Sweet Auburn district is located in downtown Atlanta and has been a prominent African American community since segregation. It is the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and has fostered many other heroes like Congressman John Lewis, Ray Charles, and “Big Mouth Ben”. But the district has seen its fair share of violence and fallen upon tough times. While the community boasts of a rich history and some of its present members are trying hard to revive the more successful times, they acknowledge that design and tech projects that shine light on the community could definitely help in their mission to reach more positive goals.

Prompt

How may we allow the Sweet Auburn community in downtown Atlanta, its residents and business owners, along with its visitors to interact with its rich history while considering it’s ever changing landscape.

We worked in collaboration with the community on Auburn Avenue to create a product that brought justice to the rich past and present of this historic district which was an important landmark in the American civil rights movement. We based our research and design on social justice and theories like utilitarianism and feminism.

My Role

I worked on conducting research through secondary sources and site visits with my team to understand the project space. I translated these insights into project ideas and prototyped concepts. I also worked on the visual design and the website user interface.

Research

Our research and design process was influenced by a form+content approach. The way we design our product (be it physical, tangible, or only on a screen) would define the form of the product. While the stories we tell and the information we give through our product would be the content.

Literature Review + Existing Projects

Through our literature review we collected information about Sweet Auburn, and well as existing projects that have been designed to represent communities and cultures. We visited the local libraries and museums to collect information and stories on Sweet Auburn. We also took inspiration from existing projects like Tiny Doors ATL and other collaborations that focus on representation.

Tiny Doors ATL
Message in a heart
Jukebox on a street wall

Research

Our research and design process was influenced by a form+content approach. The way we design our product (be it physical, tangible, or only on a screen) would define the form of the product. While the stories we tell and the information we give through our product would be the content.

Literature Review + Existing Projects

Through our literature review we collected information about Sweet Auburn, and well as existing projects that have been designed to represent communities and cultures. We visited the local libraries and museums to collect information and stories on Sweet Auburn. We also took inspiration from existing projects like Tiny Doors ATL and other collaborations that focus on representation.

We based our work on the theories of justice that we were learning about in class, as well as on “Decolonizing Methodologies” by Linda Tuhiwai Smith especially focusing on revitalizing, remembering, storytelling, and awareness..

Informal Interviews + Ethnography

We created sheets with ‘prompts’ and tried to distribute those in popular places around Sweet Auburn like cafes and churches. These prompts included “I feel rooted in my community when…” , “I am part of Sweet Auburn and i’m proud of my…”, “I am hopeful for…”

But we realized that people were not responding to these well because they couldn’t think of simple ways to write about their experiences with limited space on a paper. Therefore, instead, we decided to go around asking people questions with the same prompts. This felt more like a casual conversation than an interview or a survey. And people from the community felt comfortable sharing stories about their experiences. We also spoke to members of the community who have been working towards sharing Sweet Auburn’s stories in their own way.

Prompts distributed
Prompts for interviews
Interview Notes

Ideation and Design

For our product, we wanted to share the different stories of Sweet Auburn with the world in a way that would help paint a bigger picture. We also wanted people to connect with these stories of love and courage, hard work and perseverance, and successes and failures. We found our inspiration for the form of our product hidden in plain sight: cards; postcards, visiting cards, trading cards, greeting cards. Every card given is a story shared and a connection made.

We also wanted more people to connect to these inspiring stories than only the ones who had the opportunity to visit Atlanta and Sweet Auburn – that’s where our online component came in.

Intended Audience:

  • Students around Atlanta (GSU, GT, SCAD) interested about their community.
  • Tourists and civil rights enthusiasts visiting the area from out of town or state.
  • Aspiring musicians, history nerds, religious souls!

Iteration 1:

We designed a set of cards that each told a story about a particular institution or person. Through our research, we chalked out four rough categories: social activism, music, churches, entrepreneurship. It was important for us, as outsiders to represent the community in a way that they would like to be represented, and not as we see them. It was also important to respect their privacy and understand that some stories may be too personal to tell. The first design of the card was the size of a visiting card that would fit into a person’s wallet.

What worked: People could carry it around with ease and share and exchange cards at will.
What didn’t work: Minimal real estate on the card to tell a story as well as add an image.

Iteration 2:

To add more space for the content, we decided to create a foldable card with 3 folds as shown below. This gave us enough space to add an image, a story and a link to further information. This link would lead the visitor to websites or other resources related to the subject of the story. In this way, we hoped to help local institutions like businesses, libraries, churches by bringing in new visitors. It was also foldable and could fit back into the wallet.

Physical Cards:

We also added our online element to this project. We called this part the ‘Journey of a card’. We created a mockup of an application where people could upload photos of a card when they receive it and share it. Each card/story would have an ID number (eg: #213). People would also mention this ID as well as their location while sharing their photo. In this way, visitors on the website could track which parts of the world a certain story has reached.

Lo-fi prototype of app:

Splash Screen & User’s Card collection
upload & share a card
journey of a card: searching for a card on the map
journey of a card: view a card

After this round of iteration, we had feedback sessions from our peers.
What worked: The visual design and the idea of telling short stories through these cards was appreciated.
What didn’t work: The cards were still too small; many people said that they’d either lose the card or throw it in the trash by mistake. Our online element seemed redundant to users as they thought sharing photos online is already being offered by too many apps.

Iteration 3:

Physical Cards

Taking into consideration our user feedback, we made our cards much bigger to now resemble the size of a postcard. The cards include an introduction to the subject of its story and lead the user to the online component of our product to learn more. If the story on the card is about an institution, the card also has a link to the institutions website.

Instagram posts

For our online element, we decided to take advantage of Instagram instead of building a whole new application for this. We created an account for our project so that every time a person shared a photo, they could tag our account as well as tag their location. This information would be then pulled onto a map on our website/app to show the previously designed ‘Journey of a card’.

Website Wireframes

The website contains information about the project and about the Sweet Auburn district along with visualizing the Journey of a Card.

Mobile prototype

The application on the phone mirrors the desktop website. The prototype here shows the essential interactions that make up the visualization of the ‘Journey of a Card’ where the user can search for a card or a topic, select a card, view the different places the card’s story has reached on a map, and view the card itself.

Journey of a card

What worked: The change in size of the card was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. Many people said they would treat these like postcards and mail them out to family and friends who they were reminded of while reading the story. They also said the visually appealing design would look great up on their fridge or pinned up in their bedroom.

What didn’t work: As our project was based on the philosophies of social justice, it was important that we, as outsiders, didn’t disturb the environment within Sweet Auburn, respected their privacy, and maintained their individualities. This meant we needed to respectfully tell only the stories that the community was comfortable with sharing. This limited the amount of cards we could design and share. While we initially aimed to have at least 30 stories by the end of the semester, we could only gather around 12 stories.

Taking input from Big Mouth Ben (right) while designing his card.
Getting user feedback on the new card size and design

Logo

I also worked on the branding and image for this product. Here are a few logo options that I designed:

Option 1
Option 2
Option 3
Option 4

Based on feedback from peers and the professor, we went with option 2.

Final design presentation:

For the final design, I created an initial template and as a team we designed multiple cards. I also prototyped a website for the project.

We presented our final product to community members from Auburn Avenue. We printed multiple cards and provided envelopes and stamps for people to use. The project got an excellent response, with us having to print extra cards later to send to community members who requested more copies.