Friday, February 22, 2019

Revitalising Newcastle's Bigg Market through public digital installations

Northumbria University has just completed a successful project with NE1, an international award winning Business Improvement District company.

From September 2018 to January 2019, 16 final year students enrolled on the BA (Hons) Interaction Design program worked with NE1 on a live brief for the Bigg Market Regeneration Project. This £3.2 million project, that includes £1.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will transform the historic Bigg Market area of Newcastle, restore its historic significance and ensure that it is making its rightful contribution to the city’s economic fortunes now and into the future.
In the project, NE1 aims to ‘Give the historic heart back to Newcastle’ by improvements to heritage buildings in the Bigg Market and by changing the profile of people who go there, from a low yield, night time clientele to a higher budget, day and night audience.

In the spirit of NE1’s aim, the students were asked to conceive and design digital installations that would support this initiative. All concepts would build on and celebrate the history and heritage of the Bigg Market. The student developed the concepts using a variety of methods, including exploration of suitable technology, ethnographic studies, personas and user scenarios, and brainstorming using extreme characters and other techniques. To communicate their ideas, the students produced design documents, videos, images and even fully working prototypes, as well as realistic budgets and time plans. In total, there were 8 concepts proposed by the students and presented to NE1.

To find out more about the project and how the results benefitted the partner, we had a chat with Alex Slack of NE1, who worked closely with the university throughout the project.

What was NE1’s interest in working with Northumbria students on Bigg Market?
NE1 have a long standing working relationship with Northumbria University and the school of design is fast becoming one of the leading design institutions in Europe. We were keen to engage the students with the Bigg Market project as they were able to demonstrate a fresh perspective to the challenges we faced. It was evident that they hadn’t become entrenched in their own views of the area and this gave them the freedom to think differently and creatively.

Also as alumni I was excited on a personal level to be going back to the place where I started out on my career path.

The working relationship with the University has been fantastic, we have maintained the right balance in terms of client and academic requirements. I was made to feel incredibly welcome throughout the project and the "client care" afforded to me was of the highest standard. This project has laid the foundations for future collaborations.

From the students presentations. Photo by Alex Slack, NE1

Can you tell us something specific about a few projects?
All of the student projects were to a high standard and the effort and commitment from the students was evident throughout.

The stand out project was the "VOX" Virtual Hologram Box – which took the idea of the once celebrated Bigg Market Zoo and brought it back to life by integrating existing street furniture like bollards with holograms of animals you may find at the Zoo. The students went on to explore how the concept could be commercialised and generate revenue through advertising. I was particularly impressed that the students had produced a working prototype and taken it out to the general public.

Another notable project was `Hear The Bigg Market`, which utilised Audio Spotlighting technology to transport the public back to a bygone era.

Were you inspired to add or change anything in the way you are developing the future of Bigg Market by the work of our students?
Working with the students has definitely inspired me to explore future collaborations and develop the working relationship further.

Below are video presentations from two of the student projects. Perhaps in the future we will see a virtual hologram of an elephant or hear the sounds from a bygone past at the Bigg Market!

VOX - Virtual Hologram Box

VOX prototype
By Franz Pancho and Carine Chang Shi Qian

VOX is a seamless approach to captivate individuals and crowds in exploring the exciting pinpoints of the Bigg Market during its prime.

Inspired by the Winter Zoo in Bigg Market, VOX showcases spectacle holograms of any sort such as the Winter Zoo animals.

Concept for VOX, the Virtual Hologram Box
The aim was to bring the users back in time to experience and also reminisce what the Bigg Market used to be, putting ‘family-oriented’ as the heart of our project’s engagement.

The final design was based on Victorian lamp post design, mixing the old and new in one form factor.

Hear the Bigg Market

By Ethan John Stewart and Josh Humphreys

Concept for Hear the Bigg Market

An unobtrusive and immersive way to explore the historic environment of the Bigg Market using Audio Spotlight technology to engage users.

  • Allows the general public to explore the most iconic sounds of the Bigg Market over the last century.
  • Call out to pedestrians using the Bigg Market as a thoroughfare, to incentivise them to engage.
  • Audio Spotlights blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment.
  • ‘Beacons’ wrapped around trees/objects provide information about what the user is hearing

The course

This work was part of the module Collaboration & Professional Associations 01 in Northumbria University's  BA (Hons) Interaction Design program. It was tutored by Lars Erik Holmquist and Andrew Richardson.

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