UNDERSTANDING THE RELATIONSHIP OF WORKING NEW YORKER'S WITH NATURE
'Looking Out' is a design research project,
aimed at understanding how working New Yorkers integrate nature into their daily lives.
The objective was to explore various design research methodologies, identify and
prototype opportunities for design interventions.
Improve the experience of working New Yorkers in connecting with nature.
OUR FUTURE VISION
We imagine a world where one can connect
with nature while living and working in the city.
From an observational study in Central Park, NYC
Prototyping & Testing
New York City is the 6th most stressed-out city in the United States.
NYC is often perceived as only being a 'concrete jungle'. However, it is also home to a plethora of flora and fauna.
A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health and healing.
Despite this, New Yorkers are finding it difficult to connect with nature.
Our process was divided into two main phases:
1. Discovery Phase
2. Prototype Phase
We started by understanding how New Yorkers perceived nature and why and how they were presently interacting with it.
Our research methods and inquiry areas included observational studies and intercepts, participatory research, and diary studies. Each stage was followed by a round of insight synthesis,
debrief, and reflection. The insights garnered
from each stage would in turn inform the next
This phase was followed by designing and testing prototypes as possible design interventions.
NYC NATURE MAP
60% of NYC is:
40% of NYC is:
Landscaped & Natural
Statistics borrowed from the Natural Areas Conservancy
Left: From a participatory design study at Washington Square Park.
Right: Synthesising insights with the team.
THE DISCOVERY PHASE
Observational Studies and Intercepts
Understand why and how working New Yorkers currently integrate nature.
• Observations on working adults interacting with nature in public areas.
• Intercepts to understand working adults’ relationship and experience with nature.
Working New Yorkers have a desire to connect with nature but are not making enough effort to connect. Why?
Observation and intercept guides.
From participatory research conducted amongst a diverse demographic and across parks in the city.
Understand the conflict between intention and behavior of New Yorkers when connecting with nature.
• Using prompts, understand how nature-
related activities are prioritized according to
• Understand the barriers of engaging in such activities.
Working New Yorkers believe that their biggest barrier in connecting with nature is the lack of time. Where and how are they spending their time?
Understand the daily schedule of working
• “Take a photo every time you do a different activity”
• Post diary questions to understand current interactions with nature.
Working New Yorkers spend a lot of time commuting.
'Happenstance' integration with nature does not provide satisfaction.
They connect with nature in varying capacities in their daily lives to destress.
We conducted diary studies and interviews with 5 working New Yorkers.
Strong desire to connect
with nature, with a perceived time barrier.
Reduce stress and
prioritize time with nature.
For our next step, we reflected upon our research and synthesized insights from the discovery phase.
DISCOVERY PHASE IN A GLIMPSE:
Spanned across 8 weeks.
With 60+ hours of fieldwork.
Covering 7 green public spaces in NYC.
Having had interviews with various working
New Yorkers, our next step was to develop an approach strategy and design a persona, our
ideal user. This would help us in designing
our interventions and conduct testing with the
right group of people.
Bringing a change in mindset and behavior patterns.
We decided to take an inside-out approach as we believed it to be a more feasible and long-lasting option. We believe that change starts from within and that an inside-out approach would serve as a quick win while serving our purpose and vision.
Bringing a change in culture
and the environment.
Lives in Brooklyn, NYC
"Nature is important to me” “Nature helps me feel disconnected, I miss that feeling” “
I’m so busy with my job I just don’t have time.”
Lily, a busy working New Yorker, needs a way to integrate nature into her existing environment and schedule so that she can reduce stress.
Motivation to connect with nature
Low fidelity prototypes were designed for the first round of testing.
Bringing a change in mindset and behavior patterns requires strong motivation for the user.
The first two prototypes aimed to stimulate motivation through:
Integrate into familiar practices.
Meeting people where they are at.
Personalize to meet flexible schedules.
While the last two prototypes aimed to stimulate motivation through:
According to Fogg's Behavior Model,
Behavior Change = Motivation X Ability X Trigger
Keeping this model in mind, we tested our prototypes with 8 participants, who fell into our ideal user type. The tests were done to understand each prototype by themselves as well as in reference to the other three.
An example of the testing guide.
1. Convenience works better than novelty for long-term change.
Novelty is not the best motivator for long term behavior change.
Convenience is important for busy, working New Yorkers so they don’t have
to go out of their way.
2. Personalization is important.
People’s lifestyles and preferences differ greatly.
3. Build small wins towards a larger
Small behavioral changes lead to mindset changes, this is sustainable for the long run.
Small wins create a sense of achievement.
Putting these prototypes on a short term to long term effect scale, we believe that there is a great possibility in taking the third prototype forward i.e. incorporating mindfulness through smartphone integration.
This prototype has values that are beneficial to our ideal user:
It meets the user where they are at.
It provides personalization and control.
It provides clear and actionable steps.
There is room to further gamify it and add more incentives, making it more engaging and fun!
We believe that in order to tackle this issue at a scalable level, there is also a need to look at this issue from an outside-in approach. By bringing in cross-disciplinary stakeholders, one can engage with and act upon external factors, such as the spatial environment and the culture that this issue lives within.
However, while we do believe that systemic change is a necessary long term step, by engaging in and
developing such suggested small wins, we can change the perception around nature from being far and wide to being closer than we imagine, and practice exploring it in more mindful ways.