Nov 15, 2019

Golden Eggs

A research project that revealed opportunities from people's experience of public art in Pittsburgh and culminated in the evaluation of a prototype of a new system.


In this project, we were interested in exploring people's experience around and perception of public art in Pittsburgh and identifying pain points to address. Our goal was to improve the interaction between viewers and public art, to pull in more people that don't usually engage with art, and to create new connections between the public and artists. We conducted interviews and analyzed existing solutions before developing our own: a scavenger hunt experience that draws people in with a physical object they can take with them that contains engaging information about the art piece. We developed low to mid-fidelity prototypes of our concept and evaluated with experience prototyping. Our prototype was very well received, suggesting future iterations could be successful in addressing our goal if implemented.


This was a project that I completed for the class User-Centered Research and Evaluation at CMU in Fall 2019, with team members Kyle Barron, Jessica Timczyk, Rituparna Roy, and Lauren Wittingham. On this project, I conducted interviews and worked with the team to create diagrams and synthesize the data. I was primarily focused on the data analysis portion and was responsible for the organization and creation of many of the deliverables for this project.


Exploring the Existing State of Public Art in Pittsburgh

Earlier in the fall, we explored the state of public art individually by creating stakeholder diagrams and journey maps from existing interviews and our own findings.

A stakeholder diagram I made exploring the individuals involved in Pittsburgh's public art

Metro21 and Heinz College, two of the stakeholders for this project deployed a solution in spring 2019 that aimed to measure engagement with a chatbot and wiki-style website. I used analytics data from this project to create some quantitative data visualizations to help in understanding how people interacted with the website and some of the things they were interested in learning. You can find my report and visualizations here. One notable insight generated from this process is that users are most interested in learning relatively abstract things about the art, as well as about the artist and their intent.

We began by pulling together the research that each of us had done individually and creating a diagram to find links between key concepts and areas that could use further exploration. It was clear from this that we were all interested in pursuing the area of "public knowledge of art" which we had found to have some contradictory and unknown elements from our previous research.

We consolidated some of our key findings into a diagram and selected a research direction

At this point, we formulated an initial research question: how might we improve the dialogue between artists of public art pieces and the public?

To begin to explore this area, we set out to understand how people engage with public art, as well as the processes they have for locating and researching it.

Observe and intercept interviews & affinity diagramming: people like art and have questions about it

We visited a number of public art pieces around Pittsburgh and approached people that were interacting with them in some way, such as taking a picture or walking up to observe. We also approached people that were in the vicinity of an art piece but weren't engaging with it. We synthesized our findings from the interviews with an affinity diagram.

Creating our affinity diagram from our interviews with the public

We gathered a few main insights from this phase of research:

  • Both locals and visitors to Pittsburgh generally have a favorable view of public art and believe it improves the city and their experience.
  • People have questions about public art that would be well-suited for the artist to answer.
  • Locals are often very familiar with the public art, and often use it as a landmark for wayfinding or meeting up with others.

Think-aloud protocol: people don't have access to quality information about public art

We next were interested in understanding how people searched for information about art, given some of the questions we'd heard. We conducted a think-aloud protocol on Pittsburgh Art Places, a website that gives information about Pittsburgh's public art and artists as well as a general internet search. We created a number of usability findings and found that the main problem people faced was a lack of quality information that could adequately answer their questions.

Another takeaway from the think-alouds was that people didn't seem to be used to searching for public art information. They were mostly able to complete the tasks we gave them, but it was clear that they would not usually be searching for information about public art online. This supported our earlier findings from the observe and intercept interviews, as only one of our interviewees said she had looked up public art online in the past.

Semi-structured interviews with artists: they want to help answer questions

Having spent time understanding people's perceptions of public art, we turned to artists so that we could better understand their process when creating public art and what dialogue (if any) exists with the public during that process and after. We interviewed three artists who had contributed work to Pittsburgh and asked about their process and contact with the public, as well as how information about their work is made available.

“I don’t get questions often from people, but I love answering questions if people have them. I want to make the information available for everyone interested but I don’t think anyone reads the plaques because it’s boring.”

We found that people's perception of artists were generally different than the reality; our artist interviewees were more than willing to discuss their work with members of the public.

Quickly Generating Possible Futures and Prototyping

The next phase of our project was to rapidly generate multiple possible directions, then narrow them down to one idea to create an experience prototype.

Rapid ideation & storyboards: people like games

To begin, we each quickly sketched eight ideas in eight minutes, ranging from safe to really out-there. We eventually settled on five directions to explore. There were five key needs that the ideas addressed:

  • Need for draw-in/on-site engagement at the art
  • Need to contribute to public knowledge of art
  • Need for communication with the artist
  • Need for curated information about the art

Next, we created storyboards for each of these needs. The goal of each was to determine if the need exists, rather than if a particular technological solution is correct. We conducted speed-dating sessions with Pittsburgh locals, presenting each of the them with a storyboard one at a time and asking questions pertaining to the particular situation to establish if the scenario was realistic.

One of the storyboards I created exploring the need to contribute to the public discussion and understanding of art

It became clear from the speed-dating sessions that the favorite among our participants was gamifying the experience of exploring public art in Pittsburgh; people believed that having a system that gave a reason to approach the art or seek out other pieces of art would be a beneficial addition to the city.

Creating low and mid fidelity prototypes: an egg scavenger hunt

The first insight we had when narrowing down our storyboards down was that people were confused and put-off by scenarios that included technological solutions. This supported our earlier findings that people don't tend to look up art and information about art online. We decided to go along with this and design a physical system that could be placed on-site for those who go to see the art in-person.

One idea that had particularly good responses from our participants was a solution that involved a token that could be collected from an art piece containing a piece of information about the art. People liked the physicality of it, as well as the fact that they could have a memento and perhaps start a collection of these tokens.

Our earlier research suggested the kinds of questions that people might like answers to about the public art, so we created a list of answers to questions about a particular piece and printed them on strips of paper. We put these strips in plastic golden eggs then placed the eggs in front of Agnes Katz Plaza in downtown Pittsburgh.

The egg prototype placed in front of the art piece

After a couple hours, all 50 of the eggs we put out were gone. We talked to people who took the eggs and they were often delighted by the object and the little snippet of information they found inside:

“If I saw the eggs at a different art piece I would want it to be like a scavenger hunt. These eggs are so cool I would want to hold on to them and have like a collection...”

“I never realized this art piece was made by a woman until I read the fact inside the egg. I walk by this piece every day and I never knew that. It’s like this will make my walk so much better because that’s badass knowing such a beautiful and amazing thing was made by another woman.”

In the future, we'd like to incorporate the artist into this process by allowing them to contribute to the information inside the eggs as well as perhaps customizing the eggs themselves, so there's a reason to go and seek out each location. With a few tweaks, the scavenger hunt experience could be implemented at multiple public art locations around Pittsburgh and draw in new and more familiar audiences to existing pieces to drive engagement and curiosity.

The egg prototype in action