-Creative Wanderer App
This project is part of my dissertation for PhD in geography at UCDavis. Nikki Yang, a junior in landscape architecture and sustainable environmental design major in UCDavis is assisting me with this project. The goal of this project is to develop an app to teach spatial concepts such as Environmental Justice by using films to young people. the app aims to:
-Bridge the gap between theories of spatial sciences and digital practices (such as digital mapping)
- Empower young people and prepare them to participate in planning and designing their communities by raising their spatial knowledge.
The project is supervised by Professor Patsy Eubanks Owens.
My Role: Product designer and researcher
Timeline: January 2020-June 2022
Research Method: -Textual analysis- In-depth interviews, Survey, Competitive analysis
Research Type: Exploratory UXR
Current mobile mapping application trends in the community planning or mapping industry are mainly confined to navigating physical geographical features, entertainment through map-based gaming, or mapping of novels or movie locations on interactive maps. The new concepts of spatial turn have not been reflected in these apps. We argue that connecting theoretical trends to digital practices can create a more engaging as well as pedagogical experience for users.
Initial Research: Where Does the Idea Come From?
In the mid-twentieth century, spatial theories went through a humanistic turn in response to failures of the positivistic top-down approach in explaining space and its social and cultural complexities. By then, several social theorists developed their thoughts around space and human subjects to explain this complexity. These notions led to the emergence of new subfields in geography called “film geography'' and “literary geography” and soon gained in popularity among general education courses in departments of geography or film/ humanities studies world-wide. In recent years, computational criticism and Geoweb technologies have also revolutionized spatial humanities education. In addition to geographical concepts, these courses include many aspects of the relations in space, including human-man relation or man-environment relation, etc., which were barely addressed in traditional geography courses. However, a review of employing geo-web technologies in film geography practices reveals that these practices have mostly remained limited to isolating 'geographical' passages from novels or movies. This paper proposes an app that bases films to explain environmental justice to young people with a spatial lens.
-Extensive text analysis
1- User survey among end users (young people)
2-Competitor analysis/ Expert interviews
4- Extensive user interview
We posted a survey in Qualtrics and asked young people -freshman or sophomore students- in UCDavis- about what they think of critical spatial thinking and what they expect from our app. 84 students filled the questionnaires. The results have been shown in the charts below. We found that there is a need for improving critical spatial thinking.
1. Competitive Analysis
We interviewed competitive landscape by conducting interviews with the app developers. We employed SWOT analysis to explore strengths and opportunities in using movie or novel-based mapping apps. We found that the main aim of these apps is to entertain users by mapping the location of films and novels accompanied by the plot of the movie or the story. We learned that some engage users in different ways (by adding information, using VR, AR, adding music and voice), while some only focus on texts and visuals.
2- In- depth Interviews
We conducted in depth interviews with facilitators, young people, and educators (experts in the field).
What we learnt: With interviewing experts, we understood about the content of the app and that we should narrow it down. We also became aware of the connections between geography colleges and schools. We also found more about the child/young people friendly apps
Recruiting Participants for user interviews
We recruited participants through our Network (I already knew some facilitators-from my previous projects- in Vacaville and also other facilitators and non profits working with youth such as Yplan) our research (we searched for youth advocacy, youth activists, teachers in geography, and found their contact address, we made a google sheet with the name of the participants, contact address and their scheduled interview time. We interviewed 16 participants for 40 minutes over zoom. we then sumed up our the result of interviews in an affinity map:
What we learned: We found that there is a need to raise young people’s spatial awareness. Especially during the pandemic, the need and interest in using digital platforms has grown exponentially. Also, we learned that using films in teaching spatial concepts can be engaging for young people. We also found that spatial science is a broad concept and we should focus on one study area. We understood environmental justice is now a popular topic.
Based on what we learned from the interviews, and interviews, we also reframed research problem statements to get a more clear understanding of our users' pain points. We reframed our question in:
Environmental justice is a spatial concept that includes many different aspects. Realizing environmental justice requires the participation of all groups of people. Young people—as an underrepresented group—need to learn about the complexities of environmental justice to help build it in their communities. Digital technologies can empower underrepresented groups in learning environmental justice. However, map-based apps have mostly served for entertainment or touristic purposes.
We used "How Might We"(HMW) framework to brainstorm solutions
· How might we gather and organize information to design the content of the app?
· How might we connect theories of spatial environmental justice to digital mapping practices?
· How might we keep users engaged in working with the app?
· How might we address different skills for critical spatial thinking?
Then we brainstormed some opportunity areas:
-There is an opportunity to use spatial concepts such as environmental justice in a structured way in an app. Since according to the interviews, educators of the related field said that young people’s critical spatial thinking needs to be improved, and young people told us they wanted to know more about interdisciplinary concepts such as sustainability and environmental justice.
-There is an opportunity to encompass interactive maps with different layers of spatial information in the proposed app, since according to the interviews, educators told us young people need to improve their mapping skills to participate in community planning projects.
Low fi prototype
To design the content of the app and organizing the information, we reviewed 25 university course syllabi related to film geography. Then, we used Henri Lefebvre's trilogy to organize and code the syllabi. Lefebvre is one of the main philosophers whose ideas highly influenced spatial turn in geography. His trilogy has been referred to by many of his fellow urban planners, designers, and experts in related fields in explaining spatial sciences. His trilogy includes:
is the space that has been designed by planners, policymakers, and engineers. These practices include codes, maps, and plans. Some modules are politics and power, displacement, and marginalized groups.
is the space of everyday lives, spaces which people remember or recall. Some modules are speed, gender, space, diversity, and inclusion.
is the space of freedom, spaces of imagination, or space of resistance against authorized power. Some modules are strolling, alienation, and contradiction.
We chose the name Creative Wanderer since wandering refers to the act of going to different places. The app aims to provide a “pedagogical” journey in an amusing and engaging way for the users.
To test our prototype, we conducted usability testing with environmental studies educators, and young people in different majors (18-25 years old). To have an inclusive sample, we had people from different races and genders. Usability testing was conducted using Zoom and asking the participant to share their screen and think aloud while completing tasks in the app. Some of the results are:
The content of the app: Some people needed to review the explanations for the Lefebvre trilogy when they were reviewing the movie. The amount of content was sufficient for the users to answer the questions.
Interaction: Some people said the interaction could be more engaging; for instance, the maps could include photos and texts with them. we also should think more about gamifying the app. Including excerpts of films or interaction with games can make young people more engaged with the app.
Features: we found that current interaction is a bit confusing, and we should value consistency in the buttons. We also learned that we should include a connection to social networks. We are still doing our prototype testing for developing the high-fi prototypes. Some people said some of the screens had too much text. Some of the young people said they expected a call-to-action button guiding them on how they can contribute to overcoming the California water war
High fi - prototype
This project is still ongoing. As we are moving forward, we find it more interdisciplinary and related to different realms such as education, geography, social sciences, computational criticism, digital humanities, and design. We have had several iterations to give our users a more enriching journey.
The other thing we learned is that although our end users are young people, our customers are governmental departments, nonprofits working with young people, universities, and local organizations such as REACH youth coalition, or YPLAN. We are now working on testing our lowfi prototype and developing our B2B model for commercializing our idea and also doing our third round of customer discovery.
This project was accepted for the Bay area I-Corps program and Bigbang cohort in 2021 at UC Davis. We also participated in the Big Ideas Contest. During these workshops and a series of mentorship sessions with people in engineering, business and marketing, design, startup owners, and business professors, we received a lot of valuable feedback. We could learn more about the business side of my idea, doing customer discovery and narrowing down the content of the app
What I learned as an architect and UX researcher and designer in this project are:
-Design is a learning process
I grew my skills in user experience design and research. As an independent designer and researcher for the project, I learned about every step of design research, and how design thinking can lead to make a better digital platform.
-Mentoring is a practice of learning
As I mentored my student in this project, I also improved my skills in teaching UI/ UX and doing research.
It was also a great experience to see the product from the lens of an end-user as a designer and researcher of the project.
-Design is an interdisciplinary field
Once more, it confirmed to me that designing a product is an interdisciplinary work. With this project, I learned more about how business goals and user goals overlap with each other.
-Visual aspects are also important
I also learned how the visual aspect of the design influences people's interaction. It can also lead to more coherent information architecture.
-Researchers should be prepared for the surprises
There are many stages in the design in which you become surprised and you should go back and reiterate the design research.