ashlon frank

experience of walking alone at night

Course details

Individual project.

User research methods

@ Carnegie Mellon University

Project Duration

September- October 2021

5 weeks


  1. Adobe Illustrator
  2. Adobe Photoshop
  3. Figma
  4. Miro
  5. Zoom
  6. Survey Monkey


The research on the broader topic ‘Outdoor Living’ began with an open ended discussion with the cohort of Master of Integrated Innovation of Products and Services program at Carnegie Mellon University.

To narrow my focus within this domain, I chose the context of 'the experience of walking alone at night' to understand and explore the psychological perception of navigating the outdoors at night.


Walking alone at night often triggers anxiety and fear amongst people. This feeling has stopped people from commuting by public transportation, using university resources after dark, hanging out with friends etc.

Numerous studies have been conducted with the aim of understanding, monitoring, and evaluating fear of crime, with many concluding that “such fear continues to impinge upon the well-being of a proportion of the population” (Gilchrist, Bannister, Ditton, & Farrall, 1998 p. 283) There does not seem to be a solution to tackle this

problem yet.

"I am always frightened walking alone at night. I don’t let it stop me but I’m very aware of every person, movement and what could happen. I don’t relax until I reach my destination. "

-Claire, 42, marketing director, Nottingham

"Being alone in a public space at night can be terrifying. You simultaneously wish for someone to appear to protect you, but are incredibly fearful that if a person appears they might harm you. "

-Zoe, 24, London

"Occasionally, I might put my earphones in and play loud music, or a podcast to distract myself. I know this isn’t the safest option because I am making myself more vulnerable to attacks, however it distracts me from my fear."

-Claudia, 19, student, Taunton



  2. — Twitter
  3. — Instagram
  4. — Facebook


1. People’s perception of safety at night does not depend on the actual existing danger in the environment, but rather on the physical factors of the environment.

Lack of awareness of the immediate surrounding and the feeling of being alone are the key contributing factors.

2. When a people consciously disengage from an environment, the parameters that caused the fear build up, making the fear stronger.

These have led to worsened safety protocols of global systems like transportation, public space, pedestrian

paths etc.


01. Exploration

concept mapping,

domain survey,

literature review,

role play,

photo documentation.

02. Analysis

affinity clustering,

questionnaire & internet survey,

in-depth interview.

03. Synthesize


user-journey map,

story boarding.

04. Ideate

social listening,

affinity clustering,

brain storming,

insights finding,

product opportunity gap,

competitive analysis.

01. Exploration

Initial exploration – Concept Mapping

The research on the broader topic ‘Outdoor Living’ began with an open ended discussion with the cohort of Master of Integrated Innovation of Products and Services program at Carnegie Mellon University.

The questions we looked at were:

what outdoor living was, what it means to different people?

Personal areas of interests and discussion:

01. Covid adaptations of parts of our house that connect to outside, lack of outdoor activities and implication on health.

Balconies, porches, terraces became spaces to exercise, socialise, celebrate, hold events, parties, collectively pray, unify us etc.

Awareness of their importance for healthy living increased.

02. Necessity travel, homeless, nomads, refugees, farmers etc.

Essential daily commute

Everyday a part of our lives is spent outdoors for commute.

Narrowing down the focus – Domain survey

Covid adaptations of outdoor spaces in a house.

Photographs of balconies. People using balconies as communal places for prayers, exercise, music etc.

Narrowing down the focus – Domain survey & Contextual inquiry

Essential daily commute

Psychology of people walking on the street

Fear of the dark

Feel safer as a group

Fear of getting mugged

Fear of getting ambush

Survey and statistics of people feeling safe around the world.

During the contextual inquiry, it was observed that the perception of outdoor completely changes in the dark.

To narrow my focus within this domain, I chose the context of 'the experience of walking alone at night' to understand and explore further the psychological perception of navigating the outdoors at night.

Image below shows the change in perception of a street at night and dark.

Essential daily commute ' Experience of walking alone at night '


Working with questions –

Identifying unknowns

Working with questions –Affinity Clustering

A set of initial questions were processed to identify the unknowns in the research and clustered.

These questions were then organized and prioritized

so, they can be answered by

1. Internet survey

2. Literature review

3. Personal Interview

Affinity clustering

Organize and Prioritize

Working with questions – Literature review

Literature review give better results when

dealing with a larger set of population and

also access to information on minorities, LGBTQ+ etc. It gave us quantitative information to reinforce our hunch, on minorities feeling less safe in their neighborhoods.

Image right, Gallup panel, survey on sense of safe

Working with questions – Internet survey

The internet survey was conducted to understand people’s behavior and the pain points they experience when walking alone at

night. The survey was put up on Linkedin and

Facebook groups, that have people from different places and gender, so the target

audience is varied and large.

In depth interview – Recruitment criteria

Since the topic of walking alone at night is very relatable but can differ based on gender, context, location, race etc. I decided to approach people who are:

1. Younger population that walk at nights frequently for work/study/leisure.

Frequency: 3-4 times a week.

Age group: 18 to 36.

2. Travel by public transport and walk.

3. From diverse backgrounds.

4. Live in different parts of the world.

5. Have experience living in various places over the world to uncover if I would find any common ground while targeting a breadth of stances and varied stories and on the topic.

6. 50:50 ratio of men and women, who have encountered danger walking alone at night.

In depth interview – Sample questions

Open ended questions to extract qualitative data.

How do you usually commute to work/university?

 Do you need to get back late after sunset?

Does it require you to walk back home alone?

When did you start walking alone late at night?

How often do you need to Walk alone at night?

Are there any nocturnal outdoor activities you enjoy?

Can you tell me a bit more about these experiences?

How long would be your average alone night walk duration?

Tell me about the last time you walked alone at night?

What is the biggest concern when you have while walking alone at night?

Does this impact other areas of your life, in a positive or a negative way

Tell me more about how stranger’s presence during your alone walk at night make you feel.

Tell me more about how police’s presence during your alone walk at night make you feel.

 Could you tell me about how the experience varied/ or not for difference contextual locations?

Was this experience same in all the places you lived?

Can you tell me more about the difference in this experience?

How does a neighborhood, unfamiliar location affect your feeling of safety during your walk?

Can you tell me more about how darkness and the feeling of being alone contribute to this feeling?

How do you currently tackle this issue?

Tell me more about some of the strategies you employ or how you prepare when you have to walk alone at night.

Are there any tracking devices, safety apps you use, that have helped you with this? How was your experience with them?

In depth interview


In depth interview

key pain points


Key Insight 01

The fear of walking alone at night does not always concern the active dangers themselves.

What is predominantly more prevalent amongst people is the fear of possible or imagined dangers, perceptions of what could or would happen in a dark environment.

Interviewees informed that most did not experience actual danger firsthand, yet all tend to be fearful walking in dark environments. They constantly worry that people are out there to ‘get them’. If the street ‘feels’ shady they don’t take that path, even if a safe neighborhood. If a person is walking around them they are often suspicious, and this might change if the person ends up being someone who ‘looks’ harmless like a female, an old man, wheel chair user, someone taking their dog for a walk etc..

Most prepare with techniques/tools that would help them in danger, and they have been practicing these for years, sub consciously. These are not objective deductions of the danger, rather reaction to the subconscious.

Key Insight 02

When a person consciously decides to disengage

from an environment due to fear, the parameters that

caused fear build up, making the fear stronger.

These can have adverse effects, increasing the clash between desired human experiences and the associated global systems.

Interviewees stopped using public transport and chose to travel with systems that felt safer- Uber. They save up/budget for expensive Uber rides. There have been more investments on safe practices like tracking systems in Uber, rather than public transport. They avoid public places at night, change their walking paths.

Implications: People feel safer to spend time in expensive restaurants and bars, in safe locations.

These trends seem to only increase, causing people to opt out of using of public transport, walking through certain locations, public spaces etc. This does not solve the fundamental problem of safety but only strengthen their distrust in using these systems, eventually leading to many other socio-economic issues.

Testing hypothesis - Co-design

Session 01

Understand what makes one feel unsafe?

Participants: Shreya Gambhir, Jasveen Kaur,

Shrunga Srirama, Jackson Zhao

Expose participants to imagery that can trigger

feelings of fear, while walking alone.

Document their feelings in parameters

No. of participants: 4 (Duration:25 minutes)

• Tools Used: Miro board

• Show the participants 8 distinct images, ask them

to imagine themselves in the environment, and

answer the question prompts.

• The prompts are designed to understand what the

dangers are perceived and if they are real. Get an

idea of what are the physical factors that make an

environment feel unsafe.

• Questions are both quantitative and qualitative

in nature.


• What are the perceived dangers while

walking alone at night?

• What triggers fear and uneasiness in the


• What are the thoughts & feelings

running through them during that time?

• What are the physical factors that make the

environment feel unsafe?

• Quantitative and comparative documentation

of these factors.


• Physical factors in an environment that

contribute most to the feeling of fear-

loneliness, darkness and unawareness

of the immediate surroundings.

• Most images triggered imagined dangers-

getting killed, mugged, sexually abused. However

none of the participants have prior experience.

Below are images of the annotations and sketches produced by the participants to visually communicate their response to the prompts:

Testing hypothesis - Co-design

Session 02

Understand what can make one feel safe?

Participants: Shreya Gambhir, Jasveen Kaur,

Shrunga Srirama, Jackson Zhao

Transform a dark street (on the right) to be just to the

point that its perceived safe by them.

No. of participants: 4 (Duration: 5 minutes)

• Tools Used: Photoshop & Zoom

• Provide the participants 5 tools:

1. A mobile phone

2. A companion- trained dog

3. A floating lit orb: That can be controlled

by the participant by will, can be floating

and following the participant, or can be

placed at a fixed location.

4. Man

5. Family


Understand the physical factors or tools that help

in making the street feel safe for the participants.

Understand their thoughts in the process of designing

the street, for some qualitative data to understand

their pain points.

Below are the tools provided to the participants:

Lamp post

A family

Dog- as a companion

Mobile phone


Floating – glowing orb

Below are the street transformations done by the participants:


As per co design session, physical factors that can be added to make a environment feel safe.

1. Phone: for surveillance to contact, to navigate, use flashlight

2. Magical orb: so I can light up spaces beyond what can be seen using a light. Kept at a distance from the participant.

3. Companion

4. Family: was also mostly for companionship.

This exercise helped in identifying solution/features to the product opportunity gaps.

Co design session

key pain points

' The solution needs to address both actual and perceived fear. '



opportunity gap


Affinity clustering

+ brainstorming


The 'Eye in the sky' is a service that consists of drones with powerful downlighters, that can illuminate the street as per the user's needs.

They can be summoned and controlled with a mobile application, whenever and wherever the user desires. It also consists of a surveillance camera for safety, that can be shared with others while commuting.

It is well integrated with a navigation map that shows direction and crime statistics of different localities.