Voices of Red Hook
Using AR as a Community Feedback Mechanism
MFA Products of Design, School of Visual Arts
Design Research, Interaction Design, Branding
Service Design, Product Design
Antya Waegemann, Qixuan Wang, Eugenia Ramos, Kevin Cook
AR Storytelling for the Red Hook Community
Voices of Red Hook is a community feedback mechanism that polls and aggregates community concerns through a physical mural and augmented reality experience. With a smartphone, a user scans one of the many faces on the physical mural, and watches the face and story of that resident come to life through AR. They are then prompted to react to the story through a series of civically-minded questions. Participants’ answers are collected to inspire the community to make collective decisions about political issues.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City. Red Hook, Brooklyn was one of the worst-hit neighborhoods and is still recovering today. In addition to climate change, residents are concerned about safety, affordability, and education.
How might we use augmented reality as a vehicle for the Red Hook community to share their stories in order to inspire civic engagement and political action?
STRATEGY: WHY AR?
Making the Invisible Visible
The appropriate use of technology is crucial; it should never be superfluous. In this case, our objective was to use AR as a vehicle for storytelling and platform for community feedback. As a technology, augmented reality (AR) has the following properties:
1/ Digital Tangibility: AR can add a visible layer to the existing physical world.
2/ Site-Specificity: It needs a specific visual trigger to be activated. Therefore, it is site-specific.
3/ Access: AR experiences can be accessed through a smartphone. Because smartphone penetration is prevalent across socioeconomic and racial groups, it makes AR one of the most accessible rising technologies.
PROCESS: DESIGN RESEARCH
Expanding the Original Design Brief
Methods used: User Interviews, Ideation Sessions, Crazy Eights, Rapid Prototyping, User Testing, Site Survey
The original design brief for this project asked us to use VR or AR to address climate change in Red Hook. Our research started with a site visit to our neighborhood of focus: Red Hook, Brooklyn. This visit helped us gain a better understanding of the local geography and current infrastructure. We also conducted preliminary intercept interviews with residents.
After this initial visit, it was clear that climate change was not the most urgent issue in their lives. Instead, there are more pressing concerns about affordability, safety, and education.
One resident talked about how she was stopped by police walking to school multiple times because of her race, and that she didn’t feel safe. Another resident talked about how hard it was to pay rent as the neighborhood was becoming more gentrified and many talked about the difficulty expressing concerns to any city officials. Many residents felt as if their concerns are not heard by the local government.
Let the Content Speak and Steer
Instead of assuming what the community needed, we gathered stories from residents with interviews that were guided by a qualitative survey. These stories informed the creation of our proposal. Below are some quotes from our conversations.
“Climate change is going to happen no matter what. It’s just not my biggest priority. One time when I walked to school, the police stopped me just because I’m black.” Sienna, 18, High School Student
“It’s been hard to make ends meet and pay rent. The community really helps each other out though. They helped me after Hurricane Sandy.” Leticia, 32, Resident
“Climate change is inevitable. We will stay in Red Hook until we absolutely cannot.” - Scott, 58, Artist
AR Mural Focused on Community Stories
To ground the AR experience in the physical world, we envisioned a street mural. Murals are publicly visible and easily accessible. With a smartphone, a user scans one of the many faces on the physical mural, and watches the face and story of that resident come to life through AR.
They are then prompted to react to the story through a series of civically-minded questions. Participants’ answers are collected to inspire the community to make collective decisions about political issues.
The mural would be located on Sullivan Street between Richards Street and Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. This is an intersection between a public school, government housing, and new developments.
We worked through a low-level journey map to help us understand a user’s interactions and touchpoints with the mural and AR experience.
Immediate next steps of this project would include additional user research, collaborating with a local organization such as Red Hook Initiative, and connecting with a local government official.