In the midst of Boston reaching a record-breaking number of heat waves, the city was struggling to find a solution. Disproportionate heat risk in neglected communities creates hazardous situations for those unable to access shelter & shade.
In response to this, the City of Boston Environment Department paired up with Sasaki to pilot two WiFi "Cool Spots" at Boston Public Library branches that are located in environmentally at risk neighborhoods (Egleston Branch in Roxbury and the East Boston Branch).
These sites are providing public awareness regarding urban heat relief including where to acquire free fans and AC units, utility assistance, and other supplies through programs of the City of Boston.
My Role on "Cool Spot Boston"
During my internship at Sasaki, I had the privilege of taking on the roles of UX designer & junior product manager for Cool Spot Boston. My tasks as the junior product manager was to run the team design meetings with the principal in charge, data analyst, climate consultant, and senior product manager. In these meetings I was expected to facilitate the design charrette as well as document any notes not scribbled on to the Miro board. I then organized the notes and wireframe sketches so that I could begin to develop a LoFi prototype.
The next phase of the project is where I shifted from junior product manager to the UX designer. I built out the wire frames, touched base with my senior product manger, updated design redlines, then proceeded to build out the full HiFi prototype of the product. Once the HiFi prototype was approved and design redlines completed, I would slide back into the role of junior product manager and set up product timeline meetings with the development team. The meetings with the developer team was critical in building out our MVP features in the app and scheduling regular internal code reviews. My experience in programing through grad school allowed me to have fluent conversations with the engineers, as well has help problem solve / redesign features we felt were necessary to have, but did not align with the constricted timeline. Finally, I set up one final meeting with the entire team to share the overall product design as well as product timeline to launch.
Cool Spot Design Infrastructure
- The key to the project's success was the Sasaki architecture team designing the physical space for the two "Cool Spot" installations. The installations were temporary, but needed to be durable enough to withstand months of outdoor exposure. Each location hosted a multitude of microclimates (i.e. shaded, exposed, manually cooled, natural systems) that myself and the Tech Strategies team were responsible for collecting data from.
- While working with the architectural design teams, we on the Strategies team, developed 4 baseline microclimate conditions in which to monitor. These 4 baselines are dictated off of the most common urban settings found in downtown Boston.
+ Natural System (Tree Sensor)
+ Canopy with Misters
+ Shaded Cafe Seating
+ Exposed Seating
- A Kestrel climate data sensor was then placed in each one of these micro climates to collect temperature and humidity data. Each of these baselines sensors allowed our team to work with Klimaat Consulting & Innovation Inc to develop meaningful microclimate data to share with the community via our app.
Designing the App Interface
As the UX designer & junior product manager on the project, I was in charge of leading our interdisciplinary team work sessions for design ideation. The main focus was how to structure the app to be engaging for the public as well as informative to those in disproportionate heat risk zones. For our virtual team meetings, we used Miro to collectively sketch out all of our ideas.
One of the benefits for the Strategies team on the project was that, from the start, the city would be providing WiFi at each Cool spot. The WiFi afforded those enjoying the "Cool Spots" to stay a while and use their devices, but the WiFI was also critical for the Strategies team to use the Kestrel data sensors to gather climate data on each "Cool Spot" location.
Design Ideation Critical Features
- + Must have toggle for user to switch between day and night weather data sets
- + Take a kids data viz approach to make weather cards content more digestible
- + Figure out how to connect microclimate data sets to macro climate data sets for Boston
- + Incorporate climate fun facts for peak heat and peak cool data points
- + The ability to selectively see one or all Cool Spot location data sets at a time
Designing the Prototype
- The next step for me was to take our teams notes and feedback from the ideation meeting and begin to design the prototype. The main challenge with designing the prototype was sifting through the notes to separate the "MVP" features from the "nice to have" features. As the junior product manager on the project, it was my responsibility to set up meetings with the dev team before I began the design. We would discuss the product timeline and which features discussed in the design ideation meeting will be achievable within that timeline. Based on those developer meetings and the design ideation meeting, the following UI was designed as the 90% prototype.
This project was my first introduction into product management and I absolutely loved it. One of the most important lessons I learned was how to communicate across different disciplinary teams on a single product. I am fortunate to have a decent knowledge of programming from my masters program to allow me to have fluent and productive meetings with the development team. Separating the MVP features from the Nice to Have features may have been one of the most challenging aspects of the design, because everyone has very different opinions on what features meet MVP.
Facilitating clear communication and creating visual illustrations for all disciplines involved on the product proved extremely valuable.
The second most important lesson I learned is about properly capturing notes during team meetings. I initially struggled to feel like I was capturing the full breadth of some of the ideation meetings, but I eventually was able to use Miro and other platforms to capture ideas. One of the most useful communication methods I began to do was to literally sketch out ideas as the developer team talked about them. This allowed for a large group discussion on some more technically advanced topics.
Pairing product management with being the UX designer was very eye opening.
Taking on the role of designer as well as manager was very eye opening and useful. This experience was really great for me to get exposure to all the different roles one a single product as well as creating a strong sense of empathy for anyone on the production side of a product. Deadlines are critical to meet, but even more important is sitting down with the team and discovering what is achievable in the given timeline. This discussion must be had with all team members before volunteering them for late nights and weekend work by accidentally creating an unrealistic production timeline.
If you're interested in this project and want to hear more, or just want to chat, feel free to contact me!