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Public Art in Pittsburgh

User Experience Research Project

Course  User-Centered Research and Evaluation

My Role
User Research


Team Members
Dennis Check
Missy Chen
Niharika Jayanthi

Observe and Intercept
Affinity Diagramming
Storyboarding & Speed Dating
Experience Prototyping

The Challenge

Residents of Pittsburgh appreciate public art in the city and think it adds to Pittsburgh's beauty and comfort. However, residents rarely see public art outside of their usual routines and they are unaware of the meaning and story behind the art pieces they do come across.

How can we encourage Pittsburgh residents to engage with the large variety of public art in Pittsburgh and learn more about these art pieces?

After conducting research through observe and intercept and speed dating, our team found that residents of Pittsburgh desire more interactive forms of engaging with public art, instead of simply observing the art. Therefore, we created an app-based, gamified method of engaging with public art, called the Secret Art Hunt in which individuals travel to different art pieces around Pittsburgh, complete interactive tasks at each site, and unlock an exclusive or secret prize at the end of the hunt. This allows residents to not only view public art they usually may not come across but also create an opportunity for individuals to actively interact with and learn about the art. 

What to see what we created? Click here to jump to the outcome. 

The Solution


Going into the Field through Observe and Intercept

Our team observed Pittsburgh residents viewing public art in Pittsburgh and after gaining consent, interviewed each resident about their experiences with public art.  We also conducted an interview with the owner of a local business  near a public art piece.

"Public art definitely makes me appreciate walking around this city more."

"I want to see more public art, but it’s not like I’m going out of my way to do so."

interviewed 3 public art viewers and 1 local business owner 

Analyzing our Findings

Our team used a bottom-up method of affinity diagramming to interpret, organize, and visualize the information we gathered from the interviews.

Reframing, Brainstorming, and Ideating

We then engaged in a reframing activity called Worst Possible Idea in order to boost creativity and increase comfortability within the team. We wrote down all the worst ideas we had for possible solutions to the challenge and posted them to a wall. Together, we then listed the properties of all the bad ideas and tried to name ideas with the opposite properties. Last, we mixed and matched different bad ideas together for further exploration.

The team also participated in Crazy 8's in which we took 8 minutes to come up with 8 ideas we may use for storyboards in order to brainstorm a set of user needs and values from the interviews we conducted. 

Our ideas from Crazy 8's fell into 4 main categories of user needs: community participation, interacting with other individuals, gamification, and interacting with the artist. We created 12 storyboards centered around these needs.

Listening to Users

To receive feedback on our ideas from users, we conducted speed dating with our storyboards. Our users resonated the most with a gamified method of interacting with public art. Because most Pittsburgh residents do not actively seek public art, they are searching for fun ways to encourage them to do so. However, participants reacted negatively to competition within games, which our other storyboards included. They mentioned that they would rather focus on exploring more art than competing with other people. Participants really enjoyed storyboard #9 as it was individual/non-competitive and was a fun way to learn more about public art. 

"This game will help many people, including me, become more interested in public art and the culture of the city in general" a participant mentioned. However, participants stated that they would rather not have a hidden or secret art site at the end as it detracts from the meaning of public art, but would rather win a secret or unknown prize. "Mystery and the illusion of ‘not knowing’ always plays a role of giving more meaning. You're always curious," a participant said. 


From observe and intercept and speed dating, we generated 4 main insights: 

1. Pittsburgh residents enjoy the art pieces they enounter in their day-to day lives, but rarely venture to new art sites.

3. Artgoers are eager to learn more about public art pieces, including facts about their creation and meaning.

2. People want an interactive experience with art pieces, beyond just observation.

4. People are excited by the prospect of unlocking exclusive or secret items.

Secret Art Hunt

From these insights, we created the Secret Art Hunt. The Secret Art Hunt is an app-based scavenger hunt game that leads users to many public art sites around the city. Users will download the app and scan a QR code at participating art sites to begin. At each site, they will complete interactive tasks, such as the one shown on the screens in the lo-fi prototype. These tasks encourage individuals to interactively engage with the art or learn more about the art piece or the city of Pittsburgh. 


After completing the task at each site, the user will unlock another public art location. At the end of the hunt, the user will unlock users will win unknown prizes, such as free tickets to art museums. 

Anchor 1

Lo-Fi Prototyping: Iteration 1

We created lo-fi screens of the Secret Art Hunt on Figma.

Experience Prototyping

We conducted a Wizard of Oz and think aloud in order to test the usability of the prototype. We simulated the Secret Art Hunt within a room and asked users to embark on the hunt while talking and thinking aloud. After, we interviewed the participants on their experiences. 

Findings from Experience Prototyping

1. Participants really enjoyed the idea of a scavenger hunt. Users mentioned that they normally would not seek out public art, but they would in a scavenger hunt form like this.

2. Our questions were too hard. Some of our tasks were too difficult for players, which discouraged them and even made a couple consider quitting the game. 

3. Users preferred interactive tasks over simply answering factual questions. We had 2 different versions of tasks in the prototype: one in which users would interact with the art, such as counting symbols on the art. The other was answering questions such as when the art piece was created. All participants enjoyed the interactive tasks much more than the factual questions. 

4. Participants want to know how far they need to walk between sites. Many users asked us if the art pieces would be walking distance and how long it would take to get there.

5. Users want more choice of where to go next rather than be told only 1 location for the next art site. 

Takeaways and Moving Forward

A major takeaway I had from this project was directly seeing the benefit of observe and intercept or ethnographic research. Users cannot always remember or accurately recollect their actions when participating in a semi-structured interview. By going into the field and catching art viewers in action, it was easier to empathize with them as I was able to observe them in the natural context. For example, while conducting ethnographic research one day, I noticed an art viewer pointing to an art piece and laughing with her friend. When I approached them and later asked why they were laughing, she mentioned that she enjoyed how the art piece is customized differently every month and really enjoys when art changes from time to time and found it amusing. Information like this is much easier to collect from being in the natural context. 

Moving forward with this project, our team would like to incorporate the insights we received from user testing into our next iteration. We plan to make our tasks easier and more feasible as well as include more interactive tasks. We will also include a map that visually shows the hunt and reveals the distance to the next unlocked art locations. The map will also give users more choice of where to go next as they will unlock 2-3 sites at once which they can choose from. 


The map may look something like this:

Our team will perform more usability testing with the next iteration, and collect more feedback as design is an iterative process!

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