Locals Only: Discovering the Underground

A UX case Study about bringing local word of mouth recommendations right to your phone


User Experience
User Interface
Spatial Experience


Lead Designer: Brett Sweeney
Art Director: Ashley Scrivener


Fall 2021

Case Study

"This app is where locals can discover new locations
and experiences right in their own neighborhood"

Concept Overview

“Bringing the word of mouth recommendations right to your phone”

Locals Only set out to create a mobile nightlife app created exclusively for locals to find restaurants and bars off the beaten path. This app is where locals can discover new locations and experiences right in their own neighborhood. Focusing exclusively on members of the community helps create a deeper connection to the neighborhoods they live in and promotes the local economy, by letting people discover new experiences that they may have not known about previously. 

Users of this app could search for things to do in their local area. From neighborhood bars to outdoor sightseeing. If they feel like they have a good suggestion for other locals they can post it to the map as well. Users could also contribute to the suggestions by sharing stories & tips for existing locations for users to get a better sense of these establishments or events. Bringing the “word of mouth” recommendations you would never get from mainstream search engines right to your phone.


Our challenge was to help connect the people who live in these neighborhoods and give them an opportunity to find new places they may not have heard about. This app can help facilitate a deeper connection to the neighborhoods these people love. Promoting exploration beyond the same establishments they go to all the time helps locals stay connected to the places they live. 

By creating an app that focuses exclusively on highlighting local businesses and things to do in their neighborhood Locals Only helps build a bridge between residents and their local business economy. Promoting these businesses to locals who may have not heard of it before helps local businesses flourish & generates new customers to the storefronts. When locals help lift one another up by promoting and sharing their experiences it will build a sense of pride in their local neighborhood.

"Locals Only set out to break down that barrier and give everyone
the access to be able to experience their neighborhoods in a new light"

Research Overview

Receiving our final prompt for Interactive Design class, UX Thinking for Spatial Design. We were tasked with designing an experience within a space. Through a lot of our preliminary brainstorming, we thought about our experience's moving to a new location. Especially myself being a transfer student to Temple University and how hard it is to get acclimated to a new area. Finding places to eat or fun things to do when I'm not studying was such a difficult thing to acclimate to. On such a small scale we were able to empathize with people all across the world moving to completely new places for new jobs and other life-changing events. 

Locals Only set out to break down that barrier and give everyone the access to be able to experience their neighborhoods in a new light. Locals Only would be able to reach everyone in every neighborhood, town, or city. To make sure this model can be adapted to each neighborhood effectively we decided to focus my research on learning more about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the area where we are currently a part of. 

Formative Research

Some primary research we did was learning about the possible pain points and achievable goals through a synthesis and system map of what someone would experience when going to the same bars and restaurants all the time. We were able to come to the conclusion that locals become fatigued by visiting the same places in their local area. 

This is something that helped us consider what this app could be. When someone becomes comfortable with the places they visit, they will not explore beyond what they already know and in turn, they will become fatigued with these places. Ultimately this does not promote local businesses to get more traffic with new customers, which is detrimental to the local economy. This fatigue in turn will not give any locals a sense of pride which may in turn, see local businesses shut down or residents moving out of the neighborhood. 

"Do you try to branch out and try new places
 that you've never heard of before?"

Ethnographic Research

When conducting secondary research we found it best to get a better sense of my audience by conducting ethnographic research with various people from different demographics. 

We were able to gain a lot of valuable insight.
An example of this was asking my interviewee, 

"When you go out, do you frequent the same places, or do you try to branch out and try new places that you've never heard of before?"

My interviewee responded,

"Usually I always eat at the same places because I know what I want and the staff knows how to make it well. I try not to risk it and go someplace that I have not already been to and know it will be good because this could be a waste of time and money. I do sometimes try new places if forced to, but I have my favorites and I stick to them."

Research Results

There was a lot of valuable research collected from this ethnographic research. We realized that there is a clear divide between people interested in learning more and people who were comfortable with going to the same places. What we learned from this was that people are afraid to branch out because they know exactly what they want and they know the exact same experience every time.

This helped me reconsider Locals Only business model to not only help people find new places but also help the users of this app feel more comfortable opening up to trying new things in their neighborhood as well.

"Wanted this to appeal to users who want to help
 create a sense of pride in their local community"

Target Audience

Thinking of who to design for and market our product to we came to the conclusion that our target audience should be local residents of any major city and town. In these major cities and towns, we wanted this app to appeal to users who are willing to come out of their comfort zone when it comes to exploring their neighborhood. 

We also wanted this to appeal to users who want to help create a sense of pride in their local community as well. These residents would have the characteristics of someone who strive to find new places and someone who wants to build a deeper connection to the city or town they are currently living in. 

Locals Only Screens

Brand Identity / Design Process

"What makes this different than any other apps on the market?"

Design Approach

Our approach to this design was working within a brutalist & anti-design style. Our choice for this was for us to branch out of our comfort zones creatively and do something we've never done before. With brutalist style, a lot of emphases is on the design since it's scaled down to the most basic roots of design.

Considering the concept for the overall prompt we wanted to utilize this style to emphasize the "underground" aesthetic that Locals Only users would appeal to. This helped us connect with the potential audience of this app more. To have a clear distinct aesthetic that differentiated the common visual experience from other apps was something that we really were conscious about when designing for Locals Only

Having this app stand out from the common business and restaurant finder crowd of applications was the most important piece of the design. We asked, "What could I be doing to stand out from the crowd, what makes this different than any other apps on the market?"

Style Guide

Bringing all these brand identity pieces together we created a style guide to use when designing the interface of Locals Only. Having a solid style guide helped us make quick decisions and save time when designing the interface by already having a solid foundation to fall back on.

Using Research for Design

Paper Prototyping

Utilizing the inexpensive method of paper prototyping we were able to express our ideas quickly and effectively with our team for critique. Using the paper prototyping method before any design was done helped me think outside the box of what is capable through design. 


Since this app was going to be designed in a brutalist & anti-design style we needed to make sure the paths the users could take were clear and concise. We invested time in mapping out the user flows of the application to ensure users could navigate seamlessly.

We designed what we thought would be the most important screens a user would need to have a positive experience using Locals Only.  Many of the decisions we made for our wireframes were informed by our research. Including having a section where users could narrow down the search depending on what neighborhoods the user wanted to stay in.

Mobile App Interface

Screens for locals only

Searching The Map Journey

When designing Locals Only journey we wanted to make two distinct paths that users could have a place to search for all the recommendations & have a place to upload their recommendation for locals to search for.

This is the journey of how a user would search for something to do in their local area. They would be treated with some filters to help the app give them a better idea of what to display. It would give them a large map to view & search through their results. 

Mobile app experience for searching the map

Mobile app experience for searching the map

Adding To The Map Journey

This is the journey of how a user would add a recommendation for something to do in their local area. They would be treated with some filters to help narrow down the results for users searching. Then the users would have to add the address so users could find it on the map. They are then able to add a photo, add the name and a story or tip to this location for users to see.

We wanted to make sure there was a section where users could upload stories and tips because we felt as if those stories would help others when deciding on where to go. They could recommend a dish from the restaurant or a possible drink to try when they are there. We wanted this to be about building a community

Mobile app experience for adding to the map

Mobile app experience for adding to the map


Working on this project helped us gain a lot of design knowledge when it comes to User Experience and how to use design to create an experience that is accessible and is completely unique. 

Our main takeaway was not being afraid to push the boundaries of what UX Design could be. Working in such a limited color palette and 1 typeface was no easy task and proved challenging. This helped me exercise my skills in informational architecture, typographical hierarchy & design thinking. Using our foundation in design to help create a clear and concise visual direction that stood out from the crowd helped us exercise our design thinking and ability. Being able to take that clear direction and utilize it into an experience for everyone was a great way to think about every experience in design. 

We found the importance of usability testing with our peers and professor. Being able to critique this piece and create something better and also taking critiques into consideration when designing. If we had not workshopped this idea with our professor, we would have not come to the same conclusion as we did. Being able to bounce ideas with someone else helped us push the limits of our design.


Lead Designer: Brett Sweeney
Art Direction: Ashley Scrivener
Class: Interactive Design: UX Thinking for Spatial Design 
Institution: Tyler School of Art and Architecture — Graphic and Interactive Design

Using Format