We created a system to compile user input and display the overall opinions on issues in the City of Pittsburgh called DiscussPGH. Through the system, government officials can pose questions to the public. These questions are posted online and on billboards throughout the city. Students and other citizens can use mobile phones to tap or photograph the ad (using CAPAd and TAPAd technology), which brings them to an interface that allows them to read comments, write a comment, and choose their stance on the issue. The compiled user input is available on an online platform and in a structure in the City Hall lobby.
This was the final project in my Interaction Design Studio class. We were asked to use UbiComp and social computing technologies to create an interactive service-system designed to support the needs of a target set of citizens in the lobby of City Hall. The system should support dialog between the citizens and government in order to engage citizens in defining what their city should be.
My team chose students as the target audience. We decided to focus on our generation, Generation Y, because so many of our interactions live in a virtual world. Instead of going to City Hall to look up information, as was done in the past, we go online. Our generation also support rallys, protests, and campaigns online instead of attending in person. We wanted to explore this space and figure out how to bridge the gap between virtual interactions and interactions in the physical world.
Once we decided to target students, we conducted research to identify user needs and requirements. Through interviews and an online survey, we found out that many students keep up with the news and voice their opinions online in some way (i.e. online petitions, donations, Facebook "Likes"), though they are not willing to spend a lot of time getting involved.
Since students were already interested in learning about and supporting different causes, we set out to create a space for them to meet and engage in discussion, debate, and protest. From our research, we also created our two most important design principles: must be easy and quick for students to get involved, and must fit in with the old-fashioned look and feel of City Hall.
After learning about the needs of our users, we started generating ideas. We were encouraged to think out-of-the-box and not rely on existing technologies. We watched a number of UbiComp concept videos (such as this) to familiarize ourselves with non-traditional interactions.
We came up with 50 possible concepts and created storyboards for our six most promising ideas. One of our storyboards is shown below.
We used the speed dating method to evaluate our concepts with students. During these concept validation sessions, we found that students favored our Compiled User Input idea. The Compiled User Input system would compile and display thousands of students' opinions on a certain issue, and it would include an interactive structure in City Hall. Students liked this concept because it allowed them to easily participate and interact with City Hall without traveling anywhere.
REFINING OUR FINAL CONCEPT
Once we decided on the Compiled User Input concept, we did some research on existing Pittsburgh initiatives to see how our work would fit in. We came across an initiative called PlanPGH, which markets itself as "people pulling together to create Pittsburgh's future." PlanPGH is a plan for improving the City of Pittsburgh that focuses on community involvement and participation. We drew inspiration from the community-input aspect of PlanPGH, and decided to name our solution DiscussPGH.
As we refined our final concept, we identified key features and aspects we wanted to include:
- Mobile app so students can learn about both sides of a debate and voice opinions while on the go
- Interactive billboards and signs to alert students of interesting local debates and quickly direct them to the mobile app (by tapping the sign with the phone or capturing an image of a billboard with the phone camera)
- A live-updating physical display in City Hall to represent the public's opinion on the debate and provide citizens with supplemental information
We explored possible scale structures for the physical display in City Hall. We wanted a simple structure that would fit in with the old-fashioned look and feel of the building.
We created higher-fidelity versions of the scale structure in SketchUp (screenshot on the left) and Photoshop (image on the right).
When the balls move to represent public opinion, the heavier ball was supposed to represent the more popular opinion. We realized this may confuse some people, as they may think the higher and lighter ball represents the more popular side. To address this confusion, we show the balls with a "fill." When there is an equal number of people on both sides, each ball is half full. As one side becomes more popular, the "fill" level in that ball rises and the ball itself lowers (at the same time the "fill" level in the other ball lowers and the ball itself rises).
Alongside our structure in City Hall, we wanted to create a display for learning about issues and voicing opinions. We decided to create a simple display so users can access the same interface from their phones, computers, and the informative screen at City Hall.
We spent a while discussing what information and options should be included in the interface. Ultimately, we decided to feature a compiled Rotten Tomato-style summary of each side of the debate. This allows users to quickly gather the basic information, which is important to our student target population.
We also included individual comments so users can read more about nuances and specific arguments on each side. We thought this is important because it really demonstrates to users that their opinion matters and will be heard by others.