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Code Like a Girl Article - XYZ Atlas
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Code Like a Girl Article

Code Like a Girl Article

The UX Design in Re-Designing Downtown Austin

Fistera is an Austin-based nonprofit that explores how art can help people gain insights into their lives. This project was built over the last four years in Austin by a diverse group of professionals working in visual design, art, engineering, GIS mapping, public planning and anthropology. Recently Fistera hosted a reception unveiling their newest installation called Atlas XYZ: Congress Avenue.

The XYZ Atlas: Congress Avenue reception with a Color Wheel of Emotions on the floor.

Atlas XYZ: Congress Avenue is an interactive, multimedia art installation that maps our emotional attachment to downtown Austin. Participants share experiences and memories of Congress Avenue through surveys and live-mapping. Congress Avenue is the center of downtown Austin bookended by the Texas Capitol to the north and Lady Bird Lake in the middle and a vibrant restaurant, shopping and music scene to the south.

How does this relate to technology? The real question is how does it not? Atlas XYZ is the User Experience Design in urban planning.

“The purpose of XYZ Atlas is to show the emotions people feel along Congress Avenue by reframing the idea of place not as land, streets, or buildings, but as places connected to emotion and meaningful moments in people’s lives,” states Michele Van Hyfte of Downtown Austin Alliance.

A model of Congress Avenue as paper boxes where visitors can write an emotion and memory they’ve had on Congress.

There was paper model of Congress Avenue at the XYZ Atlas reception. Guests were given a sharpie, tags and tape and asked to write a memory and emotion and tape it to the location where they experienced it. One tag was taped to the Capitol and the emotion was “trust in humanity” and the memory was when they heard Wendy Davis’ 2011 epic filibuster for 13 hours about fighting for women’s health rights. One tag was “sadness and anger” placed on a new hotel because it caused a long-time Mexican restaurant institution, Las Manitas, to close their doors in 2008.

UX in Design

The UX in Design is User Experience — where Designers put ourselves into someone else’s shoes and try to understand how they feel, think, see and do. UX Designers are the advocates for Users and map out user flows and interactions along the way. What is our path when we walk the streets of our neighborhood, our city, or as a visitor in another country? What are our emotions while we stroll? Are we stressed at the business of loud and chaotic traffic or are we walking through a hike and bike trail listening to woodpeckers and feeling at ease?

UX Designers’ responsibilities are to take all the emotions and interactions in consideration while creating a valuable useful and desirable digital experience.

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions — a circumplex model that makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a color wheel. This wheel was located at the XYZ Atlas reception to help people connect an emotion with a place.

Downtown Austin Alliance will use survey data to inform the public engagement phase of an Urban Design Initiative between the City of Austin and Downtown Austin Alliance. This new vision will inform plans and engineering projects for future street-scape improvements to Congress Avenue. (

Interaction Design in UX

This is Interaction Design in UX. The Interaction Design Foundation defines Interaction Design (IxD) as the “structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.” ( In this case, the products are an avenue and sidewalks, and the service is community improvements and building a personal relationship between the people and Austin’s main street. The goals are the same — to create an experience that enables the user to achieve their objective(s) in the best way possible.

Congress Avenue in Austin has been through many urban transformations for three centuries. Austin was founded in 1839 and still has signs of its youth with nineteenth century historical buildings scattered along Congress, as well as many modern skyscrapers built over the last 20 years. During the bust in the 1980s, there was little activity downtown, but now the energy is back on Congress Avenue day and night. It will be exciting to see the changes on Congress Avenue after this main corridor in Austin is redesigned by people’s experiences and as a place tied to emotions and meaningful moments.

Selfies on Congress Avenue with the Paramount and State Theaters in the background.

Jennifer Chenoweth