Public Art & Building Personal Connections

Spring 2020  Design Research | UCRE

Public art, though abundant in large cities, feels indifferent to most passengers. Many public arts fail to invoke viewers’ feelings and are unsuccessful in establishing personal connections. So, we chose to investigate: how might we increase the personal connections between viewers and the art? Through interviews and contextual methods, our research implied that establishing a sense of belonging in a city consists of a four-step process: attraction, information, conversation, and recollection, which we have simplified to AICR. This page is a quick walk-through of the research process and final insights.

This is a project from HCI core course, User-Centered Research and Evaluation (UCRE). And this is a group project.
I enjoyed working with three wonderful graduate & undergraduate CMU students from various majors 

Stage I: Project kick-off & Walk the wall


In the very first phase of the project,  with our previous knowledge and individual researches, The four members came together to find a focus. We landed on investigating the question: how might we increase the personal connections between viewers and the art? 

We also defined the roles of each team member.
Other than actively participating in research and discussions, 
I was also in charge of most visual-related components: the compiling and design of the deliverables and prototyping.
And since I am the cautiously one collecting work, I was the one managing our shared google drive folder.

Stage II: Contextual Inquiry & Qualitative Data Analysis


Each team member conducted a contextual interview with our targeted type stakeholder. Then we come back together for the interpretation sessions and affinity diagramming. Through which we see a narrative emerging: 


  1. The cycle begins before the actual visit to the art, starting with the civic decisions that are made regarding public art. These decisions determine how art influences a community.

  2. The second part of the cycle is the visit. Different people admire different qualities of the artwork.

  3. The impact of the art extends beyond the initial moment, contributing to the third part of the cycle: the viewer develops an emotional relationship with the art which can influence their memory of the moment.

  4. The last step of the cycle dictates that a viewer’s perspective of the art can continue to fluctuate, based on their conversations with friends/family members.

  5. Overall, the impact of the artwork comes back to unite the citizens of a city or incite dialogue, and again, the city’s decisions determine the type of impact.

Teamwork wise, other than the roles from the first stage, I was documenting the process of our activities. Small actions such as taking screenshots and keep old versions of writeup doc can easily make our research more convincing.

Stage III: Think-Aloud Protocol

In this stage, we used Think-aloud protocols in an unconventional way where we aim to probe users’ mindsets and needs rather than conducting usability tests for the platforms.  The video above is the recording of one of the four think abounds we conducted. And here are the main findings that the team came up with after consolidation and synthesizing: 


Stage IV: Storyboarding and Speed Dating


To avoid false assumptions, we varified the users need that emerged from previous stages through storyboarding and speed dating. Since we have limited time to prototype and design, instead of creating an over-arching solution that touches all the insights, we decided to come up with micro solutions that are tightly connected to our insights.


As we approach the ending of the research stage and move into light design and prototyping stages, more and more visual work surfaced. I realized the importance of establishing a visual system where none-designer team members can easily pick up and use it as a template. Chenning helped with the compilation of this deliverable. Hence I can spend more time focusing on prototyping our final solutions in Figma: 

Final Stage: Presentation - Final insights & solutions