UX Design Certificate Students Reimagine Love Letters Tours

April 1, 2020

Students of the Continuing Education UX Design Certificate Program learned first-hand about the impact user research can have on finding creative solutions to real-world problems. As part of the certificate’s User Research course, students partnered with Mural Arts Philadelphia to explore opportunities to expand the potential of the iconic Love Letters Tour.

A Love Letter For You is a series of murals by Steve Powers, covering walls in West Philadelphia with most of them viewable from the El. The murals together form, according to Mural Arts, “a love letter from a guy to a girl, from an artist to his hometown, and from local residents to their neighborhood of West Philadelphia.” For years now, Mural Arts has run tours of the murals involving a trip on the El and platform stops. The logistics of this, however, mean it can only be offered at certain times despite the tour being in high demand.

Ellen Soloff, Director of Tours & Merchandise at Mural Arts, partnered with us to present an opportunity. Could there be a self-guided version of the Love Letter tour that allows locals and tourists a reasonable, informed way to experience the murals and their story, even when guided tours can’t be offered?

Students first learned the methods of user research, from conducting an effective interview and hearing first-hand from people about their experiences to developing a survey to collect quantitative feedback from a large number of people. Then, they developed a plan. How could they explore the opportunity for a self-guided mural tour? What questions would they need to answer? What methods would best provide those answers?

Once armed with that plan, students put it into action. This included:

  • Taking the tour themselves, observing the experience tour guides provided and the logistics needed to experience the tour in the best way possible

  • Interviewing tour guides and directly hearing about the challenges they face and their opinions on the most valuable aspects of the guided tours

  • Interviewing those who took the tour to learn what they loved about it and how likely they may be to take on a self-guided experience

  • Surveys with recent tour-goers and local audiences to identify the interest Philadelphians might have for going on a self-guided tour

  • Reviewing online reviews and feedback to gather perspectives on the current tour experience, what challenges might exist, and what draws tourists and locals to the tour

  • Reviewing existing digital experiences to assess gaps and find opportunities

Students uncovered several trends from their research.

Complicated Logistics

The nature of the tour provides a unique challenge. Most of the tour involves riding the El, introducing a barrier for tourists. Without a guide, tourists would be on their own to learn where and how to get on the train, what options exist for paying, and how to do it all safely. Even for locals, the nuances of a tour that takes place on a speeding train and has very specific viewpoints from station platforms would be difficult to pull off solo.

Love Letter Murals Aren’t Easy to Locate

The murals themselves introduce further complication. Many are not viewable from the street and face multiple directions. They may be close or far from the El track and show up at different heights. Even using an existing map Mural Arts has online, the murals can be difficult to find. Those who expressed an interest in viewing the murals by themselves, some who have even gone on the guided tour already, found lack of awareness of mural locations a current roadblock. Just knowing where a mural is wasn’t enough. They had to know how to see it.

Tour Guides Offer Significant Value

Not only as a help to navigating the logistics, tour guides provide a wealth of knowledge about the murals and personality to the experience. A common highlight noted by those who took the tour was the informative narration and energy of the guides. In fact, one tour-goer commented “No guide? No tour,” highlighting how critical they felt the guides were to the experience.

Now equipped with this knowledge, students created several concepts for how Mural Arts could maximize the opportunity for self-discovery of the Love Letter tour:

  • To maximize the awareness tour-goers would have of the murals and their locations, students proposed a brochure with a mural map that could complement the guided experience and provide an opportunity for people to refer back to the map if attempting to find murals they may have missed seeing on the tour itself.

  • An enhanced digital experience was also proposed, allowing anyone to view not only where murals are located, but where someone would need to go in order to see them. This included a distinction for murals that required the viewer to be on the El or a platform vs being on street level, making a self-guided tour a real possibility.

  • Finally, students also proposed physical signage on the ground at Septa platforms, directing tourists and commuters alike to where murals could be seen, with the additional benefit of building awareness for the mural tour.

I think the students did an incredible job and provided us with a lot of information that we will use in the future. The best idea that we are working on implementing this summer is adding signage on the SEPTA platforms to point out the murals. I loved working with the students and hope to continue this partnership. - Ellen Soloff, Director of Tours & Merchandise at Mural Arts


Students walked away with real-world experience of user research and provided value to an important local organization along the way. User research unlocks powerful understanding for successful design and armed with these skills, students are already prepared to bring more value to their own work and future challenges.


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