I chose Mission San Juan Capistrano for conducting user analysis projects because it allows me to have access to people’s everyday activities not only on the site but around the town. It also gives me the flexibility to observe sociotechnical dynamics onsite for long hours. The site has very rich historical and religious background, playing a very important role to the local community.
Mission San Juan Capistrano was established by Fr. Fermin Lasuen in 1775, named for St. John of Capistrano, an Italian theologian of the 14th century. The site was abandoned due to the Indian attack of San Diego eight days after its founding, but re-directed by Fr. Junipero Serra to continue the construction in 1776. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Patent of Title and helped maintain the preservation of the ownership of the site to the Catholic Church.
The Great Stone Church, one of the center historical pieces on the site, was built in 1797 due to the population growth of the church. It was built by local people, Spanish soldiers, and mission priests; it had played an important religious and social role to residents in town. Yet, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake on Dec.8th,1812 hit the church, 40 people attending the worship service were buried alive. The church was never rebuilt due to both structural and historical reasons.
Before entering the Mission site, the first you will see is the new entrance built based on the old gate of mission. There’s a gift store next to the main entrance. The entrance of the gift store is also the pathway for visitors who had purchase admissions the same day to re-enter the site.
The very location was this Mission site was, because it was about halfway between Mission San Diego de Alcala and Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. It was built with a traditional quadrangle layout style: a courtyard in the center surrounded by buildings forming a square shape around the central yard.
As one enters the Mission, the attention would be drawn immediately by the site’s tranquility and vibrate colors of beautiful plants. Flowers, trees, and green grass with birds singing, these are all making one feel the historical Mission is still alive and active. Walking from the Mission main gate passing by a lotus pond on the east side and you will be able to see one of the important central pieces of this Mission site – the ruins of the Great Stone Church.
Continuing walking around the east side towards the back of the stone church, you will be able to see the Serra Chapel, the very first building among the site built to hold Mass and religious ceremonies as Fathers leading soldiers and local people to continue building the Mission site. Each small rooms around the building is nowadays for display purposes showing the life of old times: How people eat, sleep, socializing, and communicating with each other on this site.
I have visited this Mission three times by far. Each time I have new discoveries. I realized the time and date one pays the visit would make observations very different. For example, the first time I visited on a Tuesday, my attention were first drawn by the beautiful historical buildings. The site was revealing many stories through its warm color of orange-red and old brownish walls. Of course, the great California weather helps to bring out the color. The site was not crowded, just enough visitors for me to observe their activities. Family with young kids and elderly people were main characters among the crowd. People were paying attention to their own views in sight, listening attentively to the audio guide in their hands.
The second time of my visit was on a Thursday afternoon. I was able to get into more details of each objects on the Mission site. Ponds with lotus, a will not being used anymore, also there were swallow nests around the site. I noticed this time that, swallows have their long history with this location. Not only there’s a swallow on the Mission site logo, local people to date are still having great deal of respects to those birds, viewing them as a symbol of peace and fruitfulness.
Thursday happened to be the school field trip day. Many kids were on site. They were a bit noisy and distracting. I saw other visitors, including myself were try to avoid the kid crowd so we could enjoy our own time around the Mission site. People were not as attentive to their audio touring guides that day.
My third visit was on a Saturday. I was excited to see all exhibitions were opened to the public. The very first time I have a full view of every room on the Mission site. Pretty much all small rooms around the entire Mission has something to show. Rich historical background of this place had come into its full livelihood with all these displays showcasing the living of old town San Juan Capistrano.
A lot more visitors seemed to make animals on the Mission more active too. I saw a lot of hummingbirds, a lot of butterflies, and several dragonflies around the garden. And I didn’t see them during my first two visits, probably I didn’t notice for some reasons. Also, bells of Mission Basilica, a chapel off-site on the North side of the Mission, would ring every hour. The beautiful sound of bells made the entire town even more alive.
With my observations so far, I wouldn’t say there could be too challenging observing every corner of the site. The only limitation is that, as several rooms were closed during the weekday, I am not certain if this would influence the future investigation of any topics on this site. But this matter should be rather easy to resolve by checking with staff on the schedule and pre-arrange upcoming visits.
Some detailed descriptions of two observations of events that stand out to me during my visits. First, is the fourth graders Thursday field trip group. There were kids everywhere! About 5-6 kids were in one group led by a teacher. As teachers talked about the history of the Mission, they would interact with students in many ways. For example, taking photos and asking: how do you think the photo should be taken so it can look good? And, while explaining how swallows build their nests around the Mission site, a teacher asked several creative questions like: anyone knows swallows build their nest? Which season do you think they would fly over to the Mission site?
The field trip topic of that day seemed to be was about the history of San Juan Capistrano. I could hear the teacher referring back to their discussions of religious symbol back in the classroom, and asked student questions related to historical meaning of this Mission site.
It was also interesting to notice, even though kids were loud in general, they had also learned the social norm of being respectful and quiet when coming near to the Serra Chapel, where other visitors were being silent and praying.
A second thing I observed during the fieldwork was, people would throw money into ponds and dry will to make wishes. And people are very generous when it comes to making wishes: there were bills of $5, $10, and I even saw a 20 EURO in the old dry will. As the Mission is a religious site, it was not too surprising coins would be tossed into water ponds to make wishes. But I was kind of surprised to see large bills (consider you don’t get any physical items in return) in the will.
This observation had stroke me that, religion is really a universal language among human beings and would never die out. As generations pass by, no matter how technology and the society have changed, we still are with this innate needs of worshiping and transforming our hopes in a certain shape of beliefs.
As my observations were about to end with the day, I started to do some reflexive thinking about the project focus.
My initial thoughts of the project focus were to combine interactive technology to assist visitors with learning and engaging more with the social and religious meanings of the Mission site. I didn’t have too many detailed thoughts about what type of technology could be applied. After several field sessions with observations, I started to see a web app would help to enhance visitors experience on and off the site.
A web app is a website developed with compatible app structure in the backend. So when the interactive map site is viewed by a browser, it is a functioned as a website; when being used on a mobile device, given the responsiveness and database structure, it can be used as an app. This means, from the Mission commission point of view, with a similar development process and costs, an interactive map site can be built to help them achieve better results in terms of visitors’ interactive engagement experience.
For example, when I visit the Mission site, I always have to bring a paper map and an audio tour device. When I find an object of interest, I would then locate the number labeling on the map, or by finding the signage in front of the object, dial the number into the audio device and listen to the narration story. With many things in my hand, it was a bit clumsy and difficult to multi-task, a lot of time I found myself skipping the audio tour and reading the display sign instead. But the information on written signs is very limited, an interactive map would definitely come in handy.
As Wi-Fi access is available on the Mission site in the contemporary day, visitors would not need to worry too much about using up their own data plan to download an app if they have not done so before visiting. Another idea about this web app is that, it could potentially do a better job retrieving first-hand behavioral user data during their engagements with the app. Such information could then be used for further investigation in marketing strategies, educational program development, and other strategic planning.
I am interested in further learning about the population of visitors to the site, membership enrollment rate over years, visitors habit and walking path on-site, what would attract people’s attention more what would not; are there anything important and especially meaningful on the site but people tend to ignore due to the display or touring path? Will the app make learning experiences of a school field trip more fun and successful?
Also, how people would embrace this type of new interactive map with audio tour idea? Would it be too distracting? Is technology considered too intrusive within a historical and religious site like this? And how is the Mission currently assisting non-English speakers with multi-lingual tour guides? Will interactive web app be making language translations less an issue for visitors? Will there be budgeting and resource issue for implementing this web app idea?
There are many questions to be asked at this point. As I can see our next assignment could be preparing for interviews with staff and visitors to collect relevant data supporting the project focus, I am looking forward to the next step moving closer to see how an interactive web app can be applied to enhance visitors’ interactive engagements with Mission San Juan Capistrano.