One of the few well-kept trails at Burnet Woods

Bearcats to Burnet

Created by: Rachel Fagan, Andie Ticknor, Clare Rachwalski, Alicia Kozlowski

The Problem

Burnet Woods is a 90-acre park across the street from the University of Cincinnati. It boasts a wide range of activities from playgrounds and disc golf to hiking trails and a planetarium. Though all these activities are engaging and entertaining, not many people visit the park. Our mission is to make Burnet Woods more accessible, inviting, and user-friendly. We looked at other cities that successfully integrated green space, and found that the most successful parks bring communities together with activities and simple, comfortable transportation.

User Research

Empathic Research

Can you spot the trail marker in this photograph?
Experiencing the fun of Burnet Woods firsthand

Our primary source of research was from experiencing the park firsthand, and becoming the users ourselves. Through this we were able to see the shortcomings of the trails, like the many intersections of the park that were lacking distinct trail markers or the trail markers in place were confusing or contradictory. We saw the dangers of dilapidated bridges and unkempt trails as those of us that were wearing inappropriate shoes would slip or struggle to maintain sure footing. On the other hand, we saw the joys of Burnet Woods: families spending time together, friends enjoying fishing on the dock, and a great space that is completely missed by so many students at UC and others in the local community.

Learning to read the sometimes cryptic trail markers.

Video Recording/Think Aloud Study

Below are a few of the videos we took during our research experiencing both the good (swings!!) and the bad (where are we going?) of the park. Having the videos as resources to look back on allowed us to recall our time in the park giving us more experience to pull from when looking for a solution. Thinking aloud as we encountered different aspects of the woods created a new perspective of a user who never had been in the park before.

Interviews Conducted

Interview 1: Ryan
(27 years old) Ryan has been coming to the park almost everyday for the past 2.5 years because it is close to his house on Ludlow and job at UC. Although he said he’s heard bad things about the park, he feels that it is generally safe and enjoys fishing and exercising in Burnet. He wishes that the park was used more frequently by UC students, and said he would want the park to have more bathrooms, better maintained trails, and a cleaner lake. Some of the trails he is unable to use during his workouts because they are flooded or poorly kept.

Interview 2: Malik, son John
(35 years old, son is 6) Malik and John are from Jordan but moved to Cincinnati. They live across the street from the park so Malik’s wife can finish her PhD at UC. Malik takes John to the park everyday after school because John enjoys playing on the swing set. The said they would never come to the park at night.

Interview 3: Eugene and Margie (married), dog Buster
(62 and 60 years old) Eugene and Margie have been using Burnet Woods for 27 years. They enjoy walking around the park and being surrounded by nature. They liked that “the bowl,” the valley near Ludlow in the park, was being used more by UC students lately. They said that they would ideally like to have a cleaner lake in the park, an area for dogs to play, and better utilization of the park and planetarium. They also said that due to lack of funding, they’ve noticed that the park has been increasingly unkempt, with more trash lying about and a lack of general cleanliness.

Our Focus

In order to make the park more accessible, we want to create events and share the space with people so it will make it feel more familiar. More utilization will also curb skeptical behavior because more traffic means wrong-doers are more likely to get caught. We decided to target the large population of UC students. According to an article speaking of UC students and off-campus activities, “fifty percent of students do not find Burnet Woods appealing.” They live directly across the street from the park and are limited to two small areas of green space on campus. The opportunity for this demographic to take advantage of the park space is enormous.

Proposed Solutions

For our final conceptualized solution, we decided to focus on three mini solutions to make Burnet Woods both more accessible and more appealing for UC students to spend time in.

Help Lights

Proposed location for Help Lights in Burnet Woods

Before working on advertising the space to students, we knew it was necessary to address the issues of safety that nearly all of our interviewees mentioned. One of the most successful and reliable means of precautionary measures implemented on UC’s main campus is the even dispersion of blue Help Light stations. These Help Light stations can be used to make quick phone calls to a security service that is manned 24/7, in the case of an emergency of any kind. These lights are strategically positioned in such a way that one can be seen from virtually any spot on campus. Our vision for Help Lights in Burnet Woods is similar in this way. Although it was a greater challenge to think of the best way to visibly place these lights in the woods (because of natural tree and foliage blockage), ultimately we determined that the placement shown on this map is the most successful arrangement. Burnet Woods is only 0.25–0.5 miles across in any direction, so we ensured that at least one Help Light could be spotted within a 600-ft radius, no matter where in the park you are.

Informational Brochure

Sample brochure to be sent to students

As an initial effort to bring more UC students to the Burnet Woods area, a sample brochure to be handed out to students during Welcome Weekend was created. Past personal experience has shown that the best way to implement a change on campus is to get the youngest students involved, because they are often the most willing to throw themselves into new university experiences. This publication is catered towards new freshman students on campus, and it introduces Burnet Woods to these students for the first time in a positive light. The brochure highlights the campus involvement in Burnet Woods, as well as the new safety features that make the park more appealing.

Events and Activities

Finally, the third deliverable created was a sample web calendar page that lists all the events and activities that the university uses Burnet Woods for. Sample events on the calendar include CCM musical performances, community outreach events, and meetings and practices for different UC organizations. Another aspect of this effort that we envisioned was the appointment of a specific UC faculty member who would work towards bringing even more positive interaction into the park. (The example on this web page is a fictional Nathan Haggerty.) We envision this web page to be one that is one day bookmarked in the outgoing UC student’s web browser — this page would be his or her go-to resource for all Burnet Woods leisure activities to help break up the monotonous school routine.

Testing Methods/User Testing

For both of our potential solutions user-testing wouldn’t involve just one of the methods that was discussed in class, but a process of them to have the most cohesive understanding of our success. The process would begin with paper prototyping the brochure with the map of the police blue lights included in it and distributing it to students, both new and returning. The evaluation would really come from observation of park and its population on event days to better understand how reaching these events were as well as how eager students were to make Burnet Woods a more welcoming place. This could be supplemented with student and community interviews to observe and hear how the atmosphere of the park has changed through the introduction of these community-centric events. This whole process would also be book-ended by a simple Likert scale survey sent out to students before and after the implementation of the events to gauge the overall success of our solutions in both participation and relative safety of students.


Coming in and addressing the problem we all struggled to have a new mindset because we already had our preconceived notions of Burnet Woods which surprisingly differed between the four of us. Deciding to have an open mind on our first visit ended up being very beneficial. Not only due to us being able to recognize more shortcomings in the Woods that would’ve been overlooked through our previous experiences, but we were able to meet so many people who had great insights into the woods and an array of different experiences giving us even more ideas of how to create a more wholesome environment. If we were to do this project again, we would have loved the opportunity to take it further and implement our ideas to witness the success rather than just theorize about it. Going through a process from initial research to implementation would allow us to experience firsthand the success and shortcomings of our solutions. Our group was a 9 out of 10 on process. While we gleaned some insightful information into our visit and were able to speak with a variety of people we do wish we were able to go to the park on a second or even third occasion focusing on specific areas or specific people groups to have a greater understanding of a more universal solution. We found sketching, photography, interviews, and experiencing the park to be beneficial when we were ideating possible park solutions. Overall, we enjoyed working together and allowing our different personalities and passions speak through our ideas and research methods. We really learned what it looks like to work in a team to address a solution that affects/plagues our specific community, not just another school project that lacks real-world impact. Being able to get out and experience user research gave us a more encompassing idea of what design research can look like and how accessible it truly is, despite us still being in school.


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