Abolitionist Place


As part of the graduate course, Site Specific User Experience Design, we were divided into teams to design for a historical site.

DURATION: 3 months

TEAM: Davon Larson, Elsie Zheng and Cherisha Agarwal

TOOLS: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop,  Invision, Sketch, Principal

Our UX project was focused on the historical site: 227 Abolitionist Place, Duffield Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.

227 Abolitionist Place is a rich historical site which played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Our class partnered with the Brooklyn Historical Society and 227 Abolitionist Place to pitch ideas in order to increase awareness of the historical site and preserve the rich cultural heritage of the site.

The goal of this project was to design an interactive experience for the site relating to African-American history of the Underground Railroad. After three months of research, ideation and iterating, we decided to design a way-finding system mixed with a guerrilla art project to raise interest of the historical site in Brooklyn. Through our project we dived deep into the historical facts of the site and aimed to generate interest in people to visit the museum which is to be created at the Abolitionist Place.


Through our research we learned that during the 1800s, the area of downtown Brooklyn was an enclave of abolitionist activity during a time when slavery existed in New York. The site, 227 Duffield Street, was one of the safe houses along the Underground Railway for African-Americans escaping slavery. Today, 227 Duffield Street is the only remaining abolitionist home in downtown Brooklyn. The house was brought by the Truesdells in 1850 who helped an unknown number of slaves flee to freedom. It eventually became the home of Joy Chatel and since 2004, Ms. Chatel spent the majority of her time fighting New York City, who wanted to confiscate her home, destroy it and build an underground parking lot. After almost four years of advocacy and legal work, in late 2007, the city agreed to let Ms. Chatel preserve 227 Duffield Street. On September 20, 2007, Duffield Street was co-named Abolitionist Place.

It was during this time that Ms. Chatel provided tours and lectures for people from around the world to educate the public about New York’s role in the Abolitionist Movement and its involvement as the second largest slave trading state in the United States. Joy Chatel and community activists’ achievements in protecting 227 Abolitionist Place is recognized by local publications as an inspirational story to all New Yorkers fighting for affordable housing, preserving cultural landmarks and respectable developments. In memory of Joy Chatel, the community continues to work toward her dream by reopening 227 Abolitionist Place into a cultural museum and heritage center to educate New Yorkers about the American Abolitionist movement and slavery.


We started the design process by diving deep into researching about the site history. To understand about current preferences of museum visitors, we visited Brooklyn museum and Brooklyn historical society and interviewed more than 30 people and conducted a short survey to analyze our findings. We hoped to learn more about the Underground Railroad hence we interviewed some experts and academicians too.


Based on our research and user interviews, we created the above segments and targeted persona. To address our problem statement of creating awareness among people about the site, we brainstormed a bunch of ideas ranging from interactive experiences to navigation and installations. We came across quilt patterns and realized that they were deeply connected with the Underground Railroad. We decided to use the patterns to build an interactive physical prototype which people could play with easily and tested it out with users.


Our testing results revealed that the patterns definitely captured the attention of the people walking by and they wanted to know more about the Brooklyn history. We realized that we need to design a navigation system which guides the users to follow the patterns as a way finding mechanism. Our concept was based on the idea that allowed users to create their own path to the museum by looking for the patterns.


By keeping in mind our target users based on our segments and persona, we designed the user journey. It involved looking into touch points, emotions, pain points, drivers and opportunities faced by the users. Each of these steps helped us understand the user flow in detail and map it all onto the ecosystem diagram. We mapped out the user journey right from noticing the pattern to finding next location, visiting the website to learning about the abolitionist place. This helped us understand the entities and various factors involved in the entire process and to design by keeping the constraints and goals in mind. 


As part of designing the way finding experience, we created a mobile website which helped the users learn more about the history of the Abolitionist Place and Museum, what the quilt patterns represented and how to use them as a key to find next locations on the route. It also had a map section which helped users locate themselves in real time, showed the route to the museum and helped navigate to the next location using the patterns at each location. We tested the design with multiple users and found that users were able to decipher the patterns easily and the patterns captured their attention at several locations. Our next steps include adding more locations connected to underground rail road and include chapters or episodes in the way finding system to generate more interest and awareness among the users.