What could design’s role be in (re)connecting Tallinners to nature?

Nesli Hazal Oktay
Published in
7 min readOct 16, 2020


For the Introduction to Human-Centered Interaction Design class of 2020, our fresh batch of students was asked to figure out how interaction design could contribute to (re)connecting Tallinners to nature. Students worked in teams and found their focus after gathering inspiring insights from the people of Tallinn.

Bringing the attention of Tallinners to the extraordinary in the ordinary through treasure hunting

What could the motivation be to make people take a turn where they normally wouldn’t?

Karri and Nursultan found out that all too often Tallinners don’t notice the wonderful gems that are right under their noses. In their investigation, they created connections with Tallinners through conversations during different stages of their journey. Some conversations gave them insights to find their focus, some contributed to iterate on their ideas. One conversation, however, inspired them the most during to create a well-framed design opportunity:

“I like it when nature provides us with what we need. Like if a tree has fallen — there’s our bench! If there’s a bird’s nest near us — there’s our music![…] Once, near my apartment, there was a fallen tree, and the neighborhood kids were playing with it everyday. As the time passed, the apartment administration removed the tree and built a regular playground instead. The kids didn’t show up anymore. The playground became a place for middle-aged men to drink and to get drunk.”

Nursultan and Karri capturing stories from Tallinners

Together with the other insights collected, this particular story helped them frame a design opportunity — nature as a playground. After defining their focus, the team decided to design a game for Tallinners. During their decision-making process, they were guided by the values they found out from the conversations:

  1. Get Tallinners attention
  2. Guide Tallinners to the Adventure,
  3. Let Tallinners play
  4. Help Tallinners remember.

After exploring, rapid prototyping, and testing, the team arrived at a simple yet very effective idea, a treasure hunting game. As an initial concept, the team focused on one specific neighborhood: Kalamaja — a vibrant neighborhood of Tallinn.

The first round of rapid prototyping and testing

The game consists of a map with find eight gems that will take users on a journey where they’ll find tasty treasures, great views, whistling birds, and areas where they can look at the clouds in peace and have a moment for themselves. On the other side of the map, there is a series of clues. Solving the riddles will take the users to the right place. It’s ok to get lost on the way. Asking locals for directions may help them get closer to the prize, but it may also get them even more lost. That is part of the experience.

For the introverted adventurers, there are a number of markers along the way. Once the user thinks they’ve reached their destination, they mark it down on the map and continue their quest. After completing their exploration, they can keep the memory of the experience on a wall as a poster.

The game mixes up Tallinners routine by exploring unfamiliar neighborhoods, and by doing so, makes them see ordinary places from a new perspective. The concept can consequently bring more flexibility and excitement to ordinary areas and enhance Tallinners’ connection to nature.

Enhancing Our Connection With Nature and the Environment by Birdwatching

What if we could reconnect Tallinners to nature and the environment by encouraging them to go outside and to observe nature?

Derin, Jakob, and Karolina’s concept help Tallinners to reconnect to nature reconnect with nature by observation of birds. Estonia has become one of Europe’s best destinations for birdwatchers. More than 380 species spotted annually thanks to our indented coastline, numerous islands, forests, bogs, and other diverse cultural landscapes.

Gathering insights, prototyping, and videomaking as a tool to communicate the idea

The team defined birdwatching as an opportunity to help Tallinners reconnect with nature by understanding and respecting nature. After rounds of brainstorming, iteration, and ambiguity, the team created a kit for Tallinners to encourage them to pay more attention to their surroundings through birdwatching. The team enhances the experience with a set of two products — board and notebook.

The board is a starting point of the experience; hides a number of birds with their habitat areas. To start the journey, one should rip off a bird from the board to collect information on where to find it. The board becomes more and more colorful the more bird is ripped-off. When finished, it can be used as a decoration element to remind you of your memories and evoke emotions.

The second element of the product set is a notebook that guides the users on the go, during their birdwatching journey. The notebook is also serving to store memoirs and evidence during the observation experience. The QR code on the notebook guides the journey by helping users to hear the sound of the bird to give more information about it.

With their concept, the team is proposing to encourage Tallinners to observe nature as a way of understanding and respecting nature. The concept consists of an engaging experience that evokes anticipation, excitement, and a joyful journey that is shaped around birdwatching.

Using Interactive Narratives To Visiting the Parks Into an Engaging & Exploration Experience

Stories make us feel like part of something bigger than ourselves — what if we could bring Tallinners closer to nature through interactive stories?

Anneli, Kaspar, and Tetiana started by talking with people from the city, in hopes of searching for the meaning of nature. One of the more interesting findings was that for Tallinners, nature was a change of mind and a change of environment. This led the team to investigate ways to bring people exploring nature inside Tallinn and to create an amusing way of exploring nature inside the city.

Anneli, Kaspar, and Tetiana with the people of Tallinn

As the target group, they focused on frequent park visitors. They saw public parks as an opportunity to intervene in the transition to a new environment and to a new way of thinking. During their design process, they were guided by a set of design principles created with the help of insights collected from the people of Tallinn:

  1. Going to nature should come naturally
  2. Bring existing opportunities out to the public
  3. Nature is more than just greenery
  4. Bring out good emotions.

After careful consideration of their conversations, their prototyping experiences, and their testing rounds, the team created an interactive story that has 12 points where users could choose between 2 options, enabling them to experience 186 possible journeys all ending at the same spot.

The concept helps Tallinners to change their environment and their mind by exploring parks through interactive stories. The idea brings an amusing way of exploring nature inside the city of Tallinn — public parks.

The teams were mentored by Nesli Hazal Akbulut (IxD.ma) with helping visual storytelling and filmmaking mentoring from Liisi Mölder.