Product: Riverfront Park Soundwalk (AR audio tour)
When people are able to form a connection with their environment, they are more likely to develop a sense of empathy and stewardship. However, there are very limited access points to the somewhat polluted Hudson River in Troy, NY. I aimed to create an AR audio walking tour for smartphone that sparks a sense empathy in community members for the polluted Hudson River along with establishing a social connection together.
SOLUTION: I designed an app, tours, conducted usability testing, and an iterative design process.
1. Exploratory Research
2. Designing an AR Sound Experience
3. Usability Testing
I knew that I needed to answer these questions:
1. How do community members of Troy connect to the Hudson River already? What draws them?
2. What is going on with the pollution in relation to the Hudson River’s past, present, and future?
3. How do I integrate this into an easy to navigate, engaging, and enjoyable AR walking tour? How do I make a space to walk through a place with meaning?
4. How do I take one from meditation to critical thinking using one’s own imagination about the future of the Hudson River?
1. During my initial interviews with the general public of ages 18-72, storytelling and mythology were predominantly how people connected to the Hudson River so I included storytelling from recorded interviews with their signed permission (Institutional Review Board approved forms) into the design of the soundwalk. Also, user testers of the soundwalk reported primarily finding a connection to the Hudson River through this storytelling and mythology.
“Informative, ended at a perfect location–the water fountain–on a hot day. I enjoyed hearing some of the history and context of the river that I have walked along for the past ten years, and deeply moved by its native mythology.”
“I feel contemplative of my transient ‘home’ in Troy now. I am a commuter student, so I have been reluctant to really settle in to the area. But this soundwalk allowed me to connect with the socio-historical-political history of the area, and made me feel sad even, for the loss of the culture and connection to the land that we understand to have existed in Downtown Troy years ago. I appreciated the visioning toward the future, which allowed for the formation of an imaginary - the water taxis, etc. that allows sound-walkers to participate in an almost sci-fi storytelling process.”
2. Using the singing bowl towards the end and asking people to take off their headphones to listen was a revelatory experience for many participants.
“The end of the walk focused on a listening exercise–even with the heavy winds today, and the cold, I found this to be an expansive moment in the project. Inviting the participant to engage and activate on their own."
“I do feel more connected to the environment. Closing off the other external sounds and listening to the speaker talk about the river and its history allowed me to focus on the River. I liked the meditation piece to reflect about the site’s past and present condition.”
Iterations and Pain Points
1. Soundcloud App and no map: Users were led by one 16-minute sound file after downloading Soundcloud app to their phones. A few users found the pacing too slow or too fast, but found it hard to know when to pause in the app. City of Troy blocked off the entryway where my soundwalk began so I had to record from scratch for a new soundwalk. Therefore I experimented with the Recho app.
2. Recho app: I used the geo-locative app to record 30 second bits of the soundwalk at certain sites where users could use the app to hover over the pinpoint to play the recording. However, developers stopped fixing bugs days before my public launch so I quickly made a jukebox-style MP3 version on my website for Iteration #3.
3. Jukebox Style MP3 on my website. Final Prototype for Public Launch: I used the 30-second recordings from the Recho App as prompts. Pain point: "I wish that it wasn't on autoplay." I revised the arrows clicks from playing on autoplay to waiting for the user to click them to play. Pain point: A few users said that "It was a little stuttery." This is probably due to switching the 30-second Recho app recordings to the jukebox form. For a future iteration, some of the recorded segments could be be combined for a more meditative flow.