A Walkthrough of Pittsburgh Public Art



This UX research project was conducted as part of the User-Centered Research and Evaluation class offered by the CMU HCII. The students were tasked with conducting individual research on the subject of public art in Pittsburgh and then collaborating in teams to address a specific problem or opportunity in the field.

Spring 2020

Elijah K., Stephanie T., Jinyi Y., Congying Z.

Sketch, Tableau, Mural

Individual        Group

Discovery          Delivery 

Conceptual     Visual

Executive Summary


Measure how public art contributes to the livability of the city, and determine ways to justify and optimize the costs associated with it.


The research involved a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, such as data visualization, contextual inquiry, interpretation, and affinity diagramming, etc. The findings from the research were used to ideate potential solutions.

My Role

Conducted individual research on the problem space, and then collaborated with 3 other students on problem reframing, primary research, solution ideating and prototyping.

* * *

1. Background

1.1 Problem Space

In collaboration with stakeholders from the civic design department, students from the class were tasked to conduct in-depth UX research on the current state of public art in Pittsburgh and to uncover areas for improvement to justify the investment in it.

1.2 The Analysis-Synthesis Bride Model

The semester-long project was structured using the Analysis-Synthesis Bride Model, a framework developed by Hugh Dubberly, Shelley Evenson, and Rick Robinso. It was divided into two parts: “What is” and “What could be”.

As shown in the picture, the research started in the lower-left quadrant with investigations of the current situation, and then moved to the upper-left quadrant where the collected information was sorted, classified, and distilled into the model of “what is”. Having agreed on a model of “what is”, students then worked in teams and moved to the upper-right quadrant to develop the model of “what could be”. Lastly, students had the option to move to the bottom-right and bring their ideas to life through prototyping.

2. “What is”

2.1 Background Research

To begin with, I explored the subject matter through various methods: I went through online documentation related to public art in Pittsburgh and other cities; Went on a field trip to the Cultural District and observed how people interact with the art; Examined the experiences and opinions of various stakeholders, including art enthusiasts, city officials, and community members, to gain a well-rounded perspective on the subject.

The background research provided a foundation for the subsequent phases of the project.

Field Research @Cultural District

2.2 Quantitative Analysis

Students were provided with the data collected from a short pilot in the previous class, which aimed to measure engagement through on-site social media interactions with public art. I cleaned up and sorted the data, made hypotheses, and created several data visualizations using Tableau. These visualizations were effective in surfacing the inner pattern of user behaviors and provided key insights into the engagement level with public art.

Website visits over the day: average visits at different hours of the day (Mar-April 2019)

Word cloud: what were users asked about most frequently?

Where are the visitors from? (Mar-April 2019)

How might the physical location of public art be related to the webpage visiting

2.3 Stakeholder & Customer Journey Mapping

Based on the research findings, I created maps and charts as the model to describe “What is”.

Stakeholder Map

Identify and categorize stakeholders involved, and their connections.

Customer Journey Map

Map out the journey of how a citizen gets in touch and interacts with public art.

3. “What could be”

After establishing a preliminary understanding of “What is”, the second part of the project required students to work in teams and explore “What could be”.

3.1 Ideation

The team compared the findings from our individual research, and then attempted to frame the problem through “Reversed Assumption”

We started with seemingly bad ideas and then zoomed out to recontextualize each one and generate more feasible ideas. “Public art has nothing to do with math” is one example from our reverse assumptions idea session. Math and art have a weak relationship in Pittsburgh, making it a bad idea, but by recontextualizing the problem, we were able to conceptualize data visualizations.

We each listed approximately five assumptions about public art on a whiteboard, then other team members wrote the reverse assumptions. We then discussed how each reversal could be accomplished and deepened our understanding of the scope of each reversal through research. 

This exercise helped us land on a topic of interest: we found that Pittsburgh residents, in general, seemed not to be familiar with the public art in the city, nor did they relate it with the image of the city.

Pittsburgh’s image is still in a transition phase“Many people still see Pittsburgh as sorely a manufacturing hub, which is not accurate anymore.”

The city has done a good job adapting what they are given and transforming into an innovation hub. However, although the city may have transformed, the city’s image is still transitioning.

Citizens do not relate public art with the image of the city

When talking about Pittsburgh, people tend to think about its history as the steel city, sports teams, etc. while public art is absent.

Citizens lack connections with public art and are not motivated to“Nobody has ever informed me about public art in the city…I ran into a few but didn’t stop to take a closer look.”

Reframed Problem

How might we include Public Art as part of the city’s image and delightful lifestyle?

3.2 Semi-Constructed Interview

We expanded our HMW statement into several research topics:

  • Understand people’s definition and interpretation of the city’s image
  • Understand how people’s perceptions of the city were formed and what are the essential components
  • Understand what makes the success in the city that already made public art a part of the city’s image
  • Understand people’s main touchpoints with the city
  • Learn about what makes a city attractive

We conducted 5 semi-constructed interviews with residents of Pittsburgh, New York City, and Miami, in order to better understand their perceptions of public art in the city.

Click to view the full interview plan & script
Zoom Interview

3.3 Interpretation & Affinity Diagraming

We gathered and transcribed our interview notes into a list of interpretations. We arranged and sorted them through affinity diagraming, which led us to a couple of insightful findings.

Affinity Diagram made with MURAL

Summary of Insights


Word of mouth is the most common channel of sharing and learning about public art. Social media is a more common channel in larger cities and people tend to keep their art life and personal life separate on social media.


Public art is capable of connecting with younger kids and creating memorable experiences they bring with them into adulthood that impact the way that they view their city.


Through gentrification, a city can be intentionally designed and public art can play a role in creating a new image of the city. New images have the potential to be heavily favored or disliked by locals.


In more well-known cities, city insiders tend to experience more of negative side effects. However, city insiders from less well-known cities such as Pittsburgh paint it in a very positive light and think that outsiders are not appreciating all that Pittsburgh has to offer.


City insiders have found public art to be placed very strategically within a city such that it paves the way for the exploration of more public art that the city has to offer.


Public art is capable of connecting with younger kids and creating memorable experiences they bring with them into adulthood that impact the way that they view their city.

3.4 Storyboarding & Speed Dating

We envisioned our solution as something that updates and diversifies the city’s image through active citizen engagement with public art. In the brainstorming session, we generated dozens of ideas through crazy 8’s, and then polished them into storyboards.

We determined a couple of underline user needs in the process:

  • Motivations to explore the public art
  • Following the trends within one’s social circle
  • Opportunities to showcase one’s own art creations

To validate these user needs, we recruited 4 Pittsburgh residents to conduct “speed dating” sessions, where we presented all storyboards in a row and collected their feedback/reactions toward each solution. The focus of the speed dating sessions was to understand people’s preference on functional, emotional, and social framings of the issue, rather than technical details. To learn more, check out our Speed Dating Plan and Guide.

Findings from speed dating:

  • Users can be driven by meaningful rewards to explore public art.
  • Users can get sensitive about the prices/efforts they pay to access the art.
  • Users tend to follow the trends inside their social circles.

We eventually selected the guided walk tour through mobile devices as our solution, as it had the potential to reach the largest number of people and to be the most accessible and engaging.

3.5 Experience Prototyping

In the last session, we prototyped a mobile application where users can easily customize a guided city walking tour with public art highlighted along the way. The user gets rewarded after checking in at each public art spot. We first created it in low fidelity to demonstrate the main features and interaction flows. The prototype was tested with a small group of Pittsburgh residents to gather feedback and validate our solution. Based on the feedback received, we made refinements to our design and iterated to high fidelity.

Low-Fidelity Prototype

High-Fidelity Prototype