Last year I graduated from university. I studied Interaction design and for my master thesis, I designed a vanlife App. During the time of working on my thesis, I lived mostly in my van.

So basically I wrote about vanlife during vanlife.

This was great and also a crucial part of the thesis because I got fully involved in the topic

In this post, I want to talk about the process of writing a thesis during van life and the obstacles I faced, because the open road is simply not a place for productivity. Also about the thesis itself and my future plans with it. Because as already mentioned I just made the design and concept and didn’t develop the app yet.

But let’s start at the beginning!

1. Why have I chosen this topic?

I already traveled a few years with a van and I always felt a need for a better app than the ones that are already out there. The topic was also a perfect combination of the 2 fields I am really into it, Design & Vanlife and so I decided to go for it.
And also it gave me a reason to travel in my van during the writing process.

2. The Ideation phase

Before I hit the road there was a lot to do concerning the direction of the app. What functions should be included and which not. How should it look like and what is the real need of vanlifers? One part to find this out was to set up a survey to get more in-depth insights of what vanlifers are really looking for in an app. Where are their problems during vanlife and most important, what are their needs.

I also did some research on Blogs and Instagram. Because there is a lot of experience out there from all over the world and this was also very helpful to get some insights of the life of other vanlifers.

The most important part here was truly breaking free from my own little bubble. Because for example, I don’t know how vanlife with children looks like, or when you travel with a dog or a larger van than mine.

So I tried to gather as much information to set the right direction for the App

With all this information it was time to move on to the next part

3. The Concept + Design phase

Here the fun part began! I first started to create a concept for the App.

This was also the time where I hit the road and as an effect, I started to get into some troubles. At first, I had to get used to working on the road and the daily changing surroundings. And it was not always easy to find spots with a good Internet connection, especially when I was in the mountains or not in Austria. Because I only had 6GB of roaming data too.

working in a van
working in a van

Also, my board electronics stopped working one time, but I managed to fix it. And when it became really hot outside my MacBook was throttling down and it felt like I could bake a pizza on it. And on top, the battery of the MacBook thing isn’t the best anymore so I struggled with powering this thing too. Especially when I stayed for a longer period of time at one spot, because my board battery was only re-loading during driving. I don’t have solar panels installed on my van yet. But nevertheless, I managed to design the first wireframes for the app and this was a big achievement because it was the first time where I could see getting the idea to life.

After the wireframe was ready I designed the user interface and created a first click prototype.

And with this, I went on to some testing!

4. The Testing

It was finally time to reach out to some people to test the key features and show them the app.

I wrote an interview-script and asked some vanlifers around me if they would help me with my project. Here it was pretty handy to be an actual part of this whole community to reach out to real people which the app is made for. The testing part was really interesting because it gave me a lot of insights on how people use their phones on the road and what information they really need and how it should be accessible within the app.

Vanlife App Dashboard
Vanlife App Dashboard

After the testing was done, I went back to refining my design and concept, created a new prototype, and reached out to more people to test it. I repeated this process several times.

Sometimes when I was on the road with some friends, I just handed them my phone with the prototype, gave them quick instructions, and after I had some insights I went back to my van and worked on the design.

In the end, I maybe should have done more testings, but there was a deadline coming closer and closer.

After the testing was done, the most stressful part began.

5. The Writing

Due to the fact that this wasn’t just an app project but a master’s thesis on a university, I also had to write a good amount of documentation about it.

The writing was the most stressful part for me about this because I had a hard time finding the right words and also doing this whole scientific work thing right.

Also, the large amount of the writing process felt in midsummer, because I had to hand in the thesis at the end of August. At this time my friends joined me and we started a little road trip through Austria. Which got me into trouble balancing the adventures with the thesis. Looking back, it might have been better not to go on this trip. But I also would have missed some pretty good times.

But I managed it on time, and I am happy about it.

Because WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY. I just got up earlier than my friends and I didn’t join every hike to work on the thesis

So here it is. 🥁

6. The final work

You might wonder why this doesn’t look like one of those standard master thesis. The reason is that I studied Design and so we also had to hand in a piece of work which represents the studies.

It has 134 pages and documents the design process, shows the app design, and also contains a little diary of my travels. And the cover shows my van.

I would love to show you this in more detail, but I want to keep it a secret until I finally launch the app which also leads me to the last part of this post.

7. What is next?

As already mentioned I want to develop this app …. On my own. I already did a Feasibility study as part of the thesis, so I slightly know what is ahead of me.

But I had no idea of developing an App until one month ago where I started an online course about it. I now know some basics about it but there is a long way to go.

So If you want to know how this will work out, follow me on Instagram or stay up to date here on the blog, because I will post some updates here about this process and many other topic, regarding vanlife. But no worries, it will not get too technical I just want to document the process.

If there are some questions left I would be happy to answer them here in the comments.

So thanks for reading!