For a Better User Experience, Just add Murals
The streets of Venice, CA, are a great example.
One trip to Abbot Kinney is all it took; we sparked a love affair with murals.
Sure, the people-watching is worthwhile, but the murals steal the show in this town, captivating pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and even “scooter-commuters” (yeah, they’re people, too). The colors, creativity, and subliminal messages are enough to stop the flow of traffic in both directions. But, then again, this is Los Angeles we are talking about.
What is it about this Venice vibe that elevates the user experience people have while visiting, serving as a benchmark for other cities to replicate? Do these murals, a display of free public art, really have a significant effect on how people interact with a concrete environment? We think so. Of course, we are a biased group of designers with way too many opinions on everything. Ugh… we are so LA.
Murals: More Than Meets the Eye
The team at Designing North Studios has a true appreciation for murals of all types. NOTE: we define murals as a large wall painting on the interior or exterior of a building that is available to the public.
From writing a previous article discussing UX, Positive Change, and Togetherness: Murals are Societies Best Tool for Expression to creating a year-long campaign encouraging people to share artistic visuals that move the soul, urban art is a key detail of our everyday experience. We know others feel the same way.
This is why more people need exposure to the Abbot Kinney’s of the world, and it’s also the reason we are asking you to think about your next urban rendezvous as an experience, one that can be designed better by supporting artists, designers, and creatives alike — those beautifying the concrete canvas. Ideally, we would like to see more cities and businesses invest in the creation of murals, bringing color and joy to the space around us.
Simply put, cities across America are in desperate need of more public art — something thought-provoking, emotional, relatable, or just plain fun. Something to communicate positive vibes and inclusivity rather than negativity and fear. Could murals be the solution? Refreshing user experience for us all? Absolutely.
The User’s Experience, Explained
As the definition entails, us·er ex·pe·ri·ence refers to how pleasing the use of something is, of relation to interaction. And although we typically measure this against the quality of websites and computer applications, the perplexity of murals begs the question, “did the artist intentionally create the piece so that a user (patron) would experience what they wanted them to?”
Well, this is a question only the artist can answer. In the traditional sense (as it relates to studio work), UX is a discipline whereby the designer is designing the desired interactions they want someone to have — it’s intentional. With fine art, however, you would ask the artist if UX was applied to the thinking in order to know with certainty. In other words, with a product or service, we assume it’s intentionally designed a certain way. With art (murals included), we can either make this assumption or seek the artist’s inspiration for clarity.
Words expressed by Executive Director Lisa Peacock best summarize the ambiguity of public murals: “Nothing is ever just art — but I know plenty of artists that don’t think that way.”
To clarify, we have the discipline of UX design — and then there’s the experience of the user. A user will always have an experience regardless of whether the discipline was used to create something or not. Murals provide the evidence. Practitioner’s touch or not, these creations have a profound impact on how a person interacts with an urban setting — like LA.
You may be asking why we need more murals to enhance the experience a person has with the urban environment. The simple answer is, we live to abolish the lifeless experience across all mediums, even city walls. Whether it’s in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or Portland, urban art makes us think, offers a pause, adds color, and excites the imagination.
From Place to Destination
Murals are to the public as paintings are to gallery attendees: a cerebral experience that requires little more than attention and interest, with the offering of pure enjoyment. Similarly, people across the globe view galleries and museums as destinations, demanding special attention be paid to the details. Why not do the same for public art?
Doing so transforms a place into a memorable destination (i.e., a location that people will make a special trip to visit).
Now, we recognize that a mural is not a designed experience — unless the artist says so. However, an argument can be made that this could change in the future, as public art makes its way into the mainstream and shapes the commercial development of neighborhoods — DTLA, we see you.
So, for the sake of discovery, why not apply the customer journey process to the destination experience. An exploratory article published to UX Collective earlier this year did exactly this, and serves as a useful example for our comparison, modeling the journey a traveler takes. Specifically, it identifies the journey as:
Prepare > Decide > Experience > Remember
If you reflect on what we talked about regarding murals aiding in the development of a neighborhood, from a place to a destination, you can see that someone’s ‘thoughts, feelings, and actions’ from the travel experience are very similar.
The process starts with planning, progresses to trip booking, taking the trip, and finally, surveying the memories or lessons learned. In fact, these key elements further increase the popularity of a destination over time, as more people take ‘the journey.’
Interestingly, as local mural hot-spots gain in popularity across LA, people are spending more time on preparation and decision-making prior to the physical experience. Just look in the comments section of tagged Instagram photos for Abbot Kinney Blvd., there’s a real user experience associated with “gramming” the art.
Groups of people seek out these areas knowing that, one way or another, they will see something of value and return home with a memorable trip in the books, and maybe even a newfound sense of creative inspiration. Of course, this adds to the experience, creating a lasting memory that can be shared with others and motivate them to create an experience as well. We said it in the beginning and we’ll say it again: for a better user experience, just add murals.
Murals are the Evolution of UX
Similar to the product environment, the evolution of the retail experience benefits from the addition of murals. No, retail isn’t dead; it needs a redesign. And this redesign demands a better user experience, one that includes murals.
Sticking with the same example, Abbot Kinney and DTLA exude the qualities of technology products. Known for trendy outdoor spaces, a continuous evolution is mandatory (just like Apple’s iPhone) to keep people interested and engaged. There was a time when these bustling centers for shopping and dining were rather mundane for a crowd that expects new and exciting things all the time. Murals were the solution.
Now, the murals of Abbot Kinney are the strings supporting a tight-knit community of store owners, retail brands, and some of the region's best coffee shops (ahem… Intelligentsia, anyone?). With the continuous refresh of retail experiences comes increased opportunity for auxiliary experiences to make an impact (i.e., murals). The customer journey is in constant evolution here, something we all benefit from, in the form of local travel experiences.
Whether the experience is designed or unintentional (influenced by UX or not), murals have the ability to stimulate a specific behavior and motivate revisitation. In other words, they evolve a place into a destination. An answer to designing engaged communities, they are conducive to a person’s experience within public spaces and reinforce a continuous user journey when they exceed a person’s expectation.
So, as UXers, we say: let’s create more murals. Let’s usher in an era where everybody has access to at least witness creativity in the urban environment — an experience designed with big art. A call to action — to embrace creative expression — why not let murals be our muse and put them out there for all to see? If we display these messages to people in busy outdoor spaces, in a thought-provoking way, we can cement their presence as a true destination.
This elevates the bigger user experience, and that’s the best UX of all.