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.
However, you won’t see images of designers crowded around a whiteboard of Post-its because:
- The team members were distributed around the world (Canada (me), South Africa, Lebanon, and Brazil), and,
- Our design “sprint” was spread out over 3 months (for the purpose of the class).
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
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
- Rely largely on social media and physical meetings
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
We took a couple of days to research and collect inspiring ideas and solutions, which were uploaded to Miro.
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.
Completing the task this way was a pretty good substitute for the in-person experience!
Solution sketches were created offline for the next phase.
We used Miro to vote on the portion of the sketches we liked best (resulting in heat maps).
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.
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.
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)
The testers represented the typical range of ages and occupations of citizens within a neighborhood.
|33||Female||Front end developer|
On Miro, we categorized our notes from the video sessions as positive (green), negative (red) or neutral (white)…
…then arranged them according to the tested tasks.
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.
The Designer made changes to the interface, adding color and including onboarding screens to help ease in 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.
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
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.
- Connecting once or twice a week wasn’t frequent enough, so we ramped up communication between formal meetings by chatting informally on Google Hangouts.
- 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.