Improving the Burnet Woods Hiking Experience

A user centered design project by myself, Abigail Busch, Codie Chang, Maggie Meiring, Jacob Schlater, and Julieta Toiberman.

Getting to Know the Problem

Secondary Research

First, we researched the park and its history. Burnet Woods became a park in 1872. It is a 90-acre park just north of the University of Cincinnati main campus. Its features include:

  • Picnic Area
  • Shelter
  • Bandstand/Amphitheater
  • Lake/Pond/Fountain
  • Disc Golf
  • Hiking Trail
  • Playground
  • Nature Center
  • Comfort Station/Restrooms
  • Significant Natural Areas
  • Historical Feature/Public Art

Trailside Nature Center:

  • Next to the lake
  • Nature library, crafts room, meeting space, exhibits, and the Wolff Planetarium
  • Planetarium: sit and view the stars
  • Building completed in 1939
  • Project between the PWA and CCC
  • Designed by Feund
  • Influenced by Frank Llyod Wright

Music Pavilion:

  • Completed 1911
  • Oldest structure in one of Cincy’s oldest parks
  • Mission style with planar wall surfaces, stucco finish, and red-tiled roof

H. H. Richardson Monument:

  • 51 pink granite blocks
  • Part of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce Building that was gutted by a fire in 1911
  • These blocks were rediscovered in 1967
  • Placed overlooking Martin Luther King because of a competition in the DAAP architecture program.

Park Map

  • Created in 2010
  • Pretty clear

Disc golf course

  • 9 hole course
  • Unclear course map

Burnet Bash:

  • Price: Free
  • Event is a partnership between Cincinnati Parks and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra (CCO)
  • As of 2017, this is the third one
  • 6/1/17: An Evening in Paris: Faux Frenchmen + CCO Winds Burnet Woods Bandstand
  • 7/6/17: The Fab Five Returns! Classic twist of The Beatles
  • 8/3/17: Venti Viennese: Coffeehouse of Culture

Yelp Reviews:

  • Careful of cars racing through it as a shortcut
  • Lake: does not require a fishing license
  • Preferred route to Ludlow than Clifton Avenue
  • Compared to the other parks it is not nice
  • Fear of walking near it at night
  • One woman would run past it to get to her apartment at night
  • Feels like a horror movie
  • Do not go alone

Journey Map

Next, we went to Burnet Woods. Our group members purposefully wore a variety of clothes and shoes to simulate different levels of preparation and hiking experiences. We hiked for 45 minutes to immerse ourselves in our user’s experience and build empathy for them.

While in the park, we created a journey map of our experiences. We used this to document our initial problems concerning hiking in Burnet Woods.

  1. We checked the weather to figure out the appropriate things to wear. We were trying to figure out what would be appropriate since we have never been there before. We were unsure of what activities we would be partaking in.

2. We crossed Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from Clifton Avenue and noticed that there were no signs signifying that we were entering Burnet Woods. We also didn’t know which way to enter the park, so we turned right and walked down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

3. This was the only sign we spotted that indicated that it was a park. So, we decided to walk into the park from this entrance (closest one to Clifton Ave on MLK Jr. Drive).

4. Noticed the disc golf course right away.

5. We tried to follow it and found this seating area. We turned back and decided to walk back on the road.

6. Across the street, up on the hill was this sculpture and a man hammocking and talking to his friend. He was the first person we saw at the park.

7. We got back onto the road and continued walking down.

8. We were feeling unsure and unsafe as we walked down the road because we were unsure of where we were going.

9. After a few minutes, we reached a 4 way intersection. At this point we were confused because there were no signs telling us what was in each direction. We saw a few people in the area where cars were not allowed to enter so we walked that way.

10. There was a lake on our right and a building to our left. People were fishing along the lake side or just enjoying the beautiful weather outside.

11. Next to the building was a set of stairs down to this open space for people to enjoy. There were two families sitting at the far tables enjoying their afternoon.

12. The slide was next to the stairs down and we met a mother with her two young children. She did not want to be photographed, but we were able to talk to her for a few minutes. She said that she normally comes to the park every weekend as a way to get the kids outside and allow them to play. She only really comes to this area because there are swings, slides, and open fields, which is ideal for her children.

13. This area marked the end of the park because the street just leads you onto Ludlow Avenue.

14. We noticed that most people came in groups (family or friends) and the people who were walking through the park by themselves were just trying to get to Ludlow Avenue.

15. On our way out, we decided to take another road, the one that follows alongside the lake.

16. We stumbled upon a path down with no sign indicating what was at the end of the path. It turned out to be a path down to the lake. There was a path to walk around the lake and another path to get onto a dock next to the lake.

17. There was a path to go back up towards campus and we took that route only to find the sign for the trail (Lake Trail). This was the only trail sign that we saw. It was strange because the sign was in the middle of a grass field and no one would see this sign unless they went off the trail like we did.

18. We finally made it out of the park.

We summarized and organized our initial pain points from the experience:

Lack of signage

  • Makes people feel unsure
  • Makes it hard to navigate the park

Overall sense of uncertainty

  • Lack of signs
  • Lack of other people
  • What all is in the park?
  • What to wear?
  • What to bring?
  • Activities

User Research

When we began to think about our users, we developed a list of stakeholders to understand the different groups of people who are touched by this place and experience.


Cincinnati Parks


  • Families
  • Parents
  • Children
  • People who go alone
  • People just passing through
  • Fishers
  • Students
  • Drivers
  • Disc golfers


  • Clean the park

Burnet Bash

  • CCO chamber ensemble
  • CCO winds
  • Concert goers

City of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati

Trailside Nature Center workers + exhibits

On our way home, we happened to pass a group of students whom we overheard talking about the park. The group as a whole did not have experience or knowledge of the place, and the attitudes towards Burnet Woods seemed to be generally negative.

So we started asking more students for their thoughts on Burnet Woods. Our user research methods were conversational and anecdotal. After a few days, our experience was that people either had no experience with Burnet Woods or had heard rumors of unpleasant or unsafe experiences, and therefore had indifferent or negative pictures of the park in their minds. We did not hear any personal accounts of bad experiences, only second-hand (and probably third- and fourth-hand) stories.

We concluded the UC students’ stigma towards Burnet Woods grew from largely undetectable concerns and an overall lack of knowledge and experience with the park.

Based on our experiences, user observations, and interviews, we identified our primary users as the students of the University of Cincinnati.

Human Factors Concerns

We considered all four human factors concerns while researching this experience:

Physical: the physical activity and human anthropometrics of walking from campus to Burnet Woods and hiking in the park.

  • MLK is a busy road, only a few safe crossing points
  • The park is big, there are many miles of trails to walk
  • There are many steps and hills to climb
  • The trails can be muddy and slippery

Cognitive: we tried to understand the perception, reasoning, and motor response of students getting to and around the park and trails, and their memory of the experience and navigations for return trips to the park.

  • The park is perceived by students as an unsafe place
  • If a student has never been to the park, they are unlikely to go of their own accord
  • There are almost no signs in the park for them to read and take in information about the park and trails
  • Based on students’ perception of an empty, unsafe park, their motor response is to avoid it

This concern proved to be especially relevant because we understood that students are lacking in their understanding and knowledge of the park, which prohibits them from experiencing it.

Social: we looked at college students as a social group to consider the means of communication, coordination, and creating expectation around hiking in Burnet Woods.

  • There is little to no communication on campus of the benefits and amenities of Burnet Woods
  • There is no formal coordination among groups of students for trips to Burnet Woods or for activities within the park
  • There is no social expectation for UC students to spend time in Burnet Woods

Cultural: we looked at campus culture to understand the habits, knowledge, and beliefs of college students in the context of spending time outside, going hiking, and travelling to Burnet Woods.

  • Students believe that spending time outside positively affects them and reduces their stress
  • Students spend an increasing amount of time alone on digital devices rather than being social or going outside
  • Students habitually avoid Burnet Woods
  • When students do go outside, they stay on campus because it’s convenient.

Based on our user research, we developed a persona:


  • 18 years old
  • First year student
  • Studying biomedical engineering
  • Involved with the Residence Hall Association and Student Government
  • Athletic
  • Enjoys music
  • Needs time to destress from her busy schedule
  • Has never been to Burnet Woods

Standards for Success

  • Should engage and entice UC students to go to Burnet Woods
  • Should be able to be widespread through student population
  • Should spread helpful and true information about Burnet Woods
  • Should be easily and quickly understandable to UC students
  • Should help students feel more prepared, more comfortable, and safer going to Burnet Woods

Potential Solutions

We quickly brainstormed several potential solutions before going forward with our final two concepts.

Our goal being to increase students’ knowledge and comfort with the park to increase their usage of it, we chose a student guide and an interactive app as our two solutions to progress.

Concept 1

Student Guide (tri-fold pamphlet)

A widely circulated student guide to Burnet Woods would provide students with helpful information about the park to encourage them to visit. Including information on basic park information, what to wear, and what activities the park accommodates helps students be more prepared when they go. Including the park map on the pamphlet makes it easier for students to access the map and find their way around the park, which makes them feel safer. A QR code on the back of the pamphlet links students to the mobile app (concept 2) for more information. This pamphlet would be distributed to different groups and generally around campus to provide awareness of the park and knowledge of its features for UC students.

Outside of pamphlet
Inside of Pamphlet

Concept 2

Interactive Mobile App

An app providing similar helpful information from the guide would be a portable and accessible information hub for UC students going to Burnet Woods. The app features a history section for the park and a downloadable pdf park map. It also provides current information on the local weather, monthly events, and precautions to take to keep the users updated on relevant park information in one convenient place. A personal planner feature allows users to view a tailored list of events and attractions based on their amount of time, group size, and interests. A more specific list of suggestions for what to wear and bring are provided for each activity to allow the user to plan for their specific experience. The mobile app provides an extension to the pamphlet guide that is accessible, portable, and can be customized to enhance the users’ individual experiences in the park. The digital interface is user friendly, convenient, and connects with the millennial generation.

User Testing

Concept 1

We would recommend conducting user interviews and employing the Critical Incident Method. This would help us understand which portions of the guide were helpful to the users and which were unnecessary. We would ask students to explore Burnet Woods using the guide, then interview them afterwards. We would also recommend unobtrusive observation of students using the guide in the park.

Concept 2

We would recommend linking a survey in the app for the users to complete. This would help us understand if students find the app helpful, and for what purposes they use it. We would also recommend using eye tracking to identify the most important features of the app.


What did you learn from the process?

We learned how to approach a problem that we are given using the design process. Especially the importance of building empathy and conducting user research in order to understand the scope of the problem. It is so easy to jump into the ideation phase, but without any knowledge of the user or problem the design becomes purposeless. Another big thing we learned was how much time the design process takes. It was not enough to go to the park once because we did not get to talk to a lot of different users. We learned how to work collaboratively using the design process. The ability to collect research in multiple ways and work together to summarize the key insights, ideate, and build. The collaborative environment allowed us to keep each other in line by reminding people about our user’s needs, wants, and goals and why ideas fit or did not fit them. Overall, producing a better product because we all made sure that we didn’t skip ahead in the process or forget our problem statement or user.

How did the problem, and/or your hypothesis of the problem, change throughout the process (especially after getting to know the visitors)?

Originally we were focused on ways to improve the physical features of the park. It is easy to point at all the problems with a place when you’re experiencing it. Once we left, however, the overwhelming issue with the park that we felt we should address was the lack of people in it. When we heard students making unsure and dismissive comments about Burnet Woods, we decided to change the park by filling it with lively college students, who will enjoy the great amenities that the park already has. Bringing student life and culture into Burnet Woods will change everyone’s perception of the park, and hopefully inspire people to take better care of it and add to its amenities in the future.

What would you do differently?

If we could have done something differently we would have gone to the park at a different time when there were more students. That way we could have made more unobtrusive observations of how students interacted with the park. Most of the students we talked to were expressing their opinions of the park and experiences with the park, but we did not see them physically interact with the park. We mainly relied on our own thoughts and feelings as students as we explored the park. We would have also liked to create our own survey to better understand the social and cultural human factors. That way we can better understand why students go outside and the stigma behind Burnet Woods. Taking a deeper dive into those core needs would only strengthen our concepts.

How would you grade your group (One to Ten, no sevens) on process (not product)?

We would give our group an eight out of ten on process because we focused on thoroughly understanding the problem before diving into solutions. Our research consisted of primary and secondary research allowing us understand the program from a myriad of perspectives. We listed the stakeholders in our system to make sure that we were considering all the different perspectives. To build empathy we explored Burnet Woods and created a journey map out of our experience. That was a clear way to understand what it is like to hike through the park and how a visitor thinks and feels as they navigate. We also interviewed people to get general insights about how people viewed and felt about the park. Using an survey, we got more general insights on how people felt about going outside and how it affects their mental health. From there we checked that our research touched all 4 of the human factors to make sure we were not going into the ideation phase with a one sided view of the problem. Taking all of our insights from our research we created a persona so that we could clearly identify our user’s goals, wants, needs, and limitations. Once we had a clear understanding of the problem, we started to iterate. We made sure that our solutions were meeting our user’s needs and goals. We did not give ourselves a ten because we felt like we could have gone back to the park to found more students to observe and interview. But with all of our busy schedules and fall break, it was hard to find a time to all go together. With more time, we could have rounded out our research a bit more. One thing we could have addressed more was the safety concerns that people had. Since it was something that repeatedly came up in our research.


Student survey on stress and outdoor activities: UC Design for America Spring 2017