Less than a century ago, people all over the world could look up to the sky and see the universe staring back. Due to light pollution, most humans today no longer have access to the sight of stars from their homes. Light pollution is defined as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light.” It causes an effect known as skyglow, which is light that lives in our atmosphere and prevents the skies from darkening enough for us to see the stars. However, so much skyglow is unnecessarily caused and can easily be resolved by making simple changes to our homes and behavior.
If light pollution is one of the easiest environmental issues people can fix, why aren’t we talking about it more or trying to resolve it? Our goal was to understand how much people knew about light pollution and what interest they had in accessing with the night skies. Based on those insights, we would develop a creative and viable campaign solution that could help the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) spread awareness, transform behavior, and reverse the negative impacts of light pollution.
My Role and Responsibilities
This project was conducted at SCAD University as part of the M.A. in Interactive Design and Game Development program. I was one of four members in the group and led the conceptual and creative development of the project’s solution and visual approach.
Reducing light pollution is a challenge for most of the general public because they are not aware of the problem, its negative impacts, and how to solve it.
How might we educate people and communities about the consequences of light pollution, and inspire them to take personal action and spread awareness?
Our final solution is a campaign composed of two entities that raise awareness of the impacts of light pollution to citizens around the world, and provides information on how to resolve it.
Part 1: Immersive Dark Sky Tunnel
The Dark Sky Tunnel is a traveling public installation that visits cities worldwide. The immersive experience invites users inside to see their city’s night skies transition through the different levels of light pollution (the higher the light pollution level, the more skyglow.) This installation offers users a direct experience into how light pollution is impacting their view of the beautiful starry skies beyond. For many people who have only lived in the city, this may also be the first moment they “witness” a universe that lives just beyond the horizon.The installation aims to connect people with the same sense of awe and wonder the universe always provides.
Part 2: Educational Social App
An interactive social app that can be used in conjunction with the immersive tunnel and on its own.
App paired with the Dark Sky Tunnel
Users at the installation can scan a QR code or download the app before entering the tunnel. The app will provide a guided tour with additional facts about light pollution and their city’s night sky. In the tunnel, users can choose to participate in an astronomical scavenger hunt using AR technology and location beacons.
App for general use
Since this campaign is targeting a younger audience, the app needed to avoid being too preachy, boring or lengthy. Instead the experience is multimedia, interactive and gamified. Even if users aren’t in the same city as the installation, they can virtually visit different cities, learn about light pollution and take quizzes to test their knowledge. The more active users are in the app, the more “stars” they accrue. These stars can be used to create constellations on their own or with a friend, and gift to others. In this way, the users become contributors to the dark sky. Users can also follow friends and their journey and commitment to reducing light pollution. To view the prototype, click here.
The video was art directed and created by Wanyi Ma. Given time and covid-19 constraints, the team decided to execute an animated video to explain some of the app’s features and functionality. The video relayed the connection between the installation and the app, and the accessibility of the app beyond the installation. The installation and the app seek to inspire, educate, connect and transform behavior.
My teammate Yue Guo asked citizens worldwide what knowledge and interest they had in reducing light pollution. The research’s goal was to better understand the connection people have to the universe on an emotional level and how we can meet their interests. By understanding our potential users better, we could explore appropriate solutions. Some of the research methods included secondary research, interviews, surveys, and competitive research.
Research Key Findings
- Users lack awareness of light pollution. But, when they learn about it, they want to understand its adverse impacts on their lives and access to the dark skies.
- Almost every interviewee wanted to experience a sky without light pollution. The interviewees who have experienced it thought that such a starry sky was a beautiful and memorable experience.
- Users misunderstood reducing light pollution with reducing light safety in urban life. They were concerned “turning off too much urban lighting may bring about safety issues in the city at night.” Clearer information about this can reduce causes for concern.
- The current information on light pollution is very scientific and boring. The data needs to be more interactive and not overloading with harsh or dull data to attract our younger audience.
The idea of the installation was our way of showing people what they are missing and allow them to form the connection to the dark skies through an enchanting experience that reflects a possible reality. Many of the users have lived in cities all of their lives, and have never experienced the magic of a dark sky.
We took inspiration from the universe itself (of course) and existing light installations that reflect the real technological capabilities.
After deciding to incorporate a public installation, we began brainstorming and sharing different ideas. The conversations were organic and fluid, with us meeting, discussing, sketching and sharing all in the same sessions. It took a lot of time to define how the installation would work and its relationship to the app.
The wireframes were created by Mengna Liao, who explored various ways to present the different types of content and sections that we determined. The wireframes helped us determine the proper structure of educational and engaging content and how they can all coexist in one app. The wireframes began as rough sketches that our team brainstormed and tested before evolving into higher fidelity versions.
Naming and Visual Design
While Mengna worked on wires, I began exploring naming and visual identity. Since our project is targeting a younger audience, I wanted to make sure it evoked feelings of magic and inspiration.
Two different styles were explored for the visual direction of the app. In the end, the solution turned out to be some combination of the two, which brought a balance between the dark and vivid tones in each style.
The storyboards and video were created by Wanyi Ma while I worked on the visual design of the app. The storyboards enabled her to communicate the concept with the team before moving into production.
This was one of the most complex projects I worked on because it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and think about UX not only from functional perspective, but also from a social and gaming perspective. We knew it had to be interactive and compelling to capture the attention of a younger audience but weren’t sure how all of the different interactive, social and gaming elements could come together, and tie in with the installation. As we progressed through the project the pieces did end up coming together, but it required us to gain confidence that we were heading in a solid direction and not change course too many times. By reminding ourselves of the research and goals of the project, we maintained focus and finished.
I also enjoyed thinking about concepts taking shape in installations, and how the principles of UX extend beyond screens and devices.
To learn more about light pollution and the work of IDSA, visit here.