InfraWorks Landing screen with Generativ

Autodesk

Internship

Desktop App (InfraWorks) / Generative Design

- UX / UI Design, UX Research, Interactive Prototyping

Case study of exploring Generative Design features of InfraWorks for laying out the UN refugee settlements 

Project Overview

This project was started with this question " How Generative Design features of Autodesk software could help the UN Refugee Agency(UNHCR) site planners build comprehensive and well-organized refugee settlements. " Starting with the real-world use case(Mahama Refugee Camp) proposed by our client - the UNHCR, the scope of the project was to leverage InfraWorks in exploring how using generative design principles could optimize the layout of refugee settlement taking into account “hard” and “soft” variables such as geographical context, the climate as well as a cultural practice.

 

And to create an initial design concept that provides direction not only to the UN site planners and architects but also to broader user groups in creating spatially enabling environments for more tangible and integrated infrastructure interventions.

Team

Hayden(Hyun) Park

Project Duration

May 2020 - Aug 2020

Interactive Prototype

Overall Layouts #8.png

Role - UX Designer & Researcher

This was a one-person internship project. 

I completed the entire process with the help of a team of designers at Autodesk.

Tool

Sketch, Figma, Photoshop, Miro

image4.png

Project Background

“ The importance of building sustainable refugee camps. ”

We usually think that " Refugee camps are just a temporary settlement and will be removed soon." However, in reality, the average lifespan of a refugee camp is between 17 and 26 years and these settlements are developing gradually from an emergency settlement into what is fundamentally a “ new town “. 

While this reality has shaped policy around the importance of avoiding the creation of camps, in some situations, there is simply no alternative to the establishment of a camp. So, camp-like settlements remain an important feature of the humanitarian response landscape. Thus, the choice of settlement location is a critical decision that will have a significant impact on the protection and well-being of displaced people. 

“ Exploring the opportunities of Generative Design to create spatially enabling environments for more integrated infrastructure interventions. ”

Starting with this real-world use case proposed by our client - The UN Refugee Agency(UNHCR), the scope of the project was to leverage InfraWorks in exploring how using generative design principles could optimize the layout of refugee settlement taking into account “hard” and “soft” variables such as geographical context, the climate as well as a cultural practice,

 

And to create an initial design concept that provides direction not only to the UN site planners and architects but also to broader user groups in creating spatially enabling environments for more tangible and integrated infrastructure interventions.

Design Challenge

" How might we utilize Generative Design features of Autodesk tools to create a refugee camp layout that reflects both technical and humanitarian variables? "

From the project kick-off meetings with my team at Autodesk, Autodesk representatives, and the UNHCR associates, I was able to set the high-level goals of this project. 

Project Goal

1

Explore a new workflow concept that the UNHCR site planners & engineers could employ using Autodesk software.

2

Create conceptual Generative Design features for Autodesk software that are tailored for UNHCR site planners & engineers.

3

Conduct a case study of applying the conceptual Generative Design features for the Mahama refugee campsite planning.

1.

Research

• Desktop Research

• Literature Review

• User Interviews

• Contextual Inquiry

• Affinity Mapping

• Journey Mapping


 

2.

Design

Ideation

• Distilling Design Focus

• Design Ideation

• Design Focus


 

3.

Design

Prototype

• Sketching out Ideas

• Low-Fidelity Wireframes

• Expert Feedback Session

• Mid-Fidelity Prototypes

• Expert Design Review Session

• UN Associates Design Review Session

• Design Iteration


 

4.

Final

Design

• Information Architecture

• Scenario 1: Open Generative Design

• Scenario 2: Create a New Study

Scenario 3: Generate Water Network
• Scenario 4: Generate Housing Layout

• Scenario 5: Generate Public Facility

Scenario 6: Collaboration Mode

• Reflections

Mask Group (3).png

1. Research: Understanding Users & Context

I conducted multiple research methodologies to get a broader and deeper understanding of UNHCR site planners' current site planning workflow as well as their way of using Autodesk software during the process. It was also important to spot a place that Generative Design can chime in and help the planning.  At the beginning of the project, I conducted desktop research to get a general understanding of the area. I then read through a large amount of literature to fully understand technical concepts as well as capture opportunities to bring social aspects to the table. After that, to get more in-depth qualitative data and figure out their pain points and needs, I conducted 21 interviews with Autodesk Subject Matter Experts and the UN site planners. With the insights and knowledge I got from the interview sessions, I then had two rounds of contextual inquiry sessions that have participants use Autodesk products in a way they usually use while being observed. Due to COVID-19, I wasn't able to conduct in-person research sessions.

< UNHCR Master Plan >

< UNHCR Software Manual >

< Mahama Site Documents >

< Kigeme Site Documents >

< Kebribeyah Settlement Profile >

< MPA Sample >

< Site Assessment Form >

< Sphere Standards >

< Mahama Demographics >

< Papers(Cultural Practice) >

Desktop Research / Literature Reviews

15

Interviews with Autodesk Subject Matter Experts

6

Interviews with the UN site planners

2

Contextual Inquiries with the UN site planners

3

Analyzing the Collected Data

As a way to analyze the collected data from the research activities, due to the massive amount of data, I chose the Journey mapping methodology to map out the overall workflow, details, and notable insights. The journey map was basically structured based on the detailed workflows that I heard and observed during interviews and contextual inquiry sessions with the UN site planners. In each step, I added 6 rows that contain a number of important research insights. The rows were, from top to bottom, first - Emotion & Thoughts that shows how the site planners feel and think in each step, second - Actions that present actions the planners take in each step from research to usage of Autodesk software, third - Painpoints that they have during each step, forth - Touchpoints where their interactions happen, fifth -  Opportunities that capture potential improvement points, and lastly - Stakeholders who are involved in each step. At the bottom, there is a section for Generative Design Intervention Opportunities which were generated based on the UNHCR Master Plan and Software Manual documents. 

UNHCR Site Planning Journey Map (2).png

Click to enlarge the Journey Map

2. Design Ideation: Exploring Design Ideas

Distilling Design Focus

After summarizing the research data into a consumable form and analyzing it, I moved on to merge insights and discover project focus points that were used to come up with design concepts. I first listed out notable pain points from the journey map and brainstormed potential design opportunities/ideas. I then ideated ways to bring high-level design opportunities down to reality and implement those with the Generative Design approach. 

Project Focus (3).png

Click to enlarge the table

Notable Issues

Design Ideas

" Hard to access gathered data within Autodesk software "

" A large portion of unquantifiable variables rely on qualitative data which may not be accurate "

Topographical considerations during planning (drilling, groundwater depth, drainage) "

" A Generative Design feature that takes various unquantifiable variables into consideration "


" Provide a way to easily access recently updated data within Autodesk software "

" Have a more wide range of Generative Design variables so the system can be used widely "

" Difficult to find a way that host-community and refugees can coexist "


" Tricky to harmoniously connect preexisting infrastructures with newly built camp facilities "

" Soft variables(cultural practice, social aspects) are barely considered during the planning "

" A feature that can bring the existing infrastructure model data into the software and layout the new settlement upon that harmoniously with the help of Generative Design."

" A way to quantify and reflect humanitarian / social aspects within Autodesk software "

" Geodata may not be accurate since it’s not a real-time "

" Hard to explore many design alternatives due to time and budget constraints "

" Hard to define land use in certain cases (swampy, many layers) "

" A Generative Design feature that allows users to explore as many as design alternatives quickly "

" A feature that can help site planners make a reasonable decision while considering a number of factors with the help of automation in generating site layouts "

" Usually site planners are running out of time since the establishment of refugee camps happens unexpectedly depending on a countries situation,

 

so the planning process and evaluation which have to be done with many teams are not thorough enough "

" Develop a feature that site planners and other stakeholders can evaluate designs within the software  "
 

" Provide a feature that site planners can work collaboratively within the software while considering constraints, variables, and goals in real-time "
 

InfraWorks Landing screen with Generativ

Design Focus

1

Illustrate new conceptual workflow explaining how UNHCR site planners can use Autodesk Generative Design features for planning

2

Help site planners make a reasonable decision by applying automation in exploring site layouts while considering and balancing a set of constraints and goals through Generative Design approach

3

Provide Generative Design features that allow site planners to explore as many as design alternatives in a timely manner and collaboratively

4

Create a way to quantify and reflect humanitarian / social aspects of a campsite within Autodesk software(InfraWorks, Civil3D)

3. Design Prototype: Iterative Prototyping

With the generated design focus, I started building the initial low-fidelity wireframes to visualize my design ideas. While exploring the designs, I continuously had feedback sessions with Autodesk designers and the UN site planners to get better insights and to find out if there are things that I missed out on. Based on their feedback, I kept iterating the wireframes to have more logical and intuitive usability. 

After developing a low-fidelity wireframe and getting feedback from the stakeholders, I shortlisted notable insights and improvement points from the low-fidelity wireframes. With the list, I further improved design ideas and details that need to be addressed in the subsequent step. I then created mid-fidelity prototypes to better visualize key functionalities and to conduct more rounds of in-depth design feedback sessions with target users(site planners) and Autodesk SME.

Design Review Sessions

In order to evaluate the mid-fidelity prototypes, it was important to look at them through an external eye. I hence conducted several rounds of in-depth design review sessions at this stage. The sessions were divided into two. The first one was conducted with subject matter experts at Autodesk, in order to assess the overall layout and usability of the design as well as the Generative Design features I had.  The second one was conducted with the UN site planners, in order to get feedback from users who will be actually using the fucntionalities. 

1

2

For the session, I created a clickable prototype and had the experts go over the prototype. I had 5 sessions with different experts at Autodesk to get diverse perspectives. I sought feedback from the experts on topics such as integrability, feasibility, and practicality of the design.

Review session with the UN Site Planners

In order to gather feedback pertaining to the experience of the users, I presented my process and design to a group of UN site planners. I first walked them through the design and ask for their feedback. Additionally, I had several meetings with UN associates who were not able to attend the presentation to get more feedback. They gave me their thoughts in various ways such as comments in slide dock, 1:1 meetings, emails, and etc. Their feedback was really helpful for me to find out issues in the design and move forward.

Review session with Autodesk Subject Matter Experts

Design Iteration 

1

Allow users to import datasets from various platforms

Before

Issues

Participants gave me very positive feedback on the importing feature. However, some of them questioned why they can import datasets only from ArcGIS since they gather data from various platforms.

After

Solutions

To solve the issue, I added the commonly used dataset platforms to give the users wider choices.

2

Make the selection for social variables more intuitive and let users know what the variables do

Before

After

Issues

Some participants told me that they were not sure if the buttons for humanitarian variables were selectable. Also, they were not able to understand how the variables would be used to generate design options.

Solutions

As a solution to the issue, I changed the box-type button to the radio button so that users could visually understand that those are selectable. Also, I added tooltips that explain how the variables will be used to generate design options.

3

Provide a more comprehensive way of analyzing the generated models

Before

After

Issues

In the folded view, some participants wanted to view the generated models and statistical data of each model in one view. Also, an Autodesk SME told me that one of the needs that users have is comparing the results more systematically and easily.

Solutions

To solve this issue, I put the model section and the statistical graphs of the selected model. Besides, I added a Compare feature that allows users to compare when they select more than 2 model options.

4

Make the navigation flow of the left sidebar more explicit

Issues

During the session, some participants had difficulty in navigating the left sidebar, they didn't seem to understand why the section was changed or not changed as they move to different screens. 

Solutions

As a solution to the problem, I designed several screens that clearly explain how to navigate with the sidebar so users can use it more intuitively.

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4. Final Design

The following screens are the final design outputs. There are 6 scenarios that explain the design and functionalities while going over the user flow. 

 

Information Architecture

To comprehensively visualize the user flow of the app and not to cause any UI hierarchy problems, I first created the information architecture before designing the final screens. Having the information hierarchy was a great way to organize functionalities and logically think about the flow of the app.

Information Architecture.png

Scenario 1: Open the Generative Design System

Users can open the Generative Design system by clicking a generative design icon on the top menu tap. Then the pop-up window that allows users to select a study type they want to create will be shown with three different options. Once users choose one of the options, then they will get a list of studies they have done or been working on.

InfraWorks landing screen with Generative Design Button

Select a Study Type

Clicked Site Layout Study Type

If users click the New Study button on the top of the previous screen, they will get into the Add a new study screen where users can set details of Generative Design study they would like to perform.

Clicked New Study button and got into Add a New Study screen

Clicked Tooltip button

Importing Datasets

List of dataset platforms users can import

Import UNHCR Sphere Standards

Import Unique Local Standards

Scenario 2: Create a New Study

Setting Goals, Variables, and Constraints

After importing datasets, the goals, variables, and sphere standards(constraints) will now have a list of options they can choose from. 

Imported list of goals, variables, and sphere standards

Setting variables while getting recommendations

Setting details of sphere standards based on the variables have been selected

Consider Social Variables and Sphere Standards

Having social variables, in other words, unquantifiable variables such as Government Regulations, Level of Socializing, and Religious Taboos was one of the most important aspects of the project. Users can choose social variables they want to have from the variable list and also can set detailed standards of each variable with an explanation about how the variables will be used to generate design options.

Tooltip of the Level of Socializing option 

Tooltip of the Religious Taboos option 

Tooltip of the Government Regulation option 

Generate Design Options with the selected details

Once users are done with selecting the options, they can generate design options by clicking the activated Generate button at the bottom. 

Completed selection and the activated Generate button

Generating the design options

Generation Completed

Landing screen after the generation completed

Compare different design options

Unfold the study list while viewing the generated models

Choose a study while viewing the statistical graph of the models

Explore Generated Design Options

Once the generation completed, users now can explore and compare the generated options. Users can view generated models as well as statistical graphs of the selected models with various details and can compare different design options.

Scenario 3: Generate Water Network Layout

The proposed Generative Design features can be used in many sectors of site planning. One of the sectors is generating water network layout. Users can set the details of the water network and generate layouts while considering numerous variables such as drilling, groundwater depth, precipitation, and condition of the soil.

Scenario 4: Generate Detailed Housing Layout

With the proposed system, users can also layout not only macro scale infrastructures but also micro scale facilities like housing. The system allows users to explore various housing layout options by applying conditions such as duration, type of soil, and cultural practice. 

Scenario 5: Generate Public Facilities - Education

The system can generate design options for public facilities such as schools, distribution centers, public toilets, and etc. Users can apply different requirements by setting respective goals, variables, and sphere standards for each public facility type.

Scenario 6: Collaboration Mode

The collaboration mode allows users to set goals, variables, and standards collaboratively. Users can simply get into the mode by clicking the collaboration button on the top of the study list. This will help them more efficiently set details that feat to their end goal. 

Reflections

WOWWWWW! You've done a really amazing job! You've reached the end of this scroll. Thank you so much for taking the time to go over my project. Here, I would like to share the things I've learned throughout this amazing internship with Autodesk. Every single moment with the team, the UN folks, Autodesk Foundation, and lastly my awesome manager - Rob Mansperger who is a kind supporter, creative thinker, and respectful leader has been truly exciting and valuable. I cannot be more grateful! :) 

1. Working in the infrastructure design world was an eye-opening experience. I was able to meet the space that truly requires collaborative and interdisciplinary knowledge to achieve goals.

3. As a designer who has been hoping to be a part of Autodesk for many years, having this invaluable opportunity to experience the projects and the working environment of Autodesk was a “ Dream come true. ”

5. There is still plenty of room for additional exploration. City and site planning has obviously countless things to consider. I have tried my best to cover as many parameters and cases as possible but there is still enormous room for exploring a better way of infrastructure design.  

2. Spotting areas where Generative Design could enhance the site layout was an exciting journey. Generative Design could bring revolutions to the way of designing infrastructures and help people live their lives in a more positive and meaningful way within those.

4. Being able to work on a project with UNHCR and being a part of the work for helping people in need was an honorable experience. Besides, finding a way that Autodesk software could be of great help for their honorable work was definitely valuable to explore

6. Lastly, I think the proposed functionalities could be applied to other Autodesk products to build a more general site layout design with Generative Design thinking.  Examining the possibilities for the infrastructure design team would be an important area to explore.

Thank You!

Designed with passion by Hyun Park © Copyright 2020