The concept of this project was to develop designs for an Interactive Media prototype that would encourage York’s visitors to explore and uncover more of the city than they usually would. One of my initial aims for this project was to create something that would be truly interactive, by this I mean creating a piece that users can not only view, but something that they can affect and have some form of a unique interaction with. I based my approach around user centred design, focusing on user research and developing ideas from the results. The final piece I created was an augmented reality application that used medieval graffiti as a means of annotating and exploring the city.
Personally, travelling is something that I really enjoy. However, from personal experience I know that when travelling and trying to find information on the move, it can be difficult. There is no single application that I can use to find all the information in one place; I normally find information using a mixture of applications such as Google Maps, TripAdvisor and then a search engine to find additional information.
A common scenario may be that myself and friends are spending time in York before deciding that we should go somewhere to eat. We might look through a few places that we have been before and enjoyed, but there will normally be a few common questions that follow this. “What’s the place like?”, “What’s the food like?”, “Whereabouts is it?”. Finding these kinds of answers in one place and making sure that everyone is happy with the place, is normally a long and tedious process.
Applications such as Google Maps, TripAdvisor and Facebook (Facebook, 2018) all offer information that is non-specific and vague. It makes sense so that these applications are universally used throughout different cities in different countries, it would be far too time consuming to focus on individual cities, this is where the problem stems from. There are no applications that focus on York or that guide you through the city encouraging you to explore more. This is the space I am tackling with my project.
The whole basis of this project was to develop a solution to the problem, following a user-centred design methodology.
I started by conducting stakeholder interviews with 4 different participants, in and around York. The aim of this was to gain background context before starting the project, as well as to understand common practices and ideas being used specifically in York. I also created a questionnaire to focus on obtaining information about user’s preferences and their preparation before travelling, this was completed in-person with 36 participants around York.
I chose a few pieces that I believed were similar to what I wanted to create as well as some interactive pieces that had inspired me and held a focus group. From the pieces I had chosen, I created tiles of information which were used in the initial focus groups. The tiles briefly explained the piece as well as the context, allowing users to give their thoughts on each piece and stick all of their thoughts to the tile.
With the initial information acquired I completed affinity mapping, personas, ideation techniques such as using personas to create empathy maps which allowed me to think through what users would want and expect. As a result of this and some general research, I had developed a few basic ideas that I thought could be successful.
I storyboarded the ideas to give them more context and to flesh them out a bit, I made the storyboards fairly high-fidelity to try and allow users to realise the ideas as something they could see themselves using. I also created style tiles to understand themes and visual languages that users felt the project suited.
I then held another round of focus groups to gather feedback on the storyboards and style tiles. Following this I conducted a further round of user research based on existing similar applications, paper prototyping and a final round of user research based on the high-fidelity prototype created in Sketch and Principle.
Reflections on Rimork: Concept and Design
The second focus group was extremely useful for learning about the users’ preferences for the designs and seeing how they reacted to the designs. It was also apparent that users enjoyed talking about the look and feel of the style tiles.
The cartoonish look of the storyboards made the pieces easy to comment on and users seemed to feel comfortable doing so. One thing that was important throughout the process was making the users comfortable commenting on the pieces, which was done by making the pieces seem incomplete, or in its early stages.
As with the first focus group, there was an emphasis on encouraging open-ended conversations about both the storyboards and the style tiles, this worked particularly well with the latter. Users were keen to comment on the fonts and colour choices, often recommending specific fonts that could be used in the designs. However, as mentioned earlier, the idea was not to give the user what they thought they wanted. Instead, the idea was to focus on picking fonts that worked with the design language yet were tailored to the feedback received.
In previous projects, attempts at paper prototyping had struggled to make the designs seem realistic. Another project ended up appearing unprofessional and as a result of this, provided no useful feedback. There was an apprehension to use the prototyping method this time, but a real effort was made with the quality of the prototype, making a more in-depth prototype, focussing on the interactions and fidelity.
To achieve this, the paper prototype was made quite large, one of the issues with the previous work was that the pieces were realistically sized and as a result extremely difficult to quickly modify and move around. Making the pieces larger in size actually increased the fidelity of the design and made it a lot easier for the participants to use the prototype.
There was a fear that this may reflect inaccurate results when the same participants tested with the final design as the iconography may be more difficult to recognise on a smaller screen. However, this method was useful for focusing on getting all my interactions designed and tested and making sure that the concept was actually useable.
The feedback received was extremely useful for ironing out the last few details in the project. A prime example of this was the feedback received that led to me implementing onboarding into the final piece. This emerged as a result of how open-ended and relaxed the testing was, which validates that the method used was useful and produced successful results.
Using Sketch and Principle for the first time was a steep learning curve, but the use of the programs allowed for the production of professional, polished final designs. While trying to import so many artboards into Principle and animate all of these was extremely difficult and did not work out in the end, being able to animate and replicate the interactions was particularly useful for the final video.
If similar work was to be completed using the software again, work would be completed in Sketch and Principle simultaneously, as opposed to importing everything into Principle at the end and then trying to understand where everything was going wrong.
The final video did a great job of illustrating not only the context that the application would be used in, but also the interactions and functionality that it would include. Watching the video and seeing the use of the application alongside the real-world footage makes the concept seem realistic and works as an advertisement for the piece in itself. It is easy to imagine a resident of York viewing this video, downloading the application and trying it out for themselves.
With regard to the style of the video, the aim was for it to appeal to a wide range of users, in particular families as well. Although the user questionnaire data led to the belief that the piece should be aimed at those who were in York in the evenings, it seemed that presenting the application as something that is only used by people on nights out to graffiti areas could immediately alienate a large number of potential users and give the idea that the piece is not family friendly. Therefore, the approach was taken to make the piece seem as accessible to all as possible and make sure that it appears interesting.
This project is not finished nor finalised, with projects such as these you can never do too much testing, particularly with users. Outlined below is the what the future of the project would be and how this could improve the overall experience.
If possible, an additional round of user resting would have been completed. This could have been done with the video that was created, or maybe through and improved version of the Principle design, featuring animations and links between sections of the application. AB testing would then have been conducted to gain an understanding of which icons are the most effective and where they could be improved. Some applications (e.g. Spotify’s iOS application) are frequently implementing a menu bar, similar to the designs of this project, that make use of a key word underneath the icon so that users know explicitly what that menu item is. This may sometimes hinder the user as a one-word summary can be quite difficult and may misinform the user, so AB testing would have been a good way to test this.
Completing a heuristic evaluation would have been another interesting way to evaluate the success of the application. A heuristic evaluation would allow me to check that the application has a solid usability foundation and would be an assurance that the basics of usability were in place.
This is something that could be completed individually, however, this would be very useful. As the designer of the application, one may believe that usability corner stones are in place, from creating all the designs. However, to someone that is evaluating the application for the first time, they would have a completely different perspective and would see issues with the application that the creator would miss.
A list of heuristics would be created with features that the application should include from Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design (Nielsen, 1995), paired with the requirements developed from the affinity mapping completed for the project. A group of around 5 heuristic experts would then test the application. The application would then be considered to be thoroughly reviewed. Following this, the recommended changes could be made and the application would be heuristically sound.
Expanding the piece
Beyond this would be the idea of expanding the piece to different locations. The problem started with was finding a solution to the one-size fits all method of existing applications that users travel with. This concept has evolved throughout the project, with the development of an application that it unique to York, that aims to guide them around the city with storytelling through the use of medieval graffiti.
While there are definitely principles that would be carried through if the piece were to be expanded to different cities, a redesign would be necessary to make the piece specific to the location. An initial area that could change would be the design language. The logo and colour scheme were described by research participants to feel specific to York. If this work were to expand, the design language would have to be relevant to the locations.
Another issue would be the representation used for storytelling. With rimork, medieval graffiti is used to fit the aesthetics, architecture and background of York. Trying to expand this project with the use of medieval graffiti to an area like Leeds, which has an extremely modern-feel to the city centre would appear out of place and would stand out for the wrong reasons. It may be that modern graffiti could work in its place, but this would be less novel and interesting solution than medieval graffiti. This is something that would be focussed on as it is key to the solution of the problem, it has to be unique to the city.