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Experience Design

Narrative Experiences

Environments Studio III:  Designing for Systems

3 Weeks | Fall 2020


Develop multi-sensory experiences inspired by a story recorded by StoryCorps. The goal is to evoke emotions and personal memories in the viewer that mirror or complement your assigned story by stimulating multiple senses.

  • SketchUp 

  • Adobe AfterEffects

  • Adobe Illustrator

  • Physical Prototyping

  • Interaction Design

  • 3D Modeling

  • Sound Design

  • Individual

The Outcome

For this project, I designed an experience for a story about two young girls that were refugees from Somalia, and their experience being adopted into an American family.


My goal with this experience was to put the visitor in the shoes of the daughters in the story, prompting them to feel the same emotions the girls did through stimulating their senses. I have included some steps of my process here, but you can read the whole process here.

Identifying Themes 

Beginning this project, I identified the common themes within the story, thinking about what aspects of the story I wanted to highlight within the experience. The main themes that I identified were motherhood, adoption , and cultural differences.

User Journey

I had two main ideas for my central concept, but I settled on the concept that had the user move through the space to indicate time passing, as well as experiences being triggered by their movement. The space is divided in 6 sections of varying size depending on the feelings of the girls at that point in their story, larger for when they feel safe and free, and compact when they feel constrained and confused. 

Concept Walkthrough 

Before diving into each individual section, here is a concept video that simulates walking through the whole experience. 

Students High-Fiving

Input: Students squeezing Buddi

Output: Buzzes & Lights up

Section 1 - Living in Somalia

The first space is the largest in the entire experience at 6 by 11 ft. The visuals are representative of a village in Somalia. The background noises within the space highlight animal sounds, birds chirping, and leaves rustling. The smell of the space is that of nature. All the senses are working together to place the user in a distinct place.

Section 2 - The War

The second section is the smallest, and most tumultuous in the story, the Somalian civil war. The visuals are drastic, shifting from dark to light. The smell is of smoke and gas and the background sound is explosions and warfare. All these elements work to shift the user from the peace of the previous section to the difficulties of war. 

Input: Students squeezing Buddi

Output: Buzzes & Lights up

Section 3 - Uncertainty Period

The next section is representative of the daughters settling first with their grandma, then rapidly being displaced. The space is long and narrow, 4 ft by 11 ft. The different events are triggered by the user moving forward, with a change in audio and lighting. 

Section 4 - Moving to America

The next section shows the girls in the United States. The visuals depict buildings and grayed skies. The smell in the space is asphalt, something we associate with roads and the sound is cars honking. All the senses work to show the strong juxtaposition between the nature-filled home of the girls to a more urban area in America. 

Input: Students squeezing Buddi

Output: Buzzes & Lights up

Section 5 - A Time of Anxiety

The next section is the narrowest, meant to be very overwhelming for the user. The visuals and sounds are sirens fading in and out. The smell is smoke, bringing back the association of panic and war from the second section. This section represents how difficult the transition is for the girls, how overwhelming this process is for them. 

Section 6 - Call to Action

The final section reveals who the experience is about and connects her experience to  many other refugees who have very similar stories. It also has call to action for the user, discussing the nonprofit AJAPO, whose mission statement is to help refugees resettle into the United States. There is a QR code on the wall which links to the organization’s site and ways to get involved. The smell and sound here is representative of hope for the future and a new life, a light smell of flowers and once again the sound of birds chirping. 

Input: Students squeezing Buddi

Output: Buzzes & Lights up

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