Bridging 'bubbles' of social interaction with a crowdsourcing platform for print flyers.
As a team, we were asked to design a solution for Pittsburgh that imparts an 'impact' on its residents. We were encouraged to explore the city, and to find ways to integrate emerging technologies and the present city. Because the brief was pretty much blue sky, my team and I set out to figure out what we can make better with design in our local environment.
- Team: Collaborative student project with MacKenzie Cherban, Willow Yiliu Hong, Rossa Park, and Bori Lee
- Context: Interaction Design Studio (Fall 2016), Instructor Austin Lee
- Software Used: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe AfterEffects, Adobe Premiere, Omnigraffle, Sketch, InVision
- Credits: Mackenzie Cherban & Rossa Park for visual design, Bori Lee for postcard and user flow diagram
- Project Management: I maintained a comprehensive project plan to keep the team on track for deadlines, as well as created meeting agendas and priorities prior to group sessions. I also maintained comprehensive documentation of all meeting notes and defined the framework of the group shared Drive.
- Design Research: I interviewed several participants during the exploratory phase, as well as helped to synthesize findings and to generate design implications and directions.
- Concept Development: I sketched and made low-fidelity prototypes with the team. I also worked on developing the information architecture of the platform experience with Willow.
- Photography: I took high-fidelity photographs for our immersion trip, as well as for our final design mockups.
- Videography & Editing: I filmed the video segments with the aid of Mackenzie, and completed the editing of the final concept video.
GATHR: A Platform that Bridges Spheres of Interaction
Introducing GATHR, an online platform that bridges cities and people by connecting individuals from different parts of the city through their common interests in the form of print flyers. GATHR allows users to discover new events from neighborhoods outside their own, participate in constructing their community by posting to the network and connect with others by going to interested events found on GATHR.
Comprised of a web-based application as well as a mobile app, the GATHR platform allows users to access events happening in and around Pittsburgh in the form of digitized posters on an online platform. During our research, we found that individuals in. Pittsburgh find themselves in 'bubbles' of interaction where they are always with the same people, in the same places, and doing the same things. GATHR helps Pittsburghers get out of their “bubbles” with by making public local event data such that a resident of Garfield (a neighborhood) can know what's going on in the Southside.
GATHR differs from platforms currently available like Facebook, MeetUp, Craigslist, and Yelp in that it is hyperlocal to Pittsburgh, and engages the print medium of flyers/posters and breathes new life into this dying art. The crowdsourcing of information via user contributions further accentuates the community-building nature of the platform.
Design Process: Developing GATHR
The project began as an enquiry into the question of "how might we improve some aspect of Pittsburgh through design?" From this starting point, our process wound through several phases of exploratory research and pivoting before finally arriving at the GATHR solution. Our goal remained the same throughout the convoluted process, however. We sought to create a solution that makes an impact, complements the diversity of lifestyles existing in Pittsburgh, and is user-friendly and fun.
During the initial phase of our design process, my team and I explored Pittsburgh's different neighborhoods on foot and conducted semi-structured interviews with newcomers and long-time residents alike. We were especially interested in hearing about how Pittsburgh residents viewed the changes happening to the city, especially in terms of the influx of newcomers, the development and gentrification of older neighborhoods, and the renaissance of the tech industry in the city.
How do longtime residents of the city view today's Pittsburgh?
How do newcomers view Pittsburgh?
How do residents make connections with one another, who do they make connections with, and how?
Method 1: Immersion
As relatively new residents of Pittsburgh ourselves, our first task during our explorations was to discover Pittsburgh for ourselves. In order to do this, we planned a walking route through several of the most diverse neighborhoods of the city and observed the environments, people, and activities happening.
What we learned: We discovered Pittsburgh with new eyes as we left the areas around CMU and experienced how regular Pittsburgh residents enjoyed their city. There was such a diversity of businesses and neighborhood identities, but we also saw the diversity and uniqueness being swept away by outside developers in order to pave way for tech and white-collar workers coming in. We saw old murals and beautiful buildings being torn down to make way for cookie-cutter condos. Although we are pleased with the renaissance of new things happening in Pittsburgh, we also wondered how these changes are impacting the people who are old-time Yinzers.
Method 2: Stakeholder Interviews
At this point, we needed to speak with member of the Pittsburgh community to gain a better understanding of the problem space and where we could situate our solution. In order to understand the dynamics of the city and it’s citizens, we needed to cast a broad net and interview a wide range of people living in Pittsburgh. We interviewed community leaders and organizations, students, working professionals, and long-time residents. Our interviews consisted of : 16 Newcomers; 1 transient; 3 locals; 1 expert
What we learned: In talking with students, we found out that they want to know more about the local area, but stated it’s hard to find information. In addition they rarely have the chance to break out of their social and geographic “bubbles.” In our conversations with locals and experts, we found that a “human-in” is one of the most common ways they are connected with new people, breaking them out of their “bubbles.”
Synthesis & Summary
After exploring the neighborhoods and talking with locals as well as students we came back to the whiteboards of the design studio to synthesize insights from our findings. By clustering findings into areas of interest through affinity diagramming, we came out with several patterns that emerged from our explorations. These patterns are:
Each neighborhood has a strong sense of community and culture, this was evident in both the observational research as well as in the interviews. There were also many mentions of the city’s changing identity, both for the good and bad, we wondered how we might go about addressing this. The expressed interest in being connected to both the city and what it has to offer as well as each other influenced our design directions, helping to guide us in our ideation.
How might we encourage Pittsburghers from different walks of life to engage in 'human' interactions through design?
From our HMW questions, we conceptualized many ideas ranging from floor projections to physical installations. Our concepts aimed to bring Pittsburghers out of their zones of interaction, and to enable them to discover their city while meeting other city dwellers. We first conceptualized different
The Neighborhood Flyer as Medium
We realized that during our explorations of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods, many neighborhood gathering places (businesses and places of learning/worship) featured flyer boards promoting community events. Flyers are hyperlocal, grassroots efforts by local business and residents, often lacking the ability to be viewed by anyone not in the immediate area. They are excellent resources for discovering what a neighborhood, as well as the city, has to offer. We noticed that community boards were only able to promote events to a very small population of viewers - those who frequent the business/space. Because of this small viewership, these gathering boards only serve to further segregate communities because events are only advertised to those who are exposed to the content.
We therefore sought to strengthen this relationship between community flyer boards and gatherings by developing a digital complement to the physical medium that is print flyers.
Developing a System through User-Centered Design and Competitive Analysis
To explore how to tie the physicality of local posters to Pittsburgh at a broader scale, we looked at competing event platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Craigslist, and MeetUp. Through analyzing their utility in our goal of promoting for human interactions in this local environment, we developed and iterated on a user journey through our proposed system. Through whiteboard sketches, many iterations of information architecture, and versions of wireframes, we developed the framework of the GATHR system for visual refinement.
Bridging the Physical and the Digital through Augmented Reality
A challenge that arose while mapping the user experience, how would users know if a flyer was already in the system? We began to prototype with augmented reality (AR), it felt like a natural choice. Users will be using their mobile devices to post a flyer, we could build AR into the camera functionality. We worked with Unity and Vuforia to explore how this function might look and feel when scanning a wall of flyers.
Our team agreed that the GATHR platform should be approachable, intuitive to use, Pittsburgh-esque, and visually minimalist. Our rationale for these three characteristics lie in our desire for the platform to be utilized by everyone in Pittsburgh, from people who have little knowledge of web/mobile apps to pros who code for a living. Additionally, because print flyers are graphically striking already, we wanted our platform to not clash with the visual diversity already present in print flyers. Finally, we wanted the platform to exude Pittsburgh through its branding and choice of visual style.
Refinement & Visual Design
GATHR: A Design Solution
Our system is comprised of a web-based application as well as a mobile-based application. Through the both touch points, registered users can discover events and special interest groups around them. By hitting “count me in” to events, they can also manage the events on their personal feed and quickly synchronize the information to external calendar or messaging apps like Google Calendar and iMessage.
The mobile app is designed for users to create a profile with event preferences as well as store flagged flyers in a feed-style interface. Using text recognition and AR functionality, user is able to view if flyers have been posted as well as add new ones to the system. The web app is optimized for searching event geographically or through more advanced filters such as date, category, and cost.
Mobile & Desktop User Flows
To bring awareness to the GATHR platform, we devised several marketing strategies. One direct-to-consumer strategy is to send GATHR-branded postcards to new residents to the city. We also devised other visual branding tactics like giving GATHR-branded stickers to local businesses who support local community boards / flyer boards. Finally, our social media solution is to create a visually appealing GATHR Instagram account that aggregates the best posters of the city to bring awareness to the diversity of Pittsburgh.
Bringing GATHR to the 'Burgh
Promoting Local Businesses with GATHR
In addition to print and online media strategies, we also devised b2b solutions that involve partnerships between GATHR and local businesses. One solution is to bring pop-up GATHR flyer boards that promote local events and happenings in strategic foot-trafficked regions of the city. We also believe partnering with existing events/food-centric platforms like Yelp may bring about synergies in our distinct platforms. Finally, we also devised business solutions like flyer or event statistics for local businesses via our GATHR platform. Additionally, GATHR may bring visual solution packages to local businesses who are not able to afford hiring visual designers. By creating a symbiotic relationship with the city, GATHR would act not as a replacement of local gathering places, but as a complement to the timeless platform of print posters.
GATHR: Beyond Pittsburgh
Utilizing cohesive branding strategies and through development of partnerships with local businesses, GATHR has the potential of expanding to other locales with a strong sense of neighborhood culture. New York, San Francisco, and Chicago are just some possible extensions beyond GATHR Pittsburgh.