One day this winter, just after a blizzard that blanketed the Boston area, a team of Sasaki planners and programmers trekked through the snow—led by a courageous husky on their smartphones. Although their journey to forty locations in Watertown, MA was certainly a test in endurance, the team was not preparing for the Iditarod. Instead, they were beta-testing the first app they had ever designed—a digital scavenger hunt that would ultimately take place on the University of Washington’s (UW) campus.
The app, called GoHuskies! for UW’s mascot, uses augmented reality and GPS technology to allow users to collect tokens at significant sites on the University of Washington’s campus in a celebration of campus architecture and planning. This is just one of Sasaki’s innovative tools that help people engage in new ways with urban and campus planning. Helping to lead this charge is Sasaki Strategies, an interdisciplinary group of programmers, data analysts, and planners, who offer creative solutions to design problems through the use of data and technology.
Although Strategies harnesses the power of data to illuminate planning work, the team always makes sure to invoke a human-centered lens. Sasaki principal, Ken Goulding, who leads the Strategies group explains, “Whether we’re making a campus survey to understand how 8,000 students experience a campus, or mapping the commuter and transit routes between three campuses, or even testing an app in a foot of snow in Massachusetts, we always try to stop and consider the user experience and the people we’re actually designing for.”
After intensive testing in Watertown and Seattle, Sasaki principal Caitlyn Clauson unveiled the app at the opening session of the Society for College and Urban Planning (SCUP) Pacific Conference, hosted at the University of Washington. Centered on the theme, “Game Changers,” the conference focused on how institutions are responding to profound economic, social, and cultural changes today. In the opening session, Clauson followed presentations from key figures in the real estate, economic development, innovation sectors, and education field in the Seattle area, emphasizing the importance of using new and sometimes unexpected technology like the GoHuskies! app to create new modes for education and engagement.
Clauson presents the app to SCUP attendees
GoHuskies! allowed conference attendees to get out and explore the University of Washington’s dynamic and historic campus in a new way. Over 60 conference attendees played the game, collecting over forty of the tokens that represent significant locations on campus—led by their trusty husky avatar. Although players competed for prizes—laser-cut husky figurine trophies made in Sasaki’s Fab Lab—all the participants discovered spaces old and new throughout the entirety of UW’s 703-acre campus.
From the historic Suzzallo Library to the beloved Husky Stadium, players interacted with significant sites on campus grouped in five categories: architecture and landscapes, entrepreneurship and collaboration, arts and culture, public art, and future planning efforts. “What a wonderful way to experience this campus,” said one player. “It’s so fitting for us at a SCUP Conference to be engaged with UW’s beautiful campus, rather than spending the day in conference rooms and our hotels, never going outside.”
The W at Memorial Way was one of the destinations that gameplayers visited
In addition to highlighting existing locations on campus, GoHuskies! acts as a visualization tool for the future of UW’s campus. Using key locations from Sasaki’s master plan for the University of Washington, app-users can also see potential changes to the campus such as new pedestrian paths, a proposed innovation district, and vibrant public spaces. Clauson commented, as the lead planner on the master planning project and a key member of the app team, “The ability for people to experience the past, present, and future of a space while actually being there is almost unprecedented for planners.”
Now that the Strategies team has the technical capacity to deliver an app, they are brainstorming other uses for the GoHuskies! framework in the future, such as releasing it to students to foster engagement and awareness around UW’s master plan, or using it on other campuses to celebrate their histories and futures. The potential of GoHuskies! to generate enthusiasm about design, educate people about their environments, and to engage stakeholders in the planning process is just beginning.