Image of app screens.

Night Lights

Interactive installation and app that educate people on light pollution and inspire them to take action.

Project Summary

Project Type

UX, UI

My Role

Concept and solution ideation, naming, logo, and UI design.

Recognition

AIGA Student Awards
2022, Winner

Duration

10 weeks in 2020

Organization

SCAD University, Visual Interface and Information Design

Team Members

Professor David Meyers
Yue Guo
Wanyi Ma
Mengna Liao

Project Details

Less than a century ago, people worldwide could look up to the sky and see the universe staring right back. Today—due to light pollution—most humans no longer have access to the sight of the stars. However, so much light pollution is unnecessarily caused and can be reversed by making simple changes to our homes and behavior.

Our team wondered why people aren't doing more to resolve light pollution if it's one of the easiest environmental issues we can fix? We realized it came down to a lack of awareness and misunderstanding. This project was our attempt to bring attention to light pollution and educate people on how to reduce it. We desired to transform behavior, reverse the negative impacts, and reveal the incredible night skies beyond.

We knew our solution had to be as compelling as informative because the dark skies are inspiring and incredible. Working through the five phases of design thinking, we developed a solution of two components: an interactive traveling installation and an app that can be used at the exhibit and independently.

We lose something essential; We lose a part of ourselves when we lose access to the night sky. We lose that sense of stillness and awe that should be right over our heads every night.
Amanda Gormley of the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association

Research

After everyone agreed on a direction and plan, we each took some time to conduct secondary research on light pollution and share our findings.

Below are some interesting facts we discovered.

The Negative Impacts of Light Pollution

Image of stressed person.

On People

Excessive light can have negative impacts on the human mind and body. It can result in: increased headaches, fatigue, increased stress and anxiety, and decreased sexual functions.

Image of owl.

On Nature

Plants and animals rely on natural patterns of light and dark to function. The alteration of natural light patterns is causing our ecological system to go out of whack.

Image of starry sky.

On Astronomy

The view of the night sky in many places across the world is disappearing because of skyglow. 80% of the world's population lives under skyglow, and 99% of the public in the U.S. and Europe don't have access to a natural night sky.

Simple Ways to Reduce Light Pollution

  • Turn off lights when not being used
  • Install motion detectors and light timers
  • Shield outdoor lights
  • Keep blinds drawn

After we consolidated our findings, Guo conducted primary research to gauge people's understanding and interest in the topic.

His global participants spanned both the U.S. and China. We learned that no matter where in the world people are, there is little knowledge of light pollution but a high interest in being able to see the stars. Some people have never seen a starry sky, and both those who have and have not agree it is something worth experiencing.

Image of research report pages.

Presentation slides of Yue Guo's research.

4 Key Insights

01

People misconceived a reduction in light pollution to mean fewer city lights and, therefore, worried about a decrease in safety in urban environments. Clearer information about this can reduce concerns.

02

The current information on light pollution is very scientific and "boring." The data needs to be more interactive and not overloaded with harsh or dull data if it will appeal to a younger audience.

03

People seem to lack awareness of light pollution. But, when they learn about it, they become interested in understanding its adverse impacts on their lives and access to starry skies.

04

Almost every individual wanted to experience a sky without light pollution. The interviewees who have experienced a starry sky admit it was a beautiful and memorable experience.

Defining Problem Statement

Communities need inspiration and education to reduce light pollution because they are unknowingly negatively impacted by it and losing opportunities to connect with the universe.

How Might We Statement
How might we educate communities about the consequences of light pollution and inspire them to take ongoing action and spread awareness to reverse its effects?

Inspiration & Brainstorming

Throughout several ideation sessions, we all shared ideas and inspiration for how to raise awareness of the impacts of light pollution. We were exploring ways to communicate that with higher levels of light pollution comes more obstruction to the incredible night skies.

Image of stars and light installations.

Our ideation sessions sought to combine insights we learned about light pollution with inspiration we found from the universe and art installations alike. We hoped to convey the concept that with lower levels of light pollution, the stars become more clear.


Image of sketches of ideas.

During several brainstorming sessions over zoom, we had organic conversations in which we discussed, sketched and shared on repeat. We explored ideas for the installation, the app, and how they could work together. Above are images from all of the team members.

Naming & Identity Design

After ideation, Mona began working on wires, while Wanyi and I brainstormed names for the installation and app.

After narrowing down the selection, we shared our ideas with our professor and classmates for further discussion. The favorable outcome was Night Lights, in which the name refers to the stars (i.e., lights) in a dark sky.

Image with a list of naming ideas for the project.

A selection of product names developed by Wanyi Ma and myself.

Afterward, I began ideating logo variations that conveyed the concept of constellations since that was a big theme of our project. I shared options with the team, who decided on Option 4.

Image with a selection of logo ideas.

A series of logos I designed for the app.

Moodboards

I also explored two different styles for the visual direction of the app. In the end, the solution turned out to be a combination of the two, balancing the dark and vivid tones in each style.

Wireframes & Testing

Meanwhile, Mona was building and testing wireframes. We met several times to discuss the wireframes and ensure there was a balance between educational and engaging content. While sharing the prototype with peers, she discovered some issues for us to address. For example, there was confusion about the icons on the bottom navigation. We realized we needed supporting text to clarify. People were also confused about how to "enter" the app at the exhibit versus using the app as a general user. We didn't have a clear distinction in the app at the time, as we were relying solely on the idea of QR code scanning.

Image of mid-fidelity wireframe screens.

Wireframes were created in Figma by Mengna Liao.

The Night Lights Tunnel

Since we felt strongly the solution needed to include a visceral component to match the experience of staring at a starry sky, we conceptualized the Night Sky Tunnel—a traveling exhibit that people can walk through and witness firsthand how light pollution affects their skies. As visitors walk through the tunnel, their city's "sky" transforms from Level 9 light pollution of pure gray fog to lower levels of light pollution that reveal a dark sky and constellations beyond.

Sketch of an installation.

3D rendering of the installaion.

Sketch and 3D renderings of the immersive tunnel were created by Wanyi Ma. As visitors progress through the tunnel, the digital installation transforms the night skies from level 9 light pollution to level 0. The exhibit itself would use the proper lighting and coverings to demonstrate how making small intentional decisions regarding lighting and coverings can help prevent light pollution.

The Night Lights App

Night Lights is an interactive app used in conjunction with the immersive tunnel or on its own. The app experience is interactive and gamified. The content is educational, inspiring, and motivating.

Users can interact with features in the app as they walk through the tunnel to learn more about the impacts of light pollution, like locating constellations in the "sky" and gain points.

Image of app screens from the installation exhibit.

Prompts will pop up at certain points of the installation, and users will use AR features to “scan” the sky and “connect” constellations. Users can also take pictures inside the installation and directly share on their own social media channels.

General users can "travel" the world alongside the exhibit. As the exhibition goes to a city, new content and educational information unlock within the app. This gives users ongoing opportunities to learn about light pollution and collect stars (i.e., points) by taking quizzes for each city and adopting daily positive behaviors. Users can exchange their stars for creating and naming their own constellations. 

Image of mobile screen designs.

From top right to bottom left: a.) loading screen. b.) user’s completed, locked and unlocked constellations. c.) when user completes constellation, it provides some educational information about it. d.) quiz example. e.) correct answer selected
f.) action items users can complete and earn points on daily

Because reducing the impacts of light pollution requires group effort, the app incorporates social components. Users can connect with friends and follow along on their journey and commitment to reducing light pollution. They can also share information from the app onto other social media channels to raise additional awareness. 

Image of mobile screen designs.

From top right to bottom left: a.) friends page. b.) friends profile page that shows all the constellations they have collected or created. c.) friend’s profile page that shows all of the city’s they have unlocked on the app. d.) directions on how to create a custom constellation. e.) example of a custom constellation. f.) after constellation is created, you can choose to gift it to a friend on the app, or share on social media

Image of girl using app.

Video Production

We couldn't build the installation, but we wanted to demonstrate how the app and exhibit work together. So, we created a short animated video. Wanyi took the lead on storyboarding and creating a video that tells the story of how two friends learn about the app, engage in the content, and take action to reduce light pollution.

Storyboard sketches by Wanyi Ma.

Storyboard sketches by Wanyi Ma, that she created after we brainstormed video concepts.

Short video explaining the Night Lights installation and social app. This video was made by Wanyi Ma.

Conclusion

Light pollution won't go away with the efforts of just one person. It will require entire communities to become aware, then take personal and legislative action. Our goal wasn't to solve the problem overnight but rather to raise awareness and inspire people to take the first steps.

We imagine the installation concept could form new partnerships between organizations like the International Dark-Sky Association and galleries or museums that could host or promote the event. It can even give people their first unforgettable experience of the incredibility of the stars. And the app could be a long-lasting reminder that the effort is worth keeping up.

Lessons Learned

This highly collaborative project relied on us to continuously share ideas and discuss how they relate to our goals and audience. Although we didn't know the best way to draw attention to the issue, we knew our solution needed to be awe-inspiring and retain interest. Through brainstorming sessions and open discussions, we found clarity around our solution, and were able to build it. The biggest realization was the design thinking process helps lead to the best solution—there is no need to have all the answers in the beginning as long as you are clear on the purpose and goals.

This project also helped me realize that the scope of UX goes far beyond websites and apps. Solutions can take all sorts of forms, including physical environments.