Soundscape (a mobile data sonification app)

Techniques used:

  • Personas
  • Storyboarding
  • Material Design
  • Information Architecture
  • Citizen Science 
  • Gamification
  • Sonification
  • Wireframing (Balsamiq, Sketch)
  • Prototype creation (InVision)

Team project. My contribution: information architecture design, storyboard creation, wireframe design. Duration: 1 month.

Meeting our User (Via Persona)

Our project team formed around the prompt of developing a citizen science mobile app to reduce noise pollution. We began by developing personas and scenarios to define our design strategy. Enter Aya, our primary user persona. Aya is a seventh grader in public school in Baltimore. She enjoys hanging out with friends at local coffee shops and libraries, and her favorite subject in school is science. She uses a Samsung S2 smart phone but has limited wifi connectivity. 

Our team defined city council members as secondary users. The users are concerned with the noise pollution levels in their city and are interested in collecting data to start managing the issue. Using the desires of our primary and secondary users our team ideated twenty different scenarios in which an app could meet these needs. We then moved forward on five of these ideas and drew them out in storyboards. 

Motivating Users to Adopt Our App

We speed-dated our storyboards with adult residents in Pittsburgh and with a teenage smart phone user. Many of our designs depended on users taking regular noise level measurements with their phones at either set times, locations, or both. User feedback showed us that motivating our app users to take these regular measurements would be a key element of our design. 

We researched motivational design and developed a screen flow for an app that gamified taking noise measurements. Since our persona, Aya, enjoyed using her phone for socializing, we added the ability to create teams and compete against each other and other teams based on the number of measurements taken. Rewards included badges as well as the ability to submit data for research to organizations like the city council.

One of the screens below includes a "You've been published!" notification – this show that users who submit regularly updated data have the chance of being cited in scientific research. This could be valuable to a persona such as Aya who is interested in pursuing science education and could use this as part of a scholarship or school application. 

Moving from Gamification to Sonification

During the early stages of app design our team gathered negative feedback on the gamification element. The idea of badges didn't provide enough motivation to get users to take regular measurements. We also researched the use of badges in app design and found that the overall reception of badges as a design element wasn't as strong as we initially expected. In reaction to these findings we shifted the design away from rewarding users with badges and toward more personalized rewards. Enter data sonification.

For every set number of noise level recordings our app design produces a "soundscape" – or a musical presentation of the collected noise level measurements. We sonified this data by mapping decibel levels to MIDI notes. Our teammate Andrew McHugh tried this out with his own phone and created the following "soundscapes" in Garage Band. 

Final Design 

Our final app design replaced the gamification element with the data sonification reward. We kept the social element in the form of a newsfeed and the ability to track your progress and friends' progress through a heat map. Our "soundscapes" became shareable content by adding the ability to link the app to social accounts such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We also kept the element of submitting data to research institutions, as we felt that this helped meet the overall citizen science goals of the app. 

Selected App Wireframes

App InVision Prototype Click-Through