For my fourth project as part of General Assembly’s UXDI program I worked with a group to design an app from the ground up. We proposed to use AR technology to provide riders of the NYC with immediate access to information about the ’s art and advertisements. There are over 5.5 million riders on the average weekday and over 300 pieces of permanent art- we hypothesized that New Yorkers not only noticed the art, but would be interested in learning more if a resource existed.


We used three methods of research to test our initial hypothesis: contextual inquiry, user interviews and an online survey. Through contextual inquiry, we observed people in the subways and noted that almost everyone was on their phones from entering to exiting the station. In our user interviews and online survey we asked participants about their experiences with the subway, what they do in the station, how they like to be entertained and what, if anything, have they noticed in the stations. We spoke to 37 people total: all had taken the subway at least once and were medium-high tech efficient. However, the majority of our participants were New Yorkers and had ridden the subway too many times to count. We asked participants to describe their experience with the subway and most only had negative responses.

Most of the time terrible, with a handful of days of good service. Staff is rude, service is unreliable, cars are always dirty.

New Yorkers take the subway because it really is the fastest and cheapest way to get around the city and many have no other choice. They put up with the smell, the dirt, and the bad service for the most part, however upon further research we found that MTA ridership decreased in 2017 by 30 million rides.

We also asked participants if they had ever noticed anything in the stations that was intriguing to them. The data we collected proved that many NYC subway riders were interested in the art in the stations, followed by the dirt and the advertisements or were completely apathetic to the environment of the subway.

The mosaic & tile art is actually really cool and its a shame the stations aren’t maintained better.

I do like some of the art and molding! Unfortunately they are often overshadowed by sheer inconvenience.

Through our research we proved that the problem space exists and we proceeded with confidence knowing that two of the top three things riders notice on the subway were solvable by our application.


We developed a persona based on our research participants and drafted a problem statement around which to organize our design goals.

Eve is your typical New Yorker, lives in Brooklyn and commutes to Manhattan for work and social events almost every day. She does not have a high opinion of the subway but it (most of the time) gets her from point A to point B. Her commute is long and she tries to stay entertained throughout, listening to music, reading and catching up on social media. She barely looks up from her phone but when she does, she sometimes notices the art and advertisements in the subway. Sometimes she sees something intriguing but once she passes it, she moves on with her day and forgets about it.

How can we help Eve find information about things she sees in the New Subway immediately to enhance her commute?

Initial Designs

We started designing by using the MoSCoW method to determine which features we needed to include our application. In our must have category we had: camera screen, nearby activities, information pages, favorites, pre-loading/cashing, station info and time. We then ran a couple of rounds of design studio to flush out these features

We started with the AR screen, the artwork detail pages, a favorites page and the tab bar. Our first design iteration was a combination of the best parts of everyone’s designs and it helped us define some of the questions we needed to answer:

  • Whether we wanted to have a profile or use iCloud
  • How much information to offer on each screen (how much the user needed to work for information)
  • If and how the user could save and share information
  • How to ask for permissions (location, camera access, iCloud access)

We focused on two flows with our first we focused on two flows: getting information about an object and saving a piece of information for later. We found that participants were confused by the AR screen and needed more guidance as to how to use the app and that some of our tabs were not clear.

Version 1 AR screens

Design Iterations and Final Product

We decided to completely scrap version 1 and redesigned the screens to solve the issues found in our first round of testing. We added a 3-screen walkthrough, punctuated by the Camera and Location permission requests to help guide users through the process. We increased the fidelity of the AR screen and added camera brackets around items that can be clicked and made the detail page an overlay rather than a page, reducing the amount of user action required to view the information. We reduced the tab bar to 3 icons: History, Camera and Maps. We added a completely new maps section to offer a different display of history and suggest activities outside of the subway that might be related to the user’s interests.

Version 2 AR screens

In our second round of usability testing, we found that participants were confused by the map section, the game section was not clear and participants did not find it rewarding, however they were excited by the possibility of a game.

For our third and final iteration we we focused on game and the business model. We redesigned the Tab Bar (again) and changed our three tabs to Metrocards (the new Badges), Camera and History (Bookmarks, History, Clippings). We felt like we had a Eureka moment with the game and majorly redesigned the game, completely removing badges and instead creating a points system with users earning tokens for “discovering” artwork to work towards “purchasing” a Metrocard. Users would be able to redeem these special Metrocards for real collectible cards that they can actually use on the subway and show to their friends.

Version 3 game screens

We also built out the AR vision screens for Ads. Users would be able to click on ads to collect coupons that they can either add to their Apple wallet or clip and save to be used at a later date.

Version 3 ad screens

After our final round of usability testing we found that participants were very excited by the couponing function of the app and by the possibility to get a free Metrocard.

Final Thoughts

In order for this application to work, we would need a strong partnership with the MTA for access to information and funding. The MTA created the Arts and Design council almost 40 years ago as part of the response to the poor state of the stations and decline in ridership. We believe the MTA has an opportunity with Underground Art to encourage riders to be proud of New York’s history and invest in positive change in the subway.

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