• Son Luu

Project DUMBO - Spatial Experience Design

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

Class: Site Specific Experience Design

Professors: Daniel Perlin | Peter Knocke

This semester at NYU has been an exciting time, learning so much while working on a ton of interesting projects. One of the projects I am working on is an experience design project specific to a location in NYC which everyone who lives in NY or has been here probably has a special place for it in their hearts: DUMBO.

This post is my weekly diary to document my learning and execution of this project. Please comment or share what you may know as I continue to learn more about this neighborhood. Any interesting insight would be greatly appreciated, and thanks again for checking out my work.

Individual Project

▫️The Challenge: How can Experience Design help local users better engage with their environments and each other?

▫️Project Objectives and Constraints: Beginning with DUMBO neighborhood, Brooklyn, New York:

  • We want to connect with real users

  • We want to learn from and to engage with tangible spaces in time

  • We want to directly address the local impact of climate change

▫️The Outcome: ongoing project


I went to visit DUMBO on a Monday in February. Although it was a bit cloudy, it was peaceful, and I thoroughly enjoyed strolling down the cobble-stoned street to explore this booming water-front neighborhood, home of many art galleries and recently new technology start-ups and design firms. I began to get to know DUMBO on a different level.

User Interviews

As part of my research about DUMBO to find inspirations for this project, I wanted to listen to more stories of the people here. That Monday afternoon, I walked into FEED coffee inside the new Time Out Market in DUMBO to see if I could meet and chat with anyone, hoping to get to know more about what their experiences are like in the neighborhood.

As I ordered my cup of coffee, I met Jay and Jane, the helpful baristas there, who both commuted to DUMBO for work. I was able to gain some initial insights about the demographic who live and work in the area from our casual conversation.

Then, I got to know more about Cara, one of the long-term local business owners in DUMBO at the DUMBO Business Improvement District 13th Annual Meeting hosted at St Ann's Warehouse in Feb 2019 as she received her DUMBO Dozen Award, together with her two business partners, co-owners of Superfine restaurant in the neighborhood.

The DUMBO Annual BID meeting is where you find local business owners, residents, workers who are interested in information on overall DUMBO activities, including programs, accomplishments and status of ongoing and upcoming public/private developments in the DUMBO neighborhood. I think the event was also a great networking opportunity for everyone including those who have lived and been a part of DUMBO for a long period time, as well as those who are newcomers in the neighborhood.

DUMBO Business Improvement District 13th Annual Meeting at St. Ann's Warehouse in Feb 2019

Primary Persona

After speaking to 3 individuals, including two employees who commute to DUMBO for work and a local business owner who has lived in the neighborhood for many years, I found the latter character - a long-term local business owner in DUMBO an interesting persona I would like to explore more.

I decided to read more about DUMBO long-term local business owners and realized they share very unique concerns and aspirations not only as business owners, but also as people who have become an integral part of the life and culture, as well as the development of an ever-changing DUMBO over decades. They witnessed the transformation of DUMBO, from being an underutilized waterfront area, a manufacturing wasteland of abandoned cars and oil barrels, to a thriving industrial, commercial and tech hub, and a hot residential address with one of the highest rents in the city.

Having been there throughout all the changes and transformations, these business owners have developed a strong sense of community, a spirit that is unique to them and no other new business owners within the last 5 years could feel the same. Some of these businesses, as one may be able to recall, such as: La Bagel Delight, Front Street Pizza, Almondine Bakery, Jimi's Market, 68 Jay Street Bar, Superfine etc. are all familiar names.

Indeed, while reading about the stories they shared, I was able to pinpoint some concerns with a unique local community spirit:

  • Affordability for all groups of customers in an increasingly expensive neighborhood

  • Losing sense of community connection as neighborhood experiencing significant increase of residential and public developments

  • Sustainability of business in the ever-changing outlook of DUMBO

User Journey

User Journey not only shows the process of a user experience; it also addresses his/her emotional feelings associated with each step or phase of the process. Understanding the emotional journey of a user experience may reveal frustrations, pain points, concerns that users are dealing with in the process, which would then provide ideas for opportunities to improve user experience.

Project DUMBO is unique, for it is not only specific to a location, but also to the people who live, work, visit in this neighborhood, as well as other relevant factors that might impact the experiences of those users.

One of the most relevant factors that has impacted and is expected to continue to impact the location and the people here is climate change. Seven years ago, October 2012, hurricane Sandy hit this water-front area and significantly damaged many homes and local business. Since then, there has not been another natural disaster here; however, the effects of climate change will continue to be a concern in the future.

In developing the journey of my project persona: a long-term local business owner, in addition to immediate and more personal concerns of the local business owners, I wanted to include environmental aspect as a crucial factor in the past as well as in the present and the future experience of DUMBO and the local business owners here.


High-level Challenges and Design Opportunity

Until now, having gathered quite a bit of information about DUMBO, specifically what the neighborhood has gone through socio-economically, the current landscape of climate change impacts in the past and in the future as well as insightful stories told by real individuals who have lived here through all the phases of transformation, I was able to identify the high level challenges the location and the people here are facing...

Based on these challenges, what would be a suitable design opportunity for me to help this local community tackle some of those challenges?

Problem Statement Exercise

Problem statements help us focus on what problem we are trying to solve. In writing a problem statement, we ask ourselves who we are trying to develop empathy for and what problem or situation this person is dealing with. It may sound simple, but we quickly learned in our in-class exercise that it required a lot of thorough considerations of the persona, his/her situation and concerns, the context of the problem (in this case, neighborhood DUMBO, the community, its socioeconomic, climate change concern outlook etc. all play a part), and what relevant aspects we would need to focus on.

As a practice exercise, we asked a couple of classmates to come up to the board and write their high-level challenge statement in this format:

"User wants to _______, and to do this they need _______, _______, and ________.

Then, we all had a chance to provide feedback for each other on how to improve these high-level challenge statements by writing our comments and recommendations on sticky notes to help everyone better define the different problems we tried to solve.

Sketching Exercise

It is one of the most effective ways to convey our ideas. By drawing or sketching out ideas, we help others visualize and imagine what the problem might actually looks like, how the solution might work, what might be the process of the experience, what is the context around the problem or solution etc.

We all got to learn basic sketching skills right in class. Everyone was then asked to draw 8 different solutions we would recommend for one another's problem statement. Sharing our sketches and solution recommendations really helped open up many different opportunities and approaches to various problems each person sought to address in his/her project.

Elevator Pitch Exercise

The class was asked to choose one concept and write a description (maximum of 3 sentences) to capture the following three points and share it out loud with our peers.

  1. Who is this for?

  2. What is it?

  3. How does it help them?

Then, we wanted to get a high-level idea of the system design of the solution: what are all involved? Who? What? When? Where? How? etc...

After evaluating the 7 different concepts, I chose an idea that I believe would address the following:

  • a fun and engaging gathering

  • interaction that creates interpersonal connection

  • coupled with an educational purpose


Next class meeting, everyone will be presenting some form of prototype of our concept. As we are still in the early stage of the project, it is important to gain initial feedback from users the sooner the better. We need to show our potential users some type of representation of our product idea to help explain the solution we are working towards. That way, we don't go go too far down the road to find out the product idea is completely not a fit-for-purpose solution.

My solution concept takes a combined form of event programming accompanied with a product designed specifically for the event, my prototype needs to address all three questions:

  1. How does it feel like? ---> how does the atmosphere of the community event feel like?

  2. How does it look like? ---> how does the hurricane survival kit look like?

  3. How does it act like? ---> how would the interaction among the participants be like?

I started making some paper prototypes of the hurricane kit and labels of information tables at the event. They are all low-fidelity prototypes made with cardboard and sticky notes but are presentable enough to give users an idea of the concept.

After getting the paper prototypes ready, I wanted to set up a role-play to demonstrate how the community gathering would be like potentially, let the actors interact with one another and observe how it goes.

Interaction Description:

  1. Members of the community are invited to come for a gathering at the community center one month prior to hurricane season of the year.

  2. There, the community members will receive hurricane emergency kit with tools and information necessary for personal protection in case of catastrophic disaster.

  3. To create more activities and interesting interactions, the community members will be asked to obtain disaster preparedness information from subject matter experts at individual information tables. At each table, after getting informed about aspects of disaster response, each member is welcomed to collect one item to add to their hurricane emergency kit. The activity continues until all community members collect all the items that belong in a kit.

  4. Meanwhile, the event creates another opportunity to build the DUMBO community spirit among members of local business owners to catch up, exchange business ideas etc.

Test Test Test

Now that I've chosen a concept, ideated on how it may be executed, and built out a rough low-fidelity version of the experience, it is time to put it in front of potential users for for feedback before moving forward. I am taking an approach that emphasizes on building to quickly learn more and obtain user input early on.

This agile approach would work well for a cross-functional team where team members from interdisciplinary backgrounds get together to ideate and quickly build out a prototype to show and obtain feedback from users. As a result of working on this project individually, the challenge I am facing is that I do not have the expertise in other areas that could potentially affect concept feasibility and execution. However, I will try to do as much research as I could, speak to my fellow classmates and others who may have had experience working on similar projects to learn and build for my concept.

🔶 Hypothesis

Before sharing my vision to the users, I need to understand what I am trying to learn from them, what I am trying to testing or proving in order to help move my concept forward. Therefore, it makes sense to start with developing hypothesis that matter to my project.

🔶 Preparation

Based on the above questions I'd like to have answers for, I need to make sure to show my audience a prototype vision that helps them effectively visualize experience as well as predict their feelings about that experience.

The challenge is "How can I show them an experience of an event without hosting an event?"

I think the best way to do this is to speak to them as if I am actually planning this event. This means, I need to think of all the components that would be crucial to hosting an event, such as: location, timing, required supplies, the people involved, etc.

📍The Location

For this particular experience, the location could potentially have a significant impact on the overall feelings and emotional experience.

The Jane's Carousel has an iconic attachment to DUMBO as a neighborhood. Furthermore, it carries lots of meaningful memories of what the community has been through, as a result of climate change impacts.

🎈The interaction

🎁 The Physical Product

I bought an Emergency Kit for myself to see what items are typically included. In addition, I researched on what is recommended by the NYC Emergency website to get an idea on what other options I should consider, specifically for the DUMBO community. This visual prototype may be a good starting point, but the hope is that I can personalize this Emergency Kit more particularly for the people in this neighborhood and help address specific their concerns.

In addition, the mock-up version of the bag needs more research on industrial, graphic design and packaging design to make sure the experience carries a unique brand and makes the participants feel special as they get to keep this bag for themselves as something that is not only useful, but also brings memorable moments of the experience afterwards.

📋 The Survey:

Not all users will have time to fill out a survey, but I created one just in case to help document their feedback. Otherwise, I will try and ask these questions and discuss them with the users either during or after they see the concept.

🔶 The Test

I went back to DUMBO on a Tuesday afternoon. In addition to a few other people I was able to ask for help with feedback, the person I really hoped to find was Cara, the owner of the local restaurant, Superfine. She is the persona whose story, hope and aspiration gave me the idea for the experience concept, and would be able to provide valuable input that affect the future of this project.

Superfine was the last location I went to in DUMBO in hope of finding Cara. I came in around 4 PM when the restaurant was on break from serving food until dinner time (only drinks were being served). This worked out perfectly, as the place wasn't very hectic, which might help with my plan of asking them for a big favor of being interviewed for my project.

I waited for Cara for about 30 minutes. Cara came out looking busy yet happy to sit down for a conversation. The next 45 minutes I spent with Cara were full of interesting and insightful stories. I couldn't be more grateful.

User Test Reflection

I gathered the notes from the user test and reflected on the input I received.

It was important for me to determine of I got the answers I was seeking for the hypothesis originally laid out.

And, what's also extremely helpful and valuable was users' feedback on the system design of this experience. There are many interconnected components that will all have an impact on the success of the idea execution.

And, any other interesting insights that came out of the conversations?

Story-telling Data

This next class was dedicated to exploring further data that tells interesting stories, potentially providing more background to the solutions each of the projects is proposing.

The following are some of my findings:

1. Hurricane Strike Frequency:

Below heat map shows hurricane strike frequency data per areas. As shown, the area which includes DUMBO neighborhood is coded in red which indicates a higher chance of hurricane strike coming back more frequently than other neighboring areas.

2. Adults' Care about Global Warming:

Another heat map! This time, it shows the percentage of adults having discussions about global warming. This may tell a story about overall care or interest in the topic by the general population in different areas.

3. Population and Economic Changes

The two heat maps below together provide some informative insights on population as well as economic growth in the King County area, where DUMBO, Brooklyn locates. With such growing prosperity, it makes sense for the residents to care about their long term safety in terms of environmental risks, potential natural disaster hazards, and community sustainability.

4. Natural Hazard Resilience Index

This below is such an interesting research on what factors matter most, and how much, when it comes to building a sustainable, resilient community against natural disasters.

Eco-system Design

A healthy development and sustainability of a service system will depend on many other external factors. It is crucial to have a good understanding of what are the factors that the service will be relying on.

Dream Big 🎈

Having a long-term vision of how the service system could potentially grow into can be an inspiring goal for not only the working team, but also help paint a picture of a potential idea to groups of stakeholders who may be able to provide support and sponsorship.


It's BUILD time!

Knowing the constraints I'm facing when developing the idea, I need to establish what my MVP (Minimum Viable Product) will be.

My MVP for the project will include:

1. An Emergency Go-Bag prototype

2. Some prototype version to help the audience visualize the activities and understand where, what activities, how the interactions will take place.

Final Product

I did a lot of research on brand, packaging graphic design and asked to learn from many of my friends with graphic design background.

1. The Go-Bag

This prototype of the bag provides a version of the design of how the bag could potentially look like. The real bag may be made of a material that would be water-proof, with zipper to secure all items inside etc.

2. Marketing Poster

Saving...Here are also an for the marketing poster for the event

3. The Evacuation Info Card

I decided to add this item to the Go-Bag along with other emergency kit items. The info card provides information on flood zones which many residents are not well-informed for their residential locations. In addition, it includes evacuation center's address for the neighborhood where the residents can try to get to for help in case of emergency.

4. The Plain View of the Event

I decided to build plain view prototype out of foam to illustrate the location, the set-up of the event, the user flow throughout from entrance, to inside the event, and out.


Me presenting my final design in class - May 2019

It has been a great journey learning about and designing experiences for a specific site, community, to address awareness and support social good. There are so many things to say about this class and this project...

1. Research: research may be thought of as a cliche' in design projects. It is a step that some decide to take it seriously or lightly. For this particular project, there is only one way to do it: to research thoroughly! If not, the risk of solving the wrong problem is tremendous.

2. Users: The importance of knowing who we are helping solve problem for is once again emphasized through the class and this project. The scope of the project is somewhat narrowed down thanks to the need to identify the target3 users for this specific location. Speaking to the potential users and listening to their challenges was crucial to the ideation for this project.

3. Site: this is everything in this class and the project. Keeping DUMBO and what is all about it throughout the project in mind was both useful, yet difficult to create something that is meant for this site. This means, without the context of this specific neighborhood, the experience or product developed will become meaningless.

4. Education on climate change and environmental crisis: was an inspiring goal and provided excellent context for this project. This for-social-good purpose and vision drove a lot of decisions, solution ideas, and execution. I found a tremendous amount of motivation for going the extra miles, also not giving up on a lot of constraints and challenges to arrive at a version of prototype that was truly meant for the people in DUMBO and the environmental risks the location is facing.