Aerial View of River

RIVERFRONT PARK SOUNDWALK

Learn how local community members of Troy, NY and commuters can develop a sense of connection to the Hudson River through a mobile audio tour app to provide better care for their environment.

Riverfront Park Soundwalk
Video (27 seconds)

 OVERVIEW

HYPOTHESIS: The Hudson River in Troy, NY is polluted, and community members have very little access to it to form a connection to show care.

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I moved to Troy, NY in 2014 for my PhD in Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that is located about 2.5 hours north of NYC, connected by the Hudson River. Though the city of Troy was founded as a Hudson River port, the riverfront is primarily inaccessible to the public, and my sublet apartment had one of the very few docks at the time to launch a kayak or even be eye-level with the Hudson River. The dock was private unless the owner of the house gave permission to someone to use it.

Also, Troy's City Hall had been demolished long ago, with no new building built along the waterfront, just an empty spot next to Riverfront Park with rubble left from the old City Hall.  

15 preliminary empathy interviews showed me that many community members didn't have a strong connection to the river, yet they all had ideas about how they would like to connect to it more.

Solution: When there is nothing to do and no information easily accessible, an AR mobile phone soundwalk creates placemaking through sound design that encourages engagement with the physical environment.  

 

MY ROLE: I was Lead AR/UX Researcher/UX Designer working with Widgetic (developers), my advisors and IRB at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, scientists and community members, and RPI faculty and students.

THREE GOALS:

1. Current Habits + Solutions: How do users currently experience and connect (or not) to the Hudson River in Troy? What do they wish was available to allow them to connect more? 

2. Utilizing generative and evaluative research methods, create an AR location-based Soundwalk at Riverfront Park for mobile phone utilizing user feedback to connect community members to the Hudson River in Troy, NY.

3. Validate iterations with user studies to develop a final product to launch. 

 

METHODS USED: Within Double Diamond: empathy interviews, ethnographic interviews, field studies, affinity mapping, usability testing, competitor analysis, journey mapping, heuristic evaluation.

 

TIMELINE:  6 months (with gaps from snow and other obstacles)

USERS: 100 users, ages 18-84. 

 

IMPACT:

  • 84% of users responded YES to "Do you feel more connnected to the environment                                               around you due to the soundwalk experience?"

  • It remains on-going and available via QR code on-site.

  • 598 people have taken the soundwalk. 

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RIVERFRONT PARK SOUNDWALK

NAVIGATION

 

Users are given the URL, or they can use a QR code sticker on-site.

Users start the soundwalk at 275 River St. in Troy, NY and tap the blue arrows to start (or pause) the narration.

The narration guides users along the river throughout the 20-minute soundwalk.

There is a numbered digital map for users to reference if they feel lost. For the public launch at the Hart Cluett Museum, I also created a physical map/oversized flyer with information on the back about the exhibit. 

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PROCESS OVERVIEW

METHODS
USED

  • Empathy Interviews

  • Ethnographic Interviews

  • Affinity Mapping

  • Field Studies

  • Journey Mapping

  • Participant Recruiting (100 users, ages 18-84)

  • Usability Testing

  • Heuristic Evaluation

Storytelling

Converted 3 Scientist and 1 Community Member recorded stories into an audio format with sound effects, narration, and musical elements to integrate into the mobile phone app

ANALYSIS
AND DESIGN

  • Wireframing

  • Prototyping

  • Competitor Analysis

  • Iterated Tone and Pacing

  • Participant Recruiting, Usability Testing and Prototyping were carried out in 3 phases based on developer changes and physical changes to the park made by the city of Troy.

ProDUCT
and 
Launch

Riverfront Park Soundwalk launched as part of solo exhibit at Hart-Cluett Museum in Troy, NY, 2016. However, I still made some changes afterwards to the buttons due to pain points. I also had a 3rd phase of user feedback in 2017. The current version is still available via QR code on-site. 

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100
Riverfront Park Soundwalk Users

 

RPI students and faculty, community members, and commuters ages 18-84.

UNDERSTANDING THE USER
(100 users, ages 18-84)

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH TO CREATE THE MOBILE APP:

I conducted 15 empathy interviews with community members. Also, I recorded an additional 6 semi-structured interviews with:

  • 3 Troy community members (ages 21, 40, 48) 

  • 1 scientist/water quality expert from Riverkeeper

  • 2 scientists/fish experts from the New York State Museum

For all participants, I included two questions/prompts:

 

1) How do you connect with the Hudson River in Troy, NY?

2) I wish that the Hudson River in Troy, NY…

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INSIGHTS

The 15 interviews and affinity mapping showed many community members didn’t have a strong connection to the river.

  • If they did have a connection, there was a lack of knowledge about the pollution. The Hudson River near Troy is polluted, primarily because of General Electric (GE)'s PCB contamination in a 40-mile stretch.

  • Some users had misconceptions such as that the river can clean itself or that GE had already remediated the waterways. 

  • Even though the Hudson River is polluted, people still fish from it in Troy for food and even go swimming.

  • Often the same mythological story was told about a tribal elder jumping off the Cohoes Falls that started the Iroquois Confederacy.

 

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From these insights, I determined that the user would most likely benefit from a soundwalk that incorporates storytelling, both about Troy's indigenous history and about the pollution and health of the fish that people eat. To encourage users to engage with the actual environment while listening, I had to think of a way to slow them down, so I created a meditative tone and stopping points for the 20-minute soundwalk that someone could fit in on their lunchbreak.

USER FEEDBACK
ON THE SOUNDWALK

USER FEEDBACK

"Now that I know more about the area, I have a greater urge to protect it."

- Sophia, RPI student,
18 yrs old

"The sit and pause/explore enjoyable sounds forced me to pay closer attention to sensory details I would have otherwise overlooked."

- Azura, community member,
30 yrs old

"I look forward to getting more in touch with the natural sounds around me."

- Nicholas, RPI student,
19 years old


Users liked the meditative pacing and storytelling
that slowed them down. 
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Word Cloud Generated from Most Frequent Words in User Feedback

BREAKING DOWN THE PROCESS 

Timeline: From 2014 to 2016, there were three main phases conducted with multiple app iterations that were repeated with various user groups. As it was an outdoor project in Upstate NY with many months of unplowed snow while a PhD student/TA, and I was overseas for artist residencies for part of the summers, my time was limited to a short amount of months in a year.  

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ITERATIONS and PAIN POINTS
(and designing for the great outdoors) 

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1.SOUNDCLOUD ITERATION: 

The City of Troy closed the entryway to the River for repairs...right where my soundwalk began. 

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It’s easy. Just click “Edit Text” or double click me to add your own content and make changes to the font. I’m a great place for you to tell a story and let your users know a little more about you.

2. RECHO ITERATION: 

Developers stopped developing their free app causing all sounds to play at once just before public launch!

3. WIDGETIC ITERATION: 

 

PAIN POINT identified

through journey mapping.

JOURNEY MAPPING 

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TITLE OF THE CALLOUT BLOCK

IMPACT

From the 100 users who took the soundwalk, 84% responded YES to "Do you feel more connected to the environment around you due to the soundwalk experience?"
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84%
YES

Percentage of Users who felt more connected to the Hudson River by using the app.

RIVERFRONT PARK SOUNDWALK

IS  ONGOING, ON-SITE

with QR CODE

OVER 550 PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN THE SOUNDWALK

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LESSONS LEARNED

1

Creating an outdoor app in a park with a ton of snow half the year where the city does not plow can take a long time. :))

2

Meditative apps allow room for users to personalize the subject matter in a short amount of time and inject their own critical thinking as well.

3

Users especially connected with the history of indigenous people being able to eat the fish long ago, and there is a wish to return (that requires developing a personal sense of stewardship to the River.)

4

Many users found the required 2-page IRB form very daunting. As I am no longer a PhD student, if I were to conduct another study on this soundwalk, I would use a short digital form and survey. 

Like what you see?

Let's chat.

A FUTURE AR GEO-LOCATIVE ITERATION TO TEST 

AR would include visuals as well as audio: I would keep the geo-locative aspect, similar to the Recho app version as users enjoyed the game-like playfulness. To keep users on the right path while still engaged in the natural environment around them, I envision light, whimsical 3D gold balloons appearing where the geo-locative sound samples were dropped. The balloons would be numbered to match the map on the website (and the physical map for public launches) and get bigger as one approaches the sound sample. 

A "Play" button would also appear as one reaches the geo-locative site. The "Play" button would turn into a "Pause" button as users wanted this feature in their feedback. Upon hitting "Play" the gold balloon would disappear quickly so the user can focus on the actual environment around them. However, users can see the next numbered balloon(s) in the distance. 

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