements to guide the design of our product.

Design & Prototype


Our team took inspiration from the Disney Creative Strategy for Brainstorming, which divided the process into three main stages - The Dreamer, The Realist, and The Critic. We diverged to generate as many outlandish or eccentric ideas as we could, then used our rational brains to criticize them together. Like so, we came up with 10 design ideas, and from those 10, we picked and chose the ones that seemed to most naturally fit all the design requirements.


After coming up with 30+ initial design ideas in our brainstorming session, out team narrowed them down and sketched out the top 10 designs.

Selecting our idea: UpZone

Why UpZone?

We decided to prototype and develop the concept for UpZone because it satisfied all our design requirements and addressed each of our target users' goals:

Economic Goal: players are reusing materials, therefore, can save money since they don’t need to buy new.

Environment Goal: the game provides an element of environmental education to players.

Personal Expression: players use prompt cards to make projects which affords user creativity and individuality.

Family Time: this game is designed to be a fun activity the whole family can enjoy!


We began our prototyping process by determining a basic gameplay, structure, logic, and the values that we wanted the game to embody through its play.

Prototyping process: Multiple Iterations
Our team went through several iterations of UpZone during our prototyping phase. In our first iteration, the object of the game was competitive, and players would compete against each other to build the best upcycled project. However, after soliciting feedback from users in our target group as well as colleagues, we realized that people do upcycling projects together, and introducing a competitiveness aspect would stray from the core value we were trying to embody; parents spending time with their children while imparting their skills, values, and knowledge using the game as a tool for the same.

Decision: Thus we decided to change the object of the game to a collaborative one so that everyone comes together to build one upcycling project, and designed the rules such that everyone is involved in the upcycling activity!

UpZone: A Creative Sustainability Card Game

Final Prototype
UpZone is a multiplayer card game that encourages creative reuse of everyday household items in a fun and collaborative way! You can see the video prototype explaining the rules below:

We created a rulebook to explain the setup and rules of each game round.

And we created a high-fidelity prototype app that features the rules and a timer for each round, and serves as a repository for additional information about each material, build, and action card for additional inspiration and facts about sustainability.


Discount Evaluation

Due to time and availability constraints, we opted to perform discount evaluations for UpZone. We created a two part evaluation plan in order to address both the concept of UpZone as well as it's playability.

We designed our discount evaluation and benchmark questions to measure and assess two main design requirements:

[1] The product should inspire creativity by connecting users to materials and ideas and [2] The product should be designed simply.

Phase 1: Video Prototype & Content Analysis

We first asked our four participants to watch our Video Prototype to both give them a walkthrough of gameplay and to gauge their overall grasp of the concept. After participants watched the video, we asked them to complete the AttrakDiff Survey to gauge the concept of its pragmatic qualities, hedonistic qualities, and attractiveness.

Key Findings

Phase 2: In-lab Playtest & Semi-Structured Interview

The in-lab playtest and semi-structured interview provided qualitative data in the form ofquotes. We then analyzed this data by systematically going through the transcripts andnotes and discovering patterns within the users’ responses and comments. We groupedtogether with the comments under similar themes. This process was repeated until wehad identified our design findings and implications.

Key Findings


Future Directions

The results from our prototype evaluation suggest that we still have room to continue iterating on the design of UpZone to improve its learnability, usability, and consistency. Our next step would be to complete an at-home play test of the game with parents and their children (limitation due to Covid-19).

Lessons Learned