Mapping Human Experiential Data in Urban Toronto

virtual reality application: bodies-cities VR St. James Town

digital tools: Unity 3D, Illustrator, InDesign

The Design Process


At the discovery phase I adapted interview, mapping and reflective tools to map the  functional and emotional factors that influence residents.

  • The questions addressed social, economic, political, and environmental factors in choosing the area as their home.
  • Findings: the priorities include walkable access to green spaces, transit, concerns on impact of gentrification, space use for  mitigating isolation, valuation of space beyond geography boundaries.


I created iterative sketches of the way the findings could be reflected in the immersive application design. 

The feedback from advisors and resident/participants, dug into how the immersive narrative reflects the body's ways of knowing and follow a ethical design principles. 

  • Ethical design: Since resident experiences are directly presented in the experience, their feedback informed the sketching and interaction prototyping. For each user, access to their stories has to be triggered by a respectful acknowledgement of the avatar in order to gain access to the data/knowledge shared in the application. 

Interaction Design

 I started designing stages of the interactive VR application in Unity 3D

  • Layered VR: The interaction design concept is based on the concept of a palimpsest - a document that holds layers of erased knowledge. The  residents’ knowledge form layers hidden to the public, but can be discovered by a user of the application.
  • Visual design: I layered a surreal pixellated landscape over the realistic photogrammetry models of the site. Each interactive element (finding of research) discovered reveals a another layer of knowledge as shared by a resident.

User Testing

I held three rounds of testing at various stages of design. 

Testing Stages

  • In the early stages, with advisors, the initial conceptual design was reviewed for interactionstructure and function.
  • The second stage introduced the participants (residents) to how their experiential data looked and felt in a medium new to them - virtual reality. It allowed for integration of ethical concerns like the limiting any violation of the avatars in virtual space.  
  • The last stage, with advisors and OCAD community members tested for the level of presence in VR by how it was enabled by visual and interactive elements, and agency of the user.
  • Method: reflective feedback  on in-app experience.
Using Format