People of Auburn -> GA Tech project, worked with Nassim Jafarinaimi. Around the theme of revitilizing a forgotten area of metro Atlanta called Sweet Auburn, which is the birthplace of Martin Luther King.
What's the Problem? How, Where, Why, When?
Brief Background info.
This two-phase project was part of Nassim JafariNaimi's Visual Culture and Design course at Georgia Institute of Technology, spring of 2016. There is a long tradition of designers creating visual campaigns to raise awareness and create calls to action for social causes. This project provided an opportunity for us to practice or visual design training through an understanding of visual culture and communication, specifically in the context of the Sweet Auburn Historic District in Atlanta, Georgia. In the 1920s through the 1960s, Auburn Avenue was a thriving center of African American business, culture, entertainment, and community. Home to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, Auburn Avenue was known as the 'richest Negro street of the South'. After desegregation, however, the once thriving street lost many of its important residents and businesses, thus leading to the decline of the area. Once a bustling street, Auburn Avenue, or 'Sweet Auburn', has now been placed twice on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of 11 Most Endangered Places. It was thus our task to use our visual culture and design training to tell the stories (past, present, or future) of Auburn to raise awareness by creating an effective, interesting, and persuasive visual and digital experience for a specific audience in Sweet Auburn.
Upon beginning the project, our first goal was to start researching and learning about the specific history of Sweet Auburn, and even about Atlanta. From William Sherman burning the city down in 1864, to racial desegregation through the 1960s, we had to absorb the full history of Atlanta as an important city in the American South. Our second goal was to determine a specific theme from our research that the project would focus on. Seemingly straightforward, defining a theme from only a couple weeks of research was daunting and vague. But, we learned later on that the task instruction was left intentionally vague so to leave room for creativity and ideation.
What did we do for research?
Analog Idea Generation
Where we started (on a blackboard, words, exploring big ideas and themes
Round 1 We explored several themes such as racial synergy (e.g. places where Whites and African Americans shared some exposure), social justice, architecture, new vs. old, attractiveness, and tourism. Based on our research, we decided to move forward with the theme of juxtaposing new and old, which we realized was actually a form of synergy. The images included people and places that were important to the racial, religious, geographic, and financial synergistic relationship that people on Auburn had with the rest of White Atlanta. We also attempted a call to action slogan of 'Bring Auburn Back', to encourage viewers to take action towards revitalizing Auburn. Round 2 After getting some positive feedback on our designs, we decided to refine some of our pieces for another design critique, again with them of synergy. But, we had to rethink our campaign slogan. Writing 'Bring Auburn Back' gives the impression that Auburn is gone, dead, and over, and community members that currently live and do business there would have a whole lot of problems with that. Instead, we landed on the campaign 'Flavors of Auburn', to put a more modern and approachable spin on our campaign. But, it still didn't make the cut. Our criticisms included a lack of approachable visuals,a misunderstood theme, and a weak call to action. Back to the drawing board. Round 3 Rather than sticking with the theme of synergy, we had to rethink what we wanted to tell our audience. Not only that, but we had to more specifically define our audience too. We figured, the people that know the least about Auburn's history are tourists, and so our goal then became to inform tourists of Auburn's history, and specifically of the significant people of Auburn's history since many of Auburn's buildings and landmarks are named after them. From there, we were faced with the question of how to make the stories of these people relatable? Make them life-size! People are naturally drawn to embodied images, so we decided to create life-sized posters of several important icons of Sweet Auburn, and accompany them with content about their story on Auburn.
Digital Component Idea Generation
Once we were fairly satisfied with the state of our poster deliverables, we started generating ideas for the digital component of our project. We had a vague idea that we had been thinking about during last project, an informational website for the people we were showing, but we weren't really satisfied with it and decide to explore very different directions that the project could take.
Round 1 Our first idea was to transform our posters on the wall into a life-sized hologram with a digital interface installed next to it that would allow passerbys to get interested and find out more about the people of Auburn. On the upside, it would be really effective at attracting people's attention. On the downside, it would be expensive and difficult to accomplish, and would need a lot of space.
Round 2 The second idea we initially presented was the informational website we had been thinking about during project 2. We were planning on leaving the address to the website on the pocket brochure that passerbys take with them, hoping they will end up visiting it. This idea tied well with the general idea of our installation and extended it, but we realize that people are rarely very interested in history and would most likely need something more to get them to visit a website about it. This idea was also fairly straightforward and not very original. Round 3 Our last idea was to edit our project 2 deliverables slightly to combine them with a recording device and an app. We would encourage people to think about Sweet Auburn with questions and the information provided by the installation, then encourage them to record their opinions and reactions and share them on a database with us. This idea got the most positive feedback during critique, and we thought that it had potential to be the most useful as we could use the content generated by people to get a general idea of what the general population thinks of Sweet Auburn and use those opinions to encourage positive change. We moved forward with this idea.
We refined the project by making a storyboard detailing a user's interaction with the installation and digital content, fine-tuning the installation and making a first draft of wireframes for the data-collecting app.
Round 4 We made some changes to the posters so that it would fit our new components and the new direction our project was going in better. We were still struggling with the historical information part of our project. So far we were expecting the passerby to learn about our characters through the text we were providing, but we were getting consistent feedback that no one would want to read it. In addition, our life-sized posters were so effective in attracting people's attention and entertaining them, that the textual part of the installation seemed even more boring by contrast. This is when we decided to switch the way we were telling the people of Auburn's story and added a series of sequential art illustrations to our installations. The graphics tell the same stories that the text blocks did, but through a much more enticing and interesting medium.
We also were struggling with the 'call to action' part of our installation. It would be primordial for the success of this project that passersby would get engaged and interested enough in what we were showing to want to say something and send it to the database, so the call to participate was to be very important. We spent quite some time brainstorming questions that we could ask the people to get them to record a reaction.
Another element that was frustrating with our direction is that we seemed to be steering further and further from the original intent of our poster installation. It's original purpose was to get passersby interested in the history of Auburn through it's people, and this was getting lost. We decided to re-think our project to be more attuned to our original direction while keeping some of the changes we had made to the installation. We still thought that showing the history of the people of Auburn through illustrations and very brief text was an effective method to get passerby's attention and focus, so we kept that element. We decided to focus on improving the installation itself and make a companion app that would enhance the experience of it in various ways.
We were much happier with this direction as the project was more united as a whole, as an experience, instead of a sum of discordant parts. We kept refining it until we arrived at a presentable final stage.
Our final project proposal is a series of installations paired with a companion app. The installations contain a life-sized cut-out of a person, a large title with their name, an accompanying series of illustrations and text detailing that person's life, a call to action poster encouraging people to download the companion app, and a map showing where the passerby is and where to find the other installations. These are heldwithin two panes of transparent glass, giving the illusion that the life-size character is standing there. We came up with example installations for three different individuals: Alonzo Herndon, John Wesley Dobbs and Mattiwilda Dobbs. We have drafts for the illustrations for all of them, but made a more finished version for Mattiwilda's installation. The other people of Auburn that would be included in the project would be Mary Combs, Alice Dugged Carry, Annie McPheeters and Irene Dobbs, all of whom had an important legacy in Sweet Auburn.
Although the companion app is not a necessity in order to enjoy the People of Auburn installations, it does enhance it in various ways. The companion app would help the user navigate Sweet Auburn and find the installations, and unlock digital content when they arrive near one of them. The content would be videos, sound, photos, and elements that seem most fitting depending on the person (Mattiwilda's for example would have a lot of sound files as she was a singer). Unlocking this content would give users a sense of achievement whenever they arrive to a different installation, encouraging them to find as many as possible and explore parts of Auburn they might not have gone to otherwise. We realize that other attempts to bring attention to Auburn’s history are already present throughout Auburn Avenue, though those are fairly discreet and not necessarily visible unless one is looking for them. We believe that our project has a higher potential to catch an audience, because of our life-sized printed characters and large images. Pictures are easier to engage with than text.
We are satisfied with the progress we made in this project, and the state to which we brought it in the scope of this class. We have crafted a coherent experience with a lot of attention being put in the user's experience and various types of users that we might encounter. Our final deliverables are visually appealing and effective in conveying our project. However, there are always wishes and regrets, and improvements we wish we could have found the time to work on. Some of the things we wish we could have figured out are the map, call to action poster and illustration text on the installation, a more designed content page in the app, and created more installation examples with the other characters on the list. The map and call to action poster are currently not entirely unified with the rest of the installation. Everything has a black & white aspect with detailed shading, and those two elements are a bit discordant. We wish we could have had time to make those elements synchronize better with he rest of the installation, but decided to focus on other elements when it came to finalizing the project. The text in the illustrations is something that we've been struggling with since project 2. We made the text as minimal as possible, but ultimately keeping a decent amount of it is inevitable, as the text is primordial in telling the story of the people of Auburn. The illustrations are very helpful, but they don't tell the story as precisely. We also wish we had found the time to design the experience of the content page of the app further. Right now it's just a list of the unlocked content with a picture and a description of the character, which works for our intended purposes, but we made the unlocking of the digital content a central part of our project and it could benefit from further attention.