I Didn’t Know That Any of This Stuff Existed!

A look at Burnet Woods through the lens of user-centered design

By: Reilly Sapp, Megan Werner, Nicole Baah, Prarthana Reddy

Problem Introduction:

Cincinnati has an amazing collection of urban parks. Most of those parks offer hiking trails. They’re a beautiful place to go to experience nature without leaving the city limits. However, the whole hiking experience could be much better. Because of this, our client, the Division of Planning and Design/Program Services of the the Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioners, has requested a study of potential solutions that would make for a better overall visitor experience while hiking in Cincinnati Parks.

Create a proposal considering visitors (individuals and groups) who wish to spend 45–90 minutes hiking and exploring the park. Recognizing that the current systems are quite dated, the client is open to both low and high tech, online and offline, solutions. They’re considering the whole visitor experience. One park, specifically, has been selected as a testing ground, Burnet Woods.

Getting to Know the Problem

There are many potential stakeholders in the case of Burnet Woods due to its location in Clifton. This research focuses specifically on the experience of undergraduate students, domestic and international, as represented by the following pool of users:

  • Casey (Male, 19 yrs old, Centerville, Ohio, Student at UC)

Experience: I had been to Burnet before, but hadn’t realized how much of it there was until I went again with Megan and Nicole. I’m from Centerville so I’m used to having a lot of outdoor space and parks; something that Cinci was lacking for me. Of the three of us, I was the one that was the most familiar with the park, and there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t even know was there.

  • Megan (Female, 19 yrs old, Midland, Michigan, Student at UC)

Experience: I had been to Burnet a few other times in the past year. I’ve been to the pond and the park, entering from Ludlow. The few times I had been there with friends, I had no idea that there were sign markers on the path, nor that there were a set of stairs by the gazebo in the park with the swings that lead to more paths.

  • Nicole (Female, 18 yrs old, Mason, Ohio, Student at UC)

Experience: I had been to the park a few times in the past year to draw plants or read a book, but never to explore. It was introduced to me as that weird park across the street with a reputation for being sketchy at night. As a result, whenever I did go, I tried to travel in groups, during daylight hours, sticking to the paved paths. My most interesting experience was completing an eight-hour plant drawing, sitting on the ledge of the Nature Center, allowing me to watch people come and go through the park, from midday to evening.

  • Prarthana (Female, 19 yrs old, Bangalore, India, Student at UC)

Experience : I’ve never been to the park but have always wanted to go As a part of this project, we decided to have one person whose entire analysis was what the park portrayed versus, the experience it provided. Having never seen anything in the park, I was able to give an accurate account of what someone who would want to visit might feel. I usually have time during the evening and would like to go and sit in a park and relax but Burnet woods does not have the best reputation for night time safety which is why I’ve really missed this opportunity thus far.

  • Reilly (Female, 19 yrs old, Columbus, Ohio, Student at UC)

Experience: I have been to Burnet several times in the past year. At first I would go during drawing class to draw the plant-life. I live off of nature and being outdoors, so I began to go to the park to explore. I didn’t ever necessarily feel the need to look for signs, as I was solely there to wander and explore, but I do feel that signage would be necessary to most people. I have found many small paths that most people may not have ever known about.

Pictures of Areas of the Park
Pictures of Signage

User Research

Of the four of us, three of us, Nicole, Reilly, and Megan had been to Burnet Woods, while one, Prarthana had never been. After doing some online research and analyzing past experiences, Nicole and Megan went back to the park, bringing along our friend Casey that enjoys hiking to hear his thoughts on this particular park. After analyzing, here are our thoughts.

Casey: Now that I know there is a whole other section of park that I didn’t know about, I’ll probably go back again. The paths were beautiful, I just wish I had known about it sooner. After we finished walking through the park, I asked Megan and Nicole what specifically they were looking for with this project. I don’t think that at the current standpoint of the park, it would be appealing to those that just wanted a relaxing walk within a time constraint. You have to do so much of the work yourself without a lot of help from the park signage, if you can find it to begin with.

Noteable Quotes/Moments:

  • The unpaved trails are the “better part of the woods, super nice, opens up to a natural, creek-like area”. It “feels better” in the “super good part because you can forget that you are in an urban area”
  • Prefers this path to the others, doesn’t feel like you are walking in circles
  • Some paths are a square, you are walking in circles
  • Difference between a hike and a walk
  • Avoid the pond area, smells bad, high traffic area
  • On urban parks “I like the idea but they tend to seem trashy. They tend to have older kids doing drugs, or maybe playing basketball (ex: park on Eden), but Burnet is more kid/family friendly, safer”
  • “I didn’t know that any of this stuff existed!”
  • “I think O is for owl and P is for prairie”. When the path ends abruptly at a hill that goes into a paved road, “now you’re all sad, because you’re expecting a giant trail”
  • Burnett is all “small shrubbery” as compared to other parks like Yellow Springs, it tends to get in the way of walking the paths
  • Would like to see: Composting, Community Garden?
  • “My perception of Burnett Woods has shifted a little”
  • In terms of reputation: “Is there a connection between UCPD and crime in Burnett? If there is an assault of any kind in Burnett, are UC students alerted?”
  • “Safety is not a concern, I am more concerned about getting caught by a cop then fearing for personal safety at night in the woods”

Megan: What that park with the swings is called in Burnet, I couldn’t tell you. What the path I take into Burnet off of Ludlow is called, I again couldn’t tell you. It wasn’t until I went there looking specifically for things to critic that I noticed the subtle, overgrown sign markers and the unkempt stairs. The paths were fun to walk, but there you at this point, you need to be willing to dedicate a large chunk of time to the park, not because the paths are long or hard, but because so much of the wayfinding is left for the user to figure out for themselves.

Noteable Quotes/Moments:

  • “I just walked past a graffitied sign. I didn’t notice it at first, had to take a double take.”
  • “No signs, just stairs?!”
  • “I’m unsure, is that a path? Oh, there is a sign right there! It was just overgrown.”
  • “There is poison ivy on the path, would be good to know ahead of time, not kid safe”
  • “Uphill and narrow paths need to be indicated, they are bad places to go after the rain”
  • “That’s so pretty! This bandstand was probably gorgeous back in the day. Is it a hub? Paths are unclear from there”
  • “Is that a path too? Path gets pretty narrow from here”
  • “Time would be nice to know, approximate”
  • “As females, we are very aware of what time it is in the park, especially in the evening when we are getting ready to leave as it gets dark”

Nicole: I had never been far off of the open, paved paths, and was shocked when we entered a excluded, dirt trail. I trekked through muddy paths, struggled to step through knots of branches, got excessive bug bites and most of all, was transported to a new place. Save for the sirens echoing in the distance, I no longer felt like I was in a city. I discovered so many things that I had never known were there and learned so much. What amazed me the most was the diversity that the park had to offer, from pavement to playgrounds to prairies paths. All of it was right there, hidden right under my nose, where I would never think to find it. I will definitely be going back, even after the project is finished.

Noteable Quotes/Moments:

  • “Is a Bandstand the same as a gazebo, because I was under the impression that a bandstand was an ampitheater”
  • “I didn’t know this was part of Burnet Woods!”
  • Ran into Cincinnati Parks Officials exiting the Nature Center!
  • Not like the typical nature center, more like an event center
  • Have field trips and specific, planned events
  • Planetarium, call 751–3679 to make a reservation
  • There are maps and programming fliers in the windows

Prarthana: As someone who hasn’t been to the park and wants to go, I can say that the website does a good job of creating interest. It tells the user that there is so much to see. I have passed all sides of the woods but never really understood the size. Looking at the map online, I was surprised at how big this park was. I was very surprised to hear about the existence of the lake. From outside, all sides of the woods looks uninviting. From MLK, the very steep elevation makes it seem like somewhere you shouldn’t be going to be honest. The major drive that runs through the park has no sign making it hard to understand where exactly that path is going. The website gives a lot of generic information for parks in cincinnati versus just giving a wholesome picture of what is happening at Burnet Woods. Their social media presence is fair. Their facebook page needs to be curated so that the impression of the park is not lost to the intents exhibitionist park goers. However, the compilation of great memories makes the woods seem a beautiful and safe space to enjoy with your family.

Examples of their Website and Facebook Page

Reilly: I have been to Burnet Woods several times. The very first time I went, I actually took a trail through the woods that is not marked, or at least I could not see a sign marking the trail, which is interesting because there are many marked trails or main trails that lead hikers to the main field in the center of the woods. As time went on and I had explored more parts of the park, I started to venture through the woods off the trails and would stumble upon smaller trails that I did not know existed. I have noticed that if you wanted to tell someone what trail you were on, it would be difficult. It is unknown to me whether the trails have names or even symbols identifying them, so you would have to describe the trail based on its surroundings.

Users Experiencing the Parks “Negative Aspects”

Potential Concept Solutions

Prior to Visit: Virtual/digital interaction (Phone + Maps), physical signs, use of icons and symbols

  • Snapchat Filters
  • Better Mapping
  • Taking pictures and tagging locations

During / Post Visit: Identifying different paths for different users/personalities, live data, updated signage (corresponding with website)

  • People turn on their GPS in the park, allow it to run for some incentive, donating to charity or getting free parking, etc
  • Updated Signage (corresponding with website)
  • Suggestions/Tips
Concept Sketches
Example of Snapchat Filter

User Testing Method

The user research testing methods that we employed centered around TAP, Thinking Aloud Processing, combined with interviews, personas, and keeping in mind the Design Hierarchy of Needs. We used all of these while walking through the park, asking Casey to think out loud for us, asking him questions before and after the walk, and analyzing and noting what we personally saw while walking through in regards to the hierarchy of needs. We had also developed a set of personas that we referred back to, asking ourselves how they might respond or react to think in the path.

We would suggest that they continue to employ these methods as they test, especially TAP.. Making a prototype of the new signage and website updates, the most important thing at this stage is if the level of ease and usability goes up for the user. Right now, the biggest issues are the lack of information, the lack of ease of finding the information that is there, and the lack of approachability. Creating a prototype and having multiple users discuss their reactions and thoughts to the new concepts. Are the signs easy to read? Easy to find? Understandable with enough information or too much? Is the website easy to navigate and make the park seem approachable. These are good questions to keep in mind while allowing users to naturally walk through the new information presented to them.


We learned that Burnet has a lot to offer but it is inconvenient to users and has developed a bad reputation. The space is quite misunderstood. The park needs to rebrand itself to feel more approachable to users. This could be through word of mouth or a more evident public campaign.The park must achieve a better level of satisfice. The park needs to up its standard to reach this level.

This project definitely made us realise what it meant to be put in someone else’s shoes. Thinking with empathy is important. We had explored this park without a time limit before and never fully understood its problems because we were the not the most common target group. People with children and a couple of hours feel very differently than a college student hoping to get lost in the greenery for a bit. This process really helps us use all the theories of user centered design more wholesomely.

It was really nice to rediscover this space. As a group it was amazing to find that there was so much more to these woods than we thought. We are very excited to go back. We wish we knew about this greenspace so close to campus sooner. But now we know how to really use it, we will always have great experiences in the future.

Having heard all the good feedback from my teammates, I am excited to go and discover this place now. It helps significantly to know other people liked it and have the necessary information to prepare for this trip.It’s quite amazing how a good word and little help can make the event a whole lot more fun.

The change in thought process was more along the lines of moving away from an entirely digital solution. The physical aspect was way more important because the online platform could only help people decide to get there, within the park, the system itself had to be designed better to have people navigate better.

If we did do something differently, we would separate the research bits by focussing solely on online content for a week and then walking around the park and conducting physical research so that the two were more distinct and easy to work around. We would also liked to have taken someone who had never been there before.

I would grade us a 9/10 because were very thorough with our process and included the views and considerations of as many stakeholders as we could. We ran through the signage and trails and devised simple yet concrete solutions how on how to give the park goer an overall better experience.

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