The Wabash Lights

Helping an interactive light sculpture envision its future

The Wabash Lights (TWL) is an interactive light sculpture designed to be placed on the underside of the Wabash Avenue elevated train tracks in Chicago’s Loop.

By running a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Wabash Lights team validated that there is public support for the concept of using the elevated tracks to artistically illuminate the area. But they needed the expertise of our team to clarify their brand’s visual direction and the art’s ability to interact with the public.

Year 2015
  • Facilitator
  • Design Strategist
Type Workshop
Workshop Planning

Plannning a successful workshop

To unpack TWL’s goals for the project and provide us with the necessary insight to develop a strategic roadmap, we planned a 2-day workshop.

My contributions to the workshop were numerous but my primary role was to collaborate with our lead facilitator and lead activities that would help to unpack and shape their brand’s identity.

While planning the workshop we understood that we couldn’t dig deeply into brand identity without causing activities designed to unpack technical needs and business goals to suffer. To deliver the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time, I selected 2 activities that would help us to dig into both the aesthetic and story-telling aspects of the brand.

Workshop Activities

The 20-Second Gut Test

An exercise used to identify aesthetic preferences before embarking on design

During the Gut Test, we show 20 web pages, for 20 seconds each page, and ask everyone to quietly write down a rating for each on a scale of 1-5. It’s an incredibly useful exercise in the hands of a skilled facilitator.

As useful as the exercise is, rating a random smattering of websites doesn’t have much inherent value.

Before the workshop started we sent TWL homework to complete that we used to inform some of our workshop activities, including preliminary questions about brand direction. Based on responses to the homework, we pulled websites and app designs that served to clarify their current and future brand direction.

Although the ratings for each individual web page were interesting, I’ve found that discussing the most and least voted for designs is the most critical for building shared understanding. During the post-vote discussion, stakeholders are able to use the selected designs to provide us with a great deal of clarity on what was powerful about the designs they voted on. And most importantly, articulate how those attributes embodied characteristics of their own brand.

Capturing the conversation

The deliverable I designed, captured both the vote totals and key-points from our discussion of both the most and least voted for designs.


An activity designed to turn the internalized vision of the brand into more opaque brand adjectives

In this exercise, scheduled after the 20-Second Gut Test, the team independently choose a few words from a set of 60 different adjectives that most closely define what their brand should embody. In the discussion following the exercise, we prioritize and clarify the intent behind each adjective.

These key brand attributes are used as guiding principles throughout the creative process to ensure we’re communicating consistently TWL’s users in a way that's authentic to the brand.

Brand attributes

During the post-exercise discussion it became clear that the brand's attributes could not be contained to 3-5 words. Other, secondary attributes, emerged during the discussion and were used provide precision into the direction provided by the core attributes.


Envisioning a direction for the future

TWL focused their initial Kickstarter campaign on raising capital to test the idea. Now that so that they could have a more accurate picture of the future costs by conducting tests.

Wabash Light needed a deliverable, that could be created in a tiny budget, that would provide them with insight into the future direction of their digital touch-points and be used to secure funding to design and build it.

The Visual Inventory, a technique pioneered by designer Dan Mall, was the perfect deliverable for their needs. It’s designed to raise and answer the questions about conceptual treatment, tone and voice, and color that designers have traditionally created conceptual mockups to answer.


A great concept goes a long way towards helping connect users with brands. By determining the conceptual direction early, we could start design around a solid idea that ties the design of their various touch-points together in a cohesive way.


One of the core concepts of design is color and for good reason. Our brains interpret color much more quickly than shape, and light-years ahead of text.

Since TWL’s light sculpture could take on any color, it was critical for TWL to examine color options that would embrace the ever changing nature of its light sculpture.


The tone of a brand permeates throughout the brand’s identity. It encapsulates how we communicate to users through messaging and visuals.

During the 20-Second Gut Test we learned that, although the team viewed “fun” and “engaging” as key brand attributes, they didn’t want to feel childish or touristic. Providing TWL with options that clarified what fun meant for them and provided alternatives ensured that we could find the perfect fit.


Codifying our findings & recommendations

Capturing and codifying the results of our workshop was critical because our results would be used to find opportunities to fund the project into the future. I captured and contextualized the results of our work in the following presentation.

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