Apps can be a costly solution with little value and low reward. To create an app that is successful over an extended period of time, it needs to go beyond being a novel concept. While we enjoy building apps, we wanted to make sure it was the right solution for DRWC by allowing data to drive the work going forward. We encouraged DRWC to partner with us on an exploratory research and strategy project that would allow us to first understand how and why visitors were using their mobile devices in reference to the waterfront, and identify untapped opportunities—online and beyond.
To kick-off our research, we designed signs for Spruce Street Harbor Park that asked visitors to take a picture using the sign and and submit their photo through various channels including Instagram, Facebook, email, and a special URL for mobile uploads. The signs gave us an opportunity to quickly prototype and test an idea for one method of engaging visitors at the waterfront through a physical object and social media. We installed four signs throughout the park on the evening of the #whyilovephilly party.
Through the summer, the signs remained in place and we received hundreds of submissions— all tracked by our hashtag: #SSHPpic. The signs were so popular that lines started to form behind them with visitors eager to capture their own shots. In addition to beautiful images of the park in its golden hour, and of family and friends enjoying each other's company, the selfies with cats and a giant zucchini were some of our favorite submissions.
We found that most users preferred to share their images using Instagram, and continued to use our custom hashtag for additional pictures they took throughout the park (not using the signs). Most notably, this experiment helped us learn that a simple prompt could serve as a great tool for DRWC to promote their parks using an already existing and widely popular social media service.
In the weeks following, our team set out for the waterfront and conducted a series of site visits at varying hours of the day. We observed visitor traffic, and held stakeholder interviews with over 70 individuals at three waterfront parks: Race Street Pier, Spruce Street Harbor Park, and The Great Plaza.
The process of better understanding how individuals were using their mobile devices before, during, and after their visit, coupled with insights gleaned from our physical sign installations, allowed us to uncover areas of opportunity for the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation to connect with their visitors. These included:
Navigating to the parks, taking pictures, and communicating with others in their group were the primary mobile device uses for visitors at the more social waterfront parks like Spruce Street Harbor Park. Beyond this, in most of the parks we also observed and spoke to individuals who were disengaged from their technology, instead spending time with their friends and family, reading, listening to music, exercising, and enjoying the view.
Prior to their visit, most people consulted their friends or were likely to seek information through Google Maps, Instagram, blogs and event sites like uwishunu, or a simple Google search. To find information on their way to the park, most users preferred familiar tools like Google and Google Maps. Once there, a majority of waterfront visitors were not looking up information about the park nor did they have the impulse to—it was something they might look in to later.
This showed us that people were likely to continue using the tools most familiar and convenient to them, as there were no clear pain points or needs for something new. Investing time and resources in creating an app would be counterproductive. We determined DRWC park visitors would respond positively to physical infrastructure such as:
This also emphasized the importance for the DRWC team to monitor online information - beyond their own website - for accuracy and timeliness.
One of the key findings of our research was that most visitors to the waterfront found out about the parks through word-of-mouth or friend’s images posted on social media. Very few people knew of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation or their involvement with the parks along the waterfront.
Many visitors were also unaware that the parks and plazas along the waterfront were connected to the organization or to each other in any way—let alone the existence of other parks or plazas. Furthermore, an overwhelming amount of visitors said they'd never been on or couldn’t recall being on the DRWC website.
These findings helped the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation understand that building brand awareness should be an important next step for the organization.
Excited about the opportunities we uncovered in the research, we designed and facilitated a mini-workshop with the DRWC team to use the findings to explore new ideas for future waterfront endeavors.
Questions we explored through a range of different exercises included:
The workshop enabled the DRWC and P’unk Ave teams to brainstorm and collaborate on specific ideas and opportunities based on the research findings, and not on creating an app without a strong need for it. This project generated so much enthusiasm and so many exciting ideas that the DRWC team asked us to come back to design and facilitate a workshop with a larger team to envision the following year’s Summerfest at Spruce Street Harbor Park.