AR Participatory Urban Planning Tool
As part of a 10 week internship at Verizon, I worked within a team of 5 interns to:
design a near-future conceptual product that utilizes augmented reality to improve the experience of post-pandemic society giving them the ability to engage with local communities.
We focused on the first half of the UX Design Process beginning with understanding the context, generative research, synthesizing ideas, developing design concepts, setting value and direction, and prototyping.
Why urban planning and public engagement? During the pandemic, we noticed that the value of public spaces increased in our own communities. People were able to utilize these areas to engage safely with others and get some fresh air. The field has great potential of using technology to empower residents to become co-creators of their cities.
We worked with the Consumer Marketing Insights team to set up 7 total interviews with community residents and urban planners across the country. The goal was to understand the challenges that urban planning professionals and community members face when engaging with each other.
Our findings are summarized into three main buckets:
"We've always used the public space, but we took it for granted it being there..." -Community Member
"You never want the community to think you're designing without them in mind" -Urban Planner
"It could help people understand where a park could go or an abandoned building could be transformed into." -Urban Planner
Planners want the community's opinions but experience difficulties with obtaining diverse and representative feedback
Community members want to be heard earlier on, but planners have trouble engaging participants to get actionable feedback before they have a visual to present
Community members feel like there's a lack of transparency in the decision making process of urban planning projects and often don't know where their feedback goes
Mina goes to her neighborhood park often to jog or bike. She loves having a space to exercise and get fresh air.
She sees a new poster near the entrance of the park seeking community feedback about a 5-year park plan. She is motivated by a desire to ensure that the park remains a meaningful space for her to exercise, so she scans the QR code to learn more.
She learns that the community planners are looking at a variety of potential areas to expand, including trail space, bicycle lanes, parking, and restroom facilities.
Eager to give her feedback on the plan, she engages with the AR experience. The AR experience allows her to voice how she would like the budget to be used. She creates a sculpture that focuses on trail space and bike lanes and places the sculpture at her favorite spot on the current trail.
To elaborate on her budget allocation sculpture, she shares her story about how being able to have this green space to exercise has improved her mental and physical health.
She sends a selfie with the sculpture she created to her best friend and neighbor Laura, encouraging Laura to also share her voice. She loves how easy and quick it was to share her feedback and wants to hear where the plan goes and other projects she can participate in, so she also signs up for updates.
Her friend Laura excitedly joins her at the park to build her own budget sculpture, and they explore the AR sculpture garden together, seeing what other community members are saying. This public art installation leads the two friends to feel closer to each other, to their community, and to the park space.
A few weeks later, she receives an email with the planner’s updated proposal. She is excited to see that they are allocating a significant portion of the budget toward expanding trails, as well as adding a new restroom building. She now has the opportunity to go to the park to see the model for the space.
The next day, when Mina goes to the park, she uses the AR experience to visualize the planner’s updated proposal. She is able to see what the new trail and the new restroom building would look like and can imagine herself using the space.
Mina loves the planner’s model for the changes, but is concerned that the trail won’t be safe at night since it doesn’t look like it gets a lot of light. She adds a comment on a location on the trail of where she thinks a light could go.
A few weeks later, she receives an update from the planners: they have finalized the proposal and are starting the build. A few months after that, the planners send out a message that the build is complete!
After dinner, Mina goes on a jog on the new trail. Throughout her jog, she feels safe as the trail is always illuminated with light. Mina feels like her voice was heard and loves the new developments to this community space.
Our final conceptual product was called Node: A B2C immersive product that will change the way urban planners reach their local communities.
What exactly is Node?
We designed an AR experience that allows community residents to discover urban planning projects and contribute their feedback in an engaging way.
The Name: A node is a point at which pathways intersect - it’s essentially the connecting point. We addressed the pain points we found in our research by finding a solution that will bring urban planners and community residents together. By collectively planning public spaces, we can work towards everyone having a voice in shaping the future of their community.