UpZone: An interactive card game to support upcycling

Upcycle (verb): reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
Summary & Outcome
The purpose of UpZone is to address the barriers people face when upcycling everyday household items, and encourage this sustainable practice through a fun and collaborative game. We designed the entire card game, and a video prototype for the same.
5 months
Aug '21 - Dec '21
UX Researcher & Designer
My Contributions
Research: Conducted user interviews, surveys, play-testing sessions, rapid discount evaluations, and content.

Design: Visual design, visual symbolism, constructing a design language, illustrations, video prototyping, and physical prototyping

Team: Yugvir Parhar, Madeleine Paulsen, Taylor Bunge, Yufeng Ritz Wang
game design
visual design
product conceptualization
survey design
sustainable design
experience design


This project was part of a semester long project where we applied foundational design principles backed by evidence and research under the theme of sustainability and promoting everyday sustainable behavior.

The Problem

Initial research into the umbrella of sustainability led us to look into recycling; however, I quickly realized that upcycling as a practice conserves more energy, less water expenditure, and produces fewer emissions than recycling.
Cooleaf, an employee engagement platform, wishes to integrate additional multimedia into their platform (photos, videos, live, etc.) while keeping accessibility and  user engagement at the forefront.

The Solution

Introducing UpZone, the upcycling card game that integrates reusable items into a fun, collaborative game accompanied by a phone app that supplements the upcycling process.

The Artifacts



User Research

Understanding the Users

who was upcycling, we found out that “Family and Children” was the most common theme to emerge in an online upcycling community (literature here: Netnographic survey of upcycling) After researching numerous Mom and Dad upcycling blogs, DIY dad youtubers, and scientific literature on upcycling, I identified parents as our specific target group.

I created visualizations for the user characteristics - personality, beliefs and motivations, in order to immerse ourselves and understand them, and the user goals.

User Goals & Research methods

I defined some user goals that were validated using research methods like surveys and interviews. In-depth explanations and research behind user goals can be found here: User goals. My instruments, and rationale for survey questions can be found here: Survey questions rationale, and finally, the Interview guide can be viewed here: Interview guide. The team then analyzed the gathered data through affinity mapping until we had clear functional and non functional requirements for our design.

We then analyzed the gathered data (106 survey responses,a nd 4 interviews) through affinity mapping until we had clear functional and non functional requirements for our design.


Design Requirements

After analyzing our data, we came together to brainstorm design implications from our findings. We chose the most compelling implications, and formed these design requirements. All findings can be viewed in detail here: Findings for UpZone.

Design Implications

Functional Requirements

Non - Functional Requirements


Design Ideas

Ideation & Brainstorming

I 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.
Design ideas for UpZone.

Why UpZone?

We went through a breadth of ideas to solve this problem and support upcycling within households, but in the end decided to go for UpZone (formerly named, "Cards for Humanity") because it satisfied all our design requirements and addressed the maximum number of user goals.
- Being Economic (players are reusing materials, therefore, don’t need to buy new).
- Valuing Environmentalism (provides environmental feedback, education lending to eudaimonic well-being by virtue of environmentalism).
- Personal Expression (players make projects prompted by the cards - allows them to be creative with their projects).
- Family Time (This game affords multiple players and is designed to be a fun activity the whole family can enjoy).

We then excitedly started prototyping.



Iteration 1

We started off by coming up with a game structure, logic, and values that we wanted the game to embody through its play.

Decision: I decided on several mechanisms to ensure that people assuredly end up with upcycled products when they play the game. To accomplish that, I employed competitiveness in the game. Players would compete against each other to build the best upcycled project.

Iteration 2

After determining a basic gameplay and structure, I decided to get feedback from users in the target group as well as colleagues who are interested in upcycling. I quickly 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:  Changed the game mechanics so that everyone comes together to build one upcycling project, and designed the rules such that everyone is involved in the upcycling activity!


Presenting UpZone!

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

The rulebook can be viewed below, courtesy of Madeleine Paulsen and Taylor Bunge

The accompanying app serves as an extension of the game. Find hi-fidelity screens below, courtesy of Yufeng Ritz Wang.

Visual Design Rationale

I developed the design language that was used throughout the game's experience.


Discount Evaluation

Due to time and availability constraints, we opted to perform discount evaluations for UpZone. Find details about the evaluation here: Discount Evaluation for UpZone

Phase 1: Video Prototype & Content Analysis

Users were shown the video prototype, then asked to fill out an AttrakDiff Survey along with open ended questions to gauge their overall grasp of the concept and its attractiveness to them.

Finding 1: The concept for UpZone has a high attraction rating. The participants rated the attraction an average of 2.18 on a scale of -3 to 3 which reveals a high perceived likability of the concept for UpZone
Finding 2: UpZone was perceived as task-oriented (highly usable in accomplishing user goals).

Phase 2: In-Lab Playtest and Semi Structured Interview

We asked the participants to walk us through how they would go about playing the game in order to better understand their natural interactions with the game, and to measure how simple and effective the instructions for UpZone were.

Finding 3: The game instructions (instruction manual) needs more clarity in terms of readability as well as game rules.
Finding 4: The visual design on physical cards has the potential to be more engaging (like Augmented Reality).
Finding 5: Users enjoyed the game as a way to get started with their upcycling project, and perceived the game as a tool for education about the environment, and upcycling.