ARTS IN PLANNING
In 2021, the Community Engagement and Arts team at the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) piloted the integration of arts and culture into their programs, practices, and policies with hopes of reimagining and ultimately centering community engagement so that community outcomes and quality of life improve. As their Creative Designer, I created the Arts in Planning Handbook, as a of our experience as a reference for creatives, planners, and local government officials to reflect on how our work demonstrates the benefits of a focus on arts and culture in community development initiatives.
The Community Engagement and Arts team at the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has created this recap of our experience as a reference for creatives, planners, and local government officials to reflect on how our work demonstrates the benefits of a focus on arts and culture in community development initiatives.
If you're a creative with experience or interest in civic practice, your work is invaluable to community development. Our work demonstrates ways to involve creatives in planning processes from the beginning so that their lived experience and expertise is reflected in community outcomes.
As a planners seeking to pilot a new arts and culture program, we have documented our personal journey so that we can share our lessons and mistakes with those who hope to do this work in the future. This work inherently centers on underserved communities, and we must be prepared to do the extra work to ensure their voices are heard.
For local government entities or officials looking to improve their local arts and cultural endeavors, we demonstrate the ways in which we have worked closely with local officials to envision community development initiatives while putting arts, culture, and, local creatives front and center in the process.
The following is an overview of the learning experiences thus far in the pilot of ARC's integration of arts and culture into their community engagement initiatives through the work of the Community Engagement and Arts team. These experiences include a new iteration of Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta (ALMA), the Metro Atlanta Artist Survey, and our follow-up interviews with local creatives. Each experience had its triumphs, misshaps, and lessons learned. We are delighted to share these lessons with you.
The 2021 Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta (ALMA) program sought experienced creatives, arts administrators, designers, urban planners, and local government officials to participate in a unique edition of ALMA aimed at developing creative, cross-sector proposals to community planning challenges. We called the class ALMA Workshop. We'll describe the ALMA Workshop in more detail and share our takeaways.
We kicked off our external engagement with our Metro Atlanta Artist Survey. This section will cover the development of the survey, its contents, its performance, and our findings.
We set the tone for the project in our first meeting via Microsoft Teams. As a method of enhancing our virtual collaboration, I had the team fill out worksheets prior to the meeting that gave them space to introduce themselves, write their assumptions about this project, our target audience + user research goals. We discussed our responses during the meeting.
literature reviews + competitive audits
To promote a shared understanding of the subject within the team, I assigned my teammates with the tasks of conducting literature reviews + competitive audits. Literature reviews allow the team to dive into existing research related to the topic, while competitive audits are analyses of competing platforms with similar functions + goals.
We took to our target audience (aka our art-loving classmates + professors) + asked them questions that we thought would help them fulfill their goals with our product. We asked them about their desires in their art-viewing experiences + analyzed their responses using affinity maps.
This being the last group project I led in my undergraduate career, I hoped to learn from my previous collaborative endeavors + improve this experience by making room for my teammates to feel safe + open during the collaborative process. I have found that virtual collaboration has great potential to hinder peoples' abilities to feel comfortable in a collaborative setting. This is understandable as we have all been accustomed to in-person collaboration + all of its benefits.
My hope was that creating worksheets like this prior to our team meetings could be useful in collecting our thoughts + encouraging everyone to participate. Filling out this worksheet gave my teammates a chance to prepare for our first icebreaker, become familiar with the existing product + think a bit about the problem at hand before we dove in to the GDD process.
MY KICKOFF WORKSHEET
literature reviews +
To promote a shared understanding of the subject within the team, I assigned my teammates with the tasks of conducting literature reviews + competitive audits. I had spent the past year studying Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), exploring the local art scene + documenting my experiences online. I wanted to give the rest of my team space to dive into the resources I had already found + some that I had created.
This VTS zine is a project I worked on last year when trying to explore ways to communicate VTS as a tool to help guide thinking + discussion around art. My team also checked out the art guide on my website + explored potential competing platforms.
VTS ZINE BY ME
ATLANTA STREET ART MAP
PUBLIC ART TOUR
In our competitive audits, we found a few platforms that document + guide users through public art around the city. Our main direct competitors were Atlanta Street Art Map (website) and City of Atlanta's Public Art Tour (app). Our platform would stand out by including a few works curated + featured monthly, prioritizing emerging artists + small spaces + using VTS as a tool for engagement (with an accompanying zine).
Our user interviews were an interesting experience that, luckily, I was prepared for having gone through this process a few times during the pandemic. We were limited to conducting the interviews virtually via Microsoft Teams. We were also limited to interviewing our classmates + professors as a result of delayed IRB approval, which we need in order to take the research outside of the classroom.
We were lucky to be in a class with folks that were interested in the art scene + intrigued by our idea. We interviewed three of our classmates + both of our professors over the course of two weeks. In the interviews, we asked our participants about their relationship with art, how they thought their art-viewing experiences could be improved + asked them to review the existing design of the guide + provide feedback.
DR. LABRIOLA'S AFFINITY MAP
AMARI'S AFFINITY MAP
The modeling phase of the GDD process involves creating personas or profiles of potential users who the team will be designing for. This helps us visualize + empathize with the user throughout the development of the product.
We started this phase by analyzing our findings from user interviews + identifying common themes. Our interviewees expressed interest in participating + gaining a better understanding of the local art scene, viewing art at their own pace + finding comfortable, safe spaces. We kept all of these themes in mind when creating Jules, our persona for the Atlanta Art Guide.
OUR PERSONA PREP
Location: Marietta, GA
Occupation: Industrial Designer
Hobby: Visual art
Jules is a 25 year old industrial designer living in Marietta, GA. They just moved to town + would love to explore the art scene. They love to see + occasionally make art but feel disconnected from the art scene because they don't indulge in art as much as they would like to. They tend to find art guides intimidating as they either provide too much information or not enough. They are open to VTS because they think it will make their art-viewing experiences more impactful.
Jules wants to focus on their design practice but is eager to learn + gain inspiration from other creatives in their area. They want to a new way of viewing art that they can incorporate in their future art museum visits.
JULES, OUR PERSONA
The design of the Atlanta Art Guide would provide solutions for Jules through the curation of the guide + the use of Visual Thinking Strategies. VTS would provide a self-guided experience for Jules that they could participate in virtually or share in-person with friends. This tool would make art guides more approachable + may encourage their use. The guide would be curated to include small, local, exciting + comfortable spaces while helping Jules discover new local art + artists. There is also the potential of partnering with nearby organizations or small spaces to bring more attention to the physical spaces in their community.
We stated the problem we are trying to tackle with our product by using the following template: The current state of [blank] focuses primarily on [blank]. What existing products fail to address is that [blank] could enhance user experiences. Our product will address this by doing [blank] to solve [blank].
We stated our vision for our product using the following template: The new design of [blank] will help users achieve [blank] through [blank] while overcoming [blank] that they currently experience. This will dramatically improve user experiences in [blank].
With a clear problem + vision for our product, we collaborated on an affinity map in which we sorted the required functions + features of our platform. Affinity maps allow us to visualize all of our ideas + identify those that would best support the user experience.
The current state of Atlanta art guides has focused primarily on guiding users to locations + providing minimal information about the art. What existing products fail to address is that tools for engagement, discovery + interaction with art + surrounding spaces could enhance user experiences. Our product will address this gap by introducing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to guide users through local communities + engage them in thought-provoking discussions around art.
The new design of Atlanta art guides will help users achieve engaging + interactive art-viewing experiences by allowing them to discover art in safe physical + virtual spaces while using VTS to guide reflection with greater emphasis on comprehension, comfort + community + without the constraints + discomfort that they currently experience. This will dramatically improve users' art viewing experiences + their motivation to participate in these experiences while supporting their local community.
We brainstormed the platform's required features + functions by building an affinity map. Here we listed all of our ideas that proposed solutions for are necessary for users like Jules that to reach their goals. This included identifying possible context scenarios the user may face while using the app + accomodating its functions accordingly.
Usability testing is different from user interviews in that we tested a low-fidelity prototype of our product to measure its effectiveness toward user goals rather than asking users about their goals. We tested our product with four of our classmates + one professor over the course of one week. During these tests, we asked our participants to use Think-Aloud Protocol as they navigated through our prototype. This method allowed the team to watch users + hear their thought processes so that we could gain an understanding of their perspective + analyze the effectiveness of the visual, user experience (UX) + user interface (UI) design.
AMARI'S TEST NOTES
After our usability tests, we came together as a team to discuss our key positive, negative + surprise takeaways. This exercise gave us space to make sense of our responses from the usability tests + focus on certain aspects of the design moving forward. For us, we found that while our users really enjoyed the concept + visual design, the platform was not as easy to use as we had hoped despite our attempts to simplify the experience.
For the refinement of the Atlanta Art Guide, we kept the visual simplicity of our low-fidelity prototype (with the exception of accent colors, as suggested by our users). We also simplified the UI design to eliminate redundant features + unnecessary pages. This experience would ideally present a QR code at the site of public art that would take users to this digital zine, connect them to the Atlanta Art Guide + (hopefully) encourage them to visit the featured works in person if they haven't already. We hope you enjoy this experience as much as we have enjoyed creating it for you, our beloved user. If you have any thoughts on this experience, feel free to share them here.
The Atlanta Art Guide represents a milestone (or capstone, if you will) of my journey as an Interactive Design student at Kennesaw State University—the journey of discovering who I want to be as a designer + frankly, a member of my local community. This journey began with Craft, a project motivated by the dire need for collaboration that I noticed within Atlanta's arts community. It continued with UX at the ZMA, where I explored the potential of user experience design methods to improve services + draw attention to physical spaces. It grew with the development of Acres, a platform that connects communities to local food-sharing spaces with a focus on marginalized farmers + shoppers. The Atlanta Art Guide encompasses the goals of all of these initiatives through a focus on local spaces, underserved communities + the growing needs for visibility in our screen-based world.
Throughout this journey, I have had the privilege of learning what it means to be a leader. It means having a clear vision of your goals, learning the strengths + weaknesses of your team + adapting to the the scenario of your work despite challenges. It means screwing up + getting right back on your feet. Both the team + the project depend on the perseverance of the leader. I have worked on some incredible teams + faced some incredible challenges. The products of our work aren't perfect, but if there is anything I have learned about design, it's that if it is perfect...well, you're doing it wrong.
This redesign was intended to be adapted to allow the Atlanta Art Guide to be its own, independent platform outside of my website. I never want to stop regularly attending + sharing local arts events or safe public spaces. That being said, I have been lucky enough to be offered a new job as Communications Manager for Living Walls, The City Speaks following graduation. This position will allow me the space to continue to do this work in a space that is already established + presents infinite room to grow. I am in no way giving up on this initiative + I am ecstatic to see how the ideas presented in the Atlanta Art Guide benefit this organization + my local community.