artworxto: toronto’s year of public art 2021

The Year of Public Art signals Toronto’s renewed commitment to public art as it celebrates the city’s art and community. The program will celebrate Toronto’s incredible collection of public art and the artists behind it, while creating more opportunities for the public to connect and engage with the work. ArtworxTO will provide new opportunities for both Toronto and international artists to play a leading role in the development of public art projects within the city. The program will work closely with artists and Toronto’s key arts institutions to deliver major public art projects and commissions for 2021. 

The ask 

In partnership with the City of Toronto, our team was tasked with designing and building an easy to use and visually stunning mobile-friendly website that aggregates public art information for public use. You can view the platform live here. 

project details 

  • Role: Lead UX Designer
  • Team: PM, Visual Designer, Developer
  • Approach: Agile Methodologies
  • Duration: 4 months for MVP

Discovery session

I planned and facilitated a discovery session, engaging our key stakeholder to better understand the project, goals and aspirations, and intended audience. I created a discussion guide that was focused on what success looks like and what constraints the client was anticipating that might affect our work. Below are some key findings: 

Goals & aspirations   

  • Aggregate resource serving as a one stop shop for public art in the city 
  • Ease of use and access to information by highlighting what’s available
  • Help people understand that public art is for everyone, and for them too
  • Allow users to stay up to date with relevant information about artworks and events
  • Appeal to Torontonians across the city and the GTA, the artist community as well as tourists

key challenges

  • Accessibility – Due to the site being a city wide initiative, our team had to achieve AAA AODA compliance. 
  • Stakeholder Management – For this to be an effective tool, we had to ensure that all city programs were on board, understood the ask and were satisfied with our final solutions. However, our goal was to serve the public and allow them to access public art in the city easily. We had to find the right balance between appeasing different programs and divisions, and ensuring that the end result was a human-centred one.
  • Privacy – Many policies had to be taken into consideration. For example, creating accounts and storing user information was not allowed, and we had to find alternatives, such as using cookies.
  • COVID-19 – Due to the pandemic, we had to ensure that the City is mindful of the safety of residents, providing relevant information that can help them plan their visit. In addition, our focus for the MVP shifted to the before visit context to accommodate restrictions.

Prioritization workshops  

I planned and facilitated two prioritization workshops with the larger stakeholder team. The first was a brainstorming session meant to gather all the features and ideas they envisioned, elaborating on their functionalities. This resulted in a list of must have features and a list of nice to have features. The second workshop went deeper; our goal was to further refine and prioritize the must have features based on the NUF method, which asks if the idea is new (novelty), if it solves the problem (Usefulness) and if we can technically execute it feasibility).

Sketches & Wireframes

usability testing

Early on in the project, I had identified a challenge which was that simply providing a map and a grid view with thousands of artworks was not sufficient in providing users with various methods of finding things that interested them. This hindered the user’s experience by increasing their cognitive load.

My goal was to ensure that the team was collectively thinking about the impact of the product and the purpose that it served.

I recommended usability testing as a method in order to validate our assumptions and better understand how our solutions were being perceived by those who would potentially use it. Our goal was to understand the experience Torontonians have when using the product, specifically the map. We wanted to know how they interact with it, what their perceptions and sentiments are towards it, and why they interact with it the way they do.

I collaborated with key stakeholders, going through the right procedures and building a testing plan that would allow us to iterate on our original solution.


  • Task based, think aloud protocol
  • Remote one-on-one moderated sessions
  • 8 diverse participants
  • 30 minute sessions 
  • Affinity mapping for synthesis

key Insights 

Filtering and refining. Most participants wanted to filter and browse artwork based on additional criteria, such as by location (neighbourhoods), theme or category (type of work) and artist. In addition, no participant understood what ‘Program Names’ meant.

“There are so many options, I don’t want to go all the way to one place if I don’t know it will be cool.” — Participant 1

Grid view discoverability. While most things were easy to find, it was challenging for all participants to notice that there was a grid view below the map.

“It’s a lot of information when I’m given this many options. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that I want to see.” — Participant 7

Need additional information. While most of the information for artworks was easy to understand and useful to participants, they were keen on exploring the art, venue and artist in more detail.

“It would be nice if I could click and quickly see what the times and dates are so I can potentially string them together into an afternoon or evening.” — Participant 2

recommendations & Iterations 

  • Filters and refiners. Allow users to refine the list of artworks based on neighbourhoods, artwork type and more so they can find what interests them easily and quickly and better prioritize what they want to see.
  • Map / Grid Toggle. Allow participants to view either map or grid view. The toggle creates visibility around there being an alternative view to the map view and supports two different behaviours so users can choose one that fits their need, without getting overwhelmed.
  • Artworks Information. Include external links to provide users with additional information on an artwork, including artist statements, interviews, and media about the work. Due to the additional information required, we opted to create individual artwork pages, allowing users to view artworks at a glance as well as in more detail.

Lessons LEarned

Although agile development has a lot of benefits, including an incremental approach, the ability to change direction based on feedback and short timeframes that keep the team focused, adopting an agile approach for this project proved to be challenging for many reasons.


  • Our organization did not have the resources or experience required to complete a project fully agile.
  • With the focus being on developers, it was unclear where UX would fit in the overall project lifecycle.
  • Due to the nature of agile, there was a lot of pressure put on the production team (UX, Design, Dev) to create, test, refine and deliver unrealistically fast, and with little context of the bigger picture.

Below are some ways in which we pivoted and shifted our approach to create a better agile process that suited both the project as well as the organization:

  1. UX leadership: While focusing on specific features in each sprint, I also allocated time to think through the larger-scale product and design implications, including user-interface architecture and integration of content. I was able to educate clients and internal teams about the value of qualitative research in agile settings, and also presented during demos, ensuring stakeholders understood the granular functionalities of features, as well as how they connected to the overall product.
  2. Easing up: We learned that UX works well when agile isn’t completely strict. Our retros after every sprint allowed us to reflect on what was working and what was not, in order to pivot as needed, ensuring that our process was malleable and we were staying flexible in terms of how we worked together.
  3. Working sessions: Early on we realized that to ensure efficiency as well as to adhere to budgets and timelines, we implemented working sessions between UX, design and dev. This allowed us to move faster, because we would ensure the feasibility of a feature collectively, rather than working in silos and making decisions individually. This also established trust in our working team, where we respected each other’s processes, insights and ideas.

next steps

A phase two of this project will ensue after the MVP has been launched, where we will include additional functionality for some of the features already built in order to improve them. This includes search and save to favourites. In addition, we will also revisit the backlog to include features that focuses on other use cases for the site, such as in-context and after visits. Our team will continue this phase with an iterative and lean mindset. Check back regularly to see all the updates.