Overview

For a group-based class project, we designed a product that uses augmented reality (AR) to help foster public participation in the urban planning process

We approached this assignment using Google Ventures’ design sprint methodology, which is typically a 5-day process where stakeholders are brought together to use design, prototyping, and user testing to answer business questions.

Image of design sprint methodology.
Source: https://www.thesprintbook.com/how

However, you won’t see images of designers crowded around a whiteboard of Post-its because: 

  1. The team members were distributed around the world (Canada (me), South Africa, Lebanon, and Brazil), and,
  2. Our design “sprint” was spread out over 3 months (for the purpose of the class). 
 

Watch the video of the prototype below. You can also navigate through it yourself.  To begin, click on the “cloud” download icon.

Problem Statement

How might we design an AR app to help citizens visualize the end result of urban planning projects so they are more motivated to participate in the process?

Timeline

3 months

My Role

I was a facilitator and the other group members took on the roles of decider, designer, and developer.

Methods & Tools

Google Venture's Design Sprint methodology, Miro, Google Suite, Google Hangouts, Adobe Illustrator, Articulate Storyline, Veer, Sketchfab

NOTE: I did not design the prototype. As the facilitator, I managed the overall process, including setting the agendas and scheduling, facilitating the online meetings, and synthesizing the discussions.

Setting the stage

Even though we were spread out around the world, it was crucial that we connect synchronously. We used the following tools for communication: 

  • Miro (an online whiteboard) for collaboration
  • Gantt chart to track progress
  • Google Drive for sharing documentation created in Docs, Sheets, Slides
  • Google Hangouts 

Map

Expert Input

To understand the problem, we spoke with a city planner, professor of architecture, and municipal special projects coordinator. 

Issues with current system

  • Not all stakeholders are included in the process/not involved early enough
  • Citizens don’t have a sense of ownership over  decisions being made

Potential and current barriers

  • Lack of means to participate
  • Digital divide and exclusion
  • Lack of education or trust in system

Current tools

  • Rely largely on social media and physical meetings 

"In order to have meaningful public participation, citizens need to feel that they are part of the decision-making process (or the design process) from the very beginning - to feel ownership."

N.C., Professor of Architecture

Idea

We focused on using AR/VR to present urban planning projects to citizens and encourage direct feedback to urban planners and communication with other citizens

Other considerations included:

  • Catering to citizens who don’t own AR-enabled devices
  • Leveraging existing networks and platforms (social media) to include more citizens

Sketch

Inspiration

We took a couple of days to research and collect inspiring ideas and solutions, which were uploaded to Miro.

Urban planning apps from around the world.
Examples of AR, VR, 3D and visualization.

Crazy 8's and Solution Sketches

We then completed the Crazy 8’s exercise (8 sketches in 8 minutes) “together”, using Miro’s built-in timer to keep track of time, emulating a face-to-face experience.

Timer available on Miro.

Completing the task this way was a pretty good substitute for the in-person experience!

Solution sketches were created offline for the next phase.

Solution sketches generated during ideation phase.
Solution sketches.

Decide

Heat maps

We used Miro to vote on the portion of the sketches we liked best (resulting in heat maps). 

Miro frame set up for heat map, straw poll and Supervoting.
Dots representing heat maps, straw polls and Supervotes.
Solution sketches with heat maps, straw poll and Supervotes.

We all liked:

  • Visual map view similar to Google Maps
  • Bottom navigation menu for comments and alerts
  • Voting buttons to see how other citizens feel about projects
  • Interactive top menu (add comments/pins, take images) and social media elements (sharing, upvoting, downvoting)
  • Ability to “view” final product/project

We also selected the name: Urban PlanAR.

Storyboard

We approached storyboarding in a unique way due to our geographic locations.

I separated each solution sketch into individual panes, allowing them to be placed into the storyboard frames.

Since our sketches reflected different parts of the user journey, the storyboard came together nicely. In fact, once the panes were in place, we only had to create one sketch of the opening scene. 

Solution sketch panes as movable pieces for Miro whiteboard.
Final storyboard.

Prototype

We used the following software to create the prototype:

  • Adobe Illustrator (design UI and branding)
  • Veer (embedded VR and AR links)
  • Sketchfab (3D model)
  • Articulate Storyline (interactive prototype)
  • Github (publishing and hosting)
Though unorthodox for prototyping, Storyline was most appropriate because it could handle more complicated functionality.
 
I reviewed drafts of the prototype during this phase to ensure consistency in the design (consistent navigation, intuitive flow, and functioning links). 

Test

Script

The testers represented the typical range of ages and occupations of citizens within a neighborhood.

AGEGENDEROCCUPATION
50MaleEducational researcher
59FemaleRetired
27FemaleProject manager
33FemaleFront end developer

They were asked to:

  • Select a specific planning project
  • Select each of the views
  • Add a comment
  • Vote on the project or an existing comment

All sessions were recorded using ScreenCam.

Screenshot of tester.
Screenshot of tester accessing AR view.

Video analysis

On Miro, we categorized our notes from the video sessions as positive (green), negative (red) or neutral (white)…

Comment post-its
Neutral, positive and negative sticky notes to categorize notes from testing videos.

…then arranged them according to the tested tasks.  

comments
Miro board with insights and comments taken from the user testing sessions.

Results

The main findings were grouped into the following themes:

1. Enhance the onboarding experience.

Several users couldn’t navigate the main screen.

2. Icons and terminology need to be more clear. 

They misidentified the terms VR/AR and the icons on the tab bar, and had issues navigating the map pins. 

3. Users had unclear expectations of the views (AR and VR).

One user expected the AR view to show the completed project and the 3D view to show its current state, while another expected the opposite.

4. Familiar icons and platform design patterns were well received.

Most users recognized the icons and functionality of the thumbs up/thumbs and comments bubble, comparing them to Facebook. 

5. The older testers needed more details 

They wanted to be better informed about the project(s) before adding their comments. 

Next steps

The Designer made changes to the interface, adding color and including onboarding screens to help ease in the user. 

Onboarding screens in re-designed prototype.
Onboarding screens to help guide the user.

We also improved the navigation by: 

  • Labeling the icons
  • Opening up one of the pins in map view by default to identify that each pin represents a project.
Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 11.25.24 PM
Original and updated home page with labelled icons.
Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 11.29.28 PM
Original and revised map with pins opened by default.

Additional next steps:

  • Add text descriptions to the AR, VR and 3D screens to describe the scene (i.e. “This is a 3D mockup of the proposed bridge renovation”)
  • Include links to detailed information about each project

Conclusion

Overall, user feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The concept seemed viable and the users thought the app could help to increase public participation in urban planning.

However, additional concerns need to be addressed, such as:

  • Countering the digital divide by offering an alternative version of the app at public facilities, such as libraries.
  • Government buy-in to help market and promote the application.

Lessons learned

  1. Connecting once or twice a week wasn’t frequent enough, so we ramped up communication between formal meetings by chatting informally on Google Hangouts.
  2. Because several team members were underprepared for the first meeting, I began sending detailed task lists of what everyone had to complete before each subsequent meeting to keep everyone on track.

Accordingly, working with a globally distributed team wasn’t the greatest challenge; it was keeping people on track between meetings. 

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