Cognuxant Interactions Final Poster

The 2014 HCDE Open House and Capstone event was a great success last night. I was so busy talking to people and looking at my classmates amazing posters that I forgot to take pictures! Fortunately the HCDE department had a professional photographer working the room, so hopefully I can add some pics soon.

My final poster design is below (click on it to open the full pdf file). My goal was to convey the feeling of the busy public urban space that I examined for my capstone project.

HCDE-MS-Capstone-Oldham-poster

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Evaluating the experience

I came full circle in my project this week and went into the wild, once again talking to users about what would change the way they walk through a busy urban space. I got vastly different opinions! So context is key, and I realize that I need to create a more interactive prototype to elicit more useful data, and will have to continue my evaluation period into next week.

Overall, the capstone experience has been a bit of a roller coaster for me and I feel like I’ve only just begun to get real insights into how to apply user centered design process to public spaces. Although I very much wanted to have a final design and prototype for an interactive system, I realize that researching and developing a framework for discovering the complexities of the user in a public space may be the real outcome of this project. In retrospect, I wish I had conducted some qualitative research with designers AND users to evaluate the framework I created for designing interactives in a public space and to assess some of the readings and patterns that other researchers have created. Much of the work in this area comes from museum designers, public hacktivists and landscape architects and it’s been exciting to take those viewpoints and correlate them with the UCD process.

Maybe the fact that I’m currently taking a course in empirical research has influenced my viewpoint for this project—what was intended to be a hands-on project ended up morphing into a more academic exercise. I’m just beginning this journey and will continue to update this blog and work on my final deliverable.

Mobile App Mockup

Here are some screens of the high fidelity Axure mockup that I showed to users in the park.

minimal-mobile-interactions

Design & branding for final steps

I spent some time this week preparing the final slides and poster for the capstone, thinking about how to present my capstone designs and findings. Having compiled a lot of research, viewpoints, ideas and artifacts, I need to craft a coherent and concise story to tie these threads together and believe that designing a clear brand can help focus that story.

cognuxant-logo-blog

When deciding on an overarching theme for these final documents, I had to think back to the original formation of this capstone project in February and that team’s main research questions:

How can we design a way for people to interact with each other in public spaces and how can we encourage people to learn from their physical environment?

My goal in proposing this concept was to find ways to make people in an anonymous and shared urban space to look up from their smartphones, to break out of their reveries and to-do-lists, so to interact with the physical environment by seeing what a beautiful and unique space exists in from of them. After looking at existing projects and conducting field work to determine user needs, I saw that there was a need to look at user interactions in both a personal and universal way.

cog-interactions-futura

The original team was called AwareSquare and it suited that project, but I started playing with the word “cognizant” which seems more abstract and deeper than the word “aware”. Are we cognizant beings in every space, do we own our interactions in public, and do we acknowledge those of others? Since my tagline from the beginning, UX for Public Spaces has been about considering the user experience in public areas, I played with the spelling of cognizant merged with various user centered terms and generated COGNUXANT as my project title. I’m also considering CogniSpace as a name.

capstone-poster-roughI want the feeling of the simple space that the user can connect with, but I’ve also examined the feeling of a busy space where one can find a new type of interaction or connection with others in the space. I’m still working on the logo and style, but I’m less concerned about a distinct logo and more about creating a poster that will succinctly tell a viewer about my project recommendations and the possibilities that exist in our environment. The logo designs are simple and sparse and hopefully will convey a sense of space and curiosity.

I have a rough layout of my poster, subject to change depending on the final logo/look/images I choose. The easiest way to work a poster is in thirds, so it’s a good starting point. I will spend some time soliciting comments and critiques of this name and designs as it’s a work in progress.

Respecting the relationship patterns in a public space

I did some research this week on how to evaluate designs to get user feedback in a public space and to narrow down concepts by establishing some guidelines.

First, I categorized the interactivity levels of each project from active, where the participant can control the interaction completely or can contribute to it in some way, to passive, where the user can only subtly affect the interaction by walking by or coming close to the object. An active example is being able to record a story or upload an idea about the park to a collaborative board, and an example of a passive interaction is walking by the Seven Hills obelisks and seeing a reminder that the sun is setting and the user can watch it set from the arch. I’ll be testing different way to describe the level of interactivity to people in the park and convey the physical experience so that I can get accurate assessments from the evaluations.

Establishing trust is important in active interactions and establishing comfort for users may affect adoption of the more passive projects. However, one thing I learned in my user research is that many interactive art pieces in the park have been rejected in theory, but are often embraced in practice. User testing will help me explore some evaluation options.

I also realized that I needed to determine more than my main user’s actions, I need to see how people surrounding the current user are interacting with the event. I found an interesting article about relationship patterns in public spaces (Mehrotra & Yammiyavar, 2013) that provides a great framework for the interactions between strangers. I don’t need to consider every pattern, but it will help me imagine how other actors in the space will view the installation. The Performer Spectator relationship in particular connects to my user research about how people will interact differently if they know or think someone is watching. The spectators need to be engaged in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the current or active user.


Mehrotra, N., & Yammiyavar, P. (2013). Facilitating Social Interaction in Public Space. In Intelligent Interactive Technologies and Multimedia (pp. 89-101). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Building an ideabook

I’m creating an ideabook to hold many of the concepts and research that will lead to my project’s final outcome. The goal is to design a book format where I can show the journey of my concepts in more detail, with some of the photos and images that will document each idea. The book needs to work well in PDF and screen format, and as a physical book that attendees at the final presentation can flip through while asking questions about the project. It’s possible that I will bring the book to future interviews, so it needs to be professional and beautiful.ideabook-layout-c

Because I’ll be including a lot of maps and drawings of the original space at Westlake Park, I wanted to design a horizontal design that would accommodate all the layouts needed to show each concept. I haven’t yet rebranded my project, so the layout needs to be simple and elegant enough to stand on its own.

I wanted color to be key to showing off my images and artifacts so the left hand pages have a field of color and will include mostly introductory imagery for the concept, leaving most of the explanatory text and sketches on the right hand pages. The pages will scroll vertically in the PDF, so the design needs to flow both ways.ideabook-layout-d

As I started to figure out what I wanted to put into my ideabook for my next milestone, I also thought about how the book would be displayed at the final presentations. I want people to be able to have a positive physical experience, similar to or better than to my final website portfolio. and to be able to browse through the book at each event to learn more about the design spaces and the process. Another benefit to sketching and visualizing the final presentation is that it will help me design my poster and slide deck to work seamlessly with the book and any other visual aids. capstone-table-layout

I originally intended to create a 3D model for the final presentation, but probably won’t do that now that I’ve focused more on a software interface that will let park users interact with a physical display in the park. But I would love it if whoever visits my table at the capstone event could get a clear picture of the incredible diversity of our public spaces in Seattle, and how we can use technology to better connect with each other.

Spaces of Opportunity

When I was reading about existing interactive and collaborative technologies for public spaces, I was struck by the term “spaces of opportunity”. Designer/researcher Rogério de Paula coined the phrase to consider how the built environment affords complex interactions among its elements and inhabitants, therefore creating new opportunities for users. This term can mean many things depending on the context, whiteboard-SD-apr21but I understood it as looking for unexpected ways people use urban spaces to discover interesting options for collaborative interactions.

After participating in a brainstorming session with another capstone group working on a similar project, I realized that the number of components within each concept made it challenging to develop a particular idea quickly. Not only did you have to ideate about where and how it worked, but the type of interaction and how users could contribute, etc. If I had another chance to ideate with a team, I might try two different processes: one to generate a lot of ideas without further scrutiny in each specific area and a second one to dig a lot deeper into each idea. I recall readings from our Theory of HCDE course that discussed about the pros and cons of including critical thinking during brainstorm sessions, and working on a physical interaction project seems like the perfect place to experiment with brainstorming styles.

Westlake-Park-site-plan-opps

Creating a framework for this helped my separate out the physical aspects of the space from the interactions, and I hope this will lead to an app design that is multi-modal and can work with many different projects types. To evaluate the best spaces for an interactive experience and breakdown the various elements of an effective interactive in a public space, I started by identifying the components that have to be considered for a concept to be rejected or evaluated and developed further.

PLACE | The physical space and its potential for an interaction

  • Meaning given by users to the place or a place within a place
  • Unused or under-used spaces
  • Display area and physical constraints of the space

INPUT | How a user can add to something or collaborate with someone

  • User movement, gestures and position
  • Content generation like text, drawings or photos
  • User choices like adding from a predetermined list, voting in a poll

OUTPUT & FEEDBACK | What actually happens as the user interacts

  • Before or as the user approaches, the original state
  • During the user interaction
  • Final feedback at the end of the user engagement

SENSORY EFFECTS | How to get a user’s attention without overwhelming the user

  • Light can be more effective at night, but can be used in conjunction with motion
  • Sound is economical, but competes with the many different city sounds
  • Motion is very appropriate for outside spaces, great potential
  • Visual displays may be less likely to get attention from a park goer, but has unlimited options

SITE CONSTRAINTS | This can eliminate concepts but can also lead to creative solutions

  • Privacy concerns, especially with children and vulnerable populations
  • Traffic noise and headlights
  • Safety for all in the park and on surrounding streets
  • Visibility, will enough users see the project

TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS | The mechanical issues and choices

  • Hardware needs to be robust and inexpensive
  • Software needed to interact with hardware
  • Network and wi-fi availability
  • Power requirements and access

I think that I may be able to create a physical spaces design cookbook with these elements, will have to see where further investigations lead me!

Anatomy of an urban park

wet-westlake

Westlake Park and Center is an urban park in the heart of Seattle’s downtown core, and has been a popular place to hold rallies, protests, marches, sports and musical events since before it was opened in 1988. The goal in proposing to use this dense urban area was to build upon Seattle’s rich history, and design a relevant and useful interactive element to give additional depth and meaning to a public space. It might be as simple as providing regular park users an opportunity to learn more about the park and their environment, or it could be an interactive element that help give citizens a voice in the park.

The park is only one tenth of an acre, a small, triangle-shaped park maintained by Seattle Parks & Recreation, bordered on the west by Fourth Avenue, by Pine Street to the north and Pike Street to the south. It’s surrounded by buildings of all eras, from the 1910 Seaboard Building (now mostly residential condos) to skyscrapers and retail buildings built in recent decades. These buildings provide a rich texture and backdrop to the patterned brick and trees of the park.

tile-fish-westlake-park

This tiny park is home to a surprising number of permanent and temporary artworks. The original 1988 design by Robert Maki and landscape architect Robert Hanna include a majestic 24 foot tall arch, a 64 foot long interactive play fountain, and a series of seven iconic stone sculptures. Titled “Westlake Star Axis/Seven Hills”, the permanent and functional art structures unite the triangular space of Westlake Park and are intended evoke a civic forum from Roman times. The unusual pattern of the granite pavers echo the angular designs of a Salish Indian basket weave pattern, and include bronze embossed tiles that tell stories of Seattle.

Temporary Artwork, i.e. Blue Trees and Gold Men

In 2012, Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, painted the 24 central tree trunks a bright blue, part of an international art project to raise awareness of deforestation and it’s impact on the environment. A number of Seattle residents were originally outraged by the art project, but many survey participants stated that they missed the blue trees and the ambiance that they radiated in the park.

Another project that I found that users remembered fondly were the gold and silver statues from the temporary exhibition by Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir called Borders (2012). The installation featured androgynous human-sized statues that sat on park benches, stood by the transit stop and mingled with park users.

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Image by Victoria Schoenburg, Center City Parks Initiative Manager

Site Plan

I contacted Kim Baldwin, a project manager with Seattle Parks, to get site drawings to help us analyze and design for the space. Since the drawings for the park and Westlake Center were hand drawn in 1986 before computer CAD programs were common, I ended up calling Mithun, the landscape architects who worked on the Children’s Play Area in 2013, who had turned the hand drawn plan into CAD files for the south part of the park. Using satellite photos and good old fashioned measuring tape, I drew up a fairly accurate scaled drawing of the current Westlake Park site plan. This will be useful for calculating exact placement of prototypes and for estimating technology needs for the physical space.

Spaces of Opportunity

1. Buildings—permanent cityscape
The dozen or so buildings that surround Westlake Park add a lot of urban texture to the park. In some cases they add design opportunities for interactive elements. One of the most obvious and enticing to the research team was the unobstructed angled surface of the Nordstrom Building above the distinctive round window that once offered a peek into Nordstrom’s famous shoe department. It now is viewable directly behind the Children’s Play Area and from the event area of the park, and may be a prime display space.

Westlake-Park-site-plan-zonesActivity zones based on observations. Blue indicates organized play areas.

2. Fountain/Arch/Sculptures/Paving—permanent park hardscape
According to the Seattle Parks and Recreation website, “For Maki, the precise angles created by the sculptural elements, running either parallel or perpendicular to the adjacent streets, are important to the meaning of the overall design. Depending on where visitors to the park stand, their relationship to the multiple sight lines and angles creates a shifting field of vision, allowing for new configurations of the park’s sculptural elements and the surrounding cityscape.” These sculptures present areas where interactive elements would be easily seen and accessed by park users, and are iconic and robust enough to withstand simple messaging.

3. Trees, plants—permanent natural softscape
The honey locust trees of Westlake Park are not only an important sculptural part of the original park design, but also provide shade and a natural element, softening the hard edged urban park. The only other natural plantings are flowers in circular concrete planters, designed by Maki to work with the designs on the fountain and arch.
We could never compete with the Blue Trees installation (referred to elsewhere in this report), but the tree branches could provide a place to install sensor and/or projection equipment.

4. Artwork – temporary hard/softscape
Seattle Parks has a few strategies to create engagement by adding temporary visual art installations, such as the summer programs in conjunction with Seattle’s Office of Art and Culture, and the busker program, which pays musicians to play in Seattle city parks for $50 day.

Read my preliminary user research report as a PDF here: Westlake Park User Research Report – 2014