Parks and recreation

Your local parks and recreation department handles a lot more than just the neighborhood pool. Rec agencies are in charge of sports leagues, after-school programs, recreation centers, events, parks, forests, lakes, and even golf courses. Some even manage recreational licensing and hunting reports. Despite the wide array of functions these departments provide, they frequently use a myriad of outdated applications delicately strung together to make things work.

The design team at Accela saw this and knew there was an opportunity here to streamline these processes and allow these teams to focus on their communities. Leading a design team of two researchers and three product designers, I set out to investigate these problems.

Discovery research

Discovery research

Is this actually a problem? How does it impact users? What is the full context?


We interviewed over 55 citizens, reviewed five different government issued "Requests for proposals" (RFPs), and visited six different parks departments throughout the country, including San Francisco, Salt Lake City, City and State of New York, all in order to fully understand the opportunity.

We quickly discovered a vast array of unmet needs in the civic tech space specific to the parks department.

Large array of insights

This robust dataset identified a variety of distinct opportunities for the business to explore in this space.

Within the research effort, I identified high level trends and assigned them to a researcher or designer. I enabled them to explore the data in conjunction with business development and product leadership.

We started with a survey in order to gather quantitative data around what package metadata was most important. We asked users to self-select the package format they were both familiar with (up to 2). After self-selection, they were provided with a list of metadata specific to that package format in a random order, asking the participant to stack-rank by order of importance. We concluded the survey by asking if any data they thought was relevant was missing or if they had any other thoughts. This data would answer the “What?” as in “What data is most important?”

Explored with business development and sales

Partnering with business development, we explored the different problem spaces we discovered in the research.

Comparing those insights to market data and sales opportunities, we identified areas of opportunity to explore as product options.


As one of the first cross-functional exploration projects, the design team partnered seamlessly with business and product development to research opportunities in the parks and recreation space.

Our collaborative effort led to 14 identified business areas, each backed by a combination of market and user data. As we moved forward, all of the work in the parks and recreation space at the company would be backed by user data.


research participants


RFP points reviewed


potential business opportunities

Collaborative design

Collaborative design

How can we solve the problem? Is the design accessible?

Natural beauty

Without a doubt, the strongest asset most park departments have is the beauty of nature. From the start, we focused on creating flexible designs that emphasized natural beauty and relied less on expensive copy or marketing assets.

Accessibility at the forefront

As a government agency, all of these projects needed to meet specific accessibility requirements, known as AAA Compliance.

As a design team, we leaned into high contrast UI, allowing more people to enjoy the parks and the resources they provide.

As an added bonus, we learned through testing that many users use these resources outdoors. This meant our designs needed to be easily legible even on the sunniest of days!

Low level of effort

With a majority of Parks and Recreation agencies with tight funding, they depend on revenue with a limited budget.

We designed solutions that focused on enabling sales without requiring a full marketing team behind it. We reused existing components to help agencies launch their new sites swiftly.

Design results

The designers did a great job creating beautiful designs focused on natural assets while allowing agencies to implement their own unique brand. Combined with earth tones, many parks’ sites could be improved utilizing the pre-built data structures departments were already required to have.

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"It was a great experience working with Iain.

He has been a dependable ally, an effective communicator, a manager who pushed his team beyond their limits, and a lot more!"

- Harish, Senior User Experience Designer
User validation

User validation

Problem solved? Is it usable?

Connected to agencies

Throughout the design and development process, we stayed connected with a variety of departments to ensure the designs being created met their needs.

We explored design concepts in workshops, created small moderated testing research sessions, and crafted design demonstrations for agencies, our potential buyers.

Gorilla testing

After creating design concepts, the research team went out with tablets and clipboards to see how users in the real world would respond to several of our concepts. We visited parks, playgrounds, public pools, and even park-ranger stations to test our solutions in realistic situations.

On top of solution validation with real users, we were able to further validate and hone our parks-based persona.

Empower execution

Empower execution

How do we build this? Can we iterate while still delivering value?

Data-driven infrastructure

To lower onboarding costs for new customers, we partnered with engineering to build the site infrastructure using the existing data.

While this took more effort up front, it allowed many new customers to utilize the new product offering without a large investment on their part.

Flexible and repeatable

We created custom red-line and patterns to share with engineering. We built the designs in a scalable and flexible way with variables and constants.

We shared our thinking with how those variables connected to already available civic data. This empowered engineering to know what they needed to specify on their end versus variables that could be pulled directly from the agency’s data.

Measure results

Measure results

What value did we deliver? Is it being used? Did it change other behaviors?


Thanks to the user research, we were able to enable the sales team and validate new product lines for the business. We built prototypes that turned into fully resourced projects with customers ready and waiting. We solved some of the toughest problems these organizations face, prioritized based on user needs. The best part, hands down, was actively enabling agencies of all sizes to help citizens, enable joy, and protect the beauty of nature.


new product offerings


average RFP coverage


sales presentations

Scheduling tours

Creating a streamlined way for park visitors to learn about and schedule park events opens up yet another efficient revenue stream. We combined their existing scheduling and reservation data with an easy-to-create website template.

Recreational licenses

Many different green spaces require citizens to get licensed for specific activities: fishing, hunting, campfires, etc. This step ensures public health and safety for citizens and the ecosystem.

Creating an online portal enabled citizens to purchase necessary passes without needing to step foot in the office. This also opened the door to digital license implementations.

Hunting tags and harvest reporting

State and national parks have to delicately balance an entire ecosystem. They utilize hunting as a way of maintaining a manageable population size. This is managed by the agency providing "tags" equivalent to how much of the population needs to be removed to keep the ecosystem balanced. For rarer game, a lottery is held with many hunters submitting for a small pool of tags.

We helped bridge the gap between the agency and hunters by issuing e-tags, confirming receipt of a lottery tag, and a painless way to submit harvest reports.