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Wireframing the city


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My talk from London IA in March, discussing the Cognitive Cities conference and what it means for user experience designers

Published in: Design

Wireframing the city

  1. 1. Wireframing the city.Reporting back from Cognitive Cities.Andrew | @byekick
  2. 2. I begin in earnest, a minor housekeeping point:Don’t worry about taking notes and scribbling down urls.Everything I cover here, I’ll be posting on my site - links to where you can read more, watch videos and find more coverage ofthe event itself. Soon. Ish.
  3. 3. When Matthew asked a couple of months ago if I fancied talking at London IA, I was pretty certain that what I wanted to talkabout was a conference I hadn’t even been at yet.Cognitive Cities took place in Berlin towards the end of February.It aimed to ‘provide a platform for exchange and mutual inspiration’ on the subject of- where cities meet technology,- the deepening relationship between the two- and how we can harness them to make more liveable, open, intelligent spacesThe cast of speakers brought together designers and activists, politicians, planners and academics, writers and technologists.Thinkers and do-ers. A encouragingly, a good few people in this room tonight were there too.
  4. 4. Why I’m talking about it.Cognitive Cities wasn’t just great fun but I think it was important too.And the reason is this:What we do as information architects and user experience designers is fast becoming inseparable from the public realmWe’re rapidly moving from designing what Timo Arnall described as ‘slick, glowing rectangles’ positioned on desks inoffices and homes, to designing interfaces that might be used by many people at once, in good light and in bad, inside andout, in rain and shine. On mobile devices and tablets. On public information screens and kiosks. In tangible and inintangible ways. Complex, pervasive computing. An internet of things, and a very different design challenge.In meeting this challenge we have the chance to - in some way - shape the ʻexperienceʼ of our cities. More than a fewpeople here are already deep in the process of doing so, others just beginning to do so.This an opportunity that comes with great rewards in terms of what we might achieve, but huge responsibilities too.
  5. 5. Themes.Cognitive Cities was very much about positing questions, rather than providing answers about the way in which our citiesand their relationship with technology become ever more intertwined.I think there are 4 themes that stood out for me1. The intrinsically political and legal nature of this blurring of public realm and technology2. Our responsibility as designers to do so in a ethical, responsible way3. The opportunities presented in designing with data4. The challenge for the UX community
  6. 6. 1. The politics of artifacts.Adam Greenfield’s keynote dominated the conference with a typically passionate argument on behalf of the citizen, on behalfof the openness of data, and accountability. Of rights and responsibilities and the need for what he calls ‘a newjurisprudence’.Greenfield’s case is that objects and surfaces around us are increasingly addressable, collect information about us,sometimes share information with us. The ways that this information is being collected, used and sold is becomingincreasingly contentious.He cited a few examples on how this is manifesting itself, for good and ill, from the East and closer to home too.
  7. 7. This is a Nikon DS700 ad campaign in KoreaIs this disruptive? Or just disrespectful? Where’s ‘choice’ here?It’s a world away from a utopian vision of ‘calm technology’ that fades into the background of our world
  8. 8. Or this. An aCure touchscreen in TokyoIt’s fitted with a camera that identifies your gender, age, physical profile and shows you a filtered selection of productsIs that cool? Or prescriptive? Where does the power reside here? In you as consumer, or in the code?How do you feel about that as a design decision?
  9. 9. Here’s a more cheering example.The data generated by Transport for London cycle scheme isn’t just helping them plan and allocate bikes, but there arenumerous great examples of developersFaltering steps towards sharing back the data through London Datastore, we as citizens are responsible for generating andan equitable exchange of data back and forthThis stuff is rarely mainstream, and we’re just tipping our toes into what might be
  10. 10. ‘Our ability to use the city around us, our flexibility in doing so, just who is able to do so, will be shaped by decisions made about the technical design of objects, their interfaces and the precise ways in which they are connected and made visible to the network.’ Adam Greenfield ‘Beyond the smart city’Here’s how Greenfield put it in a must-read essay: Beyond the smart city‘Our ability to use the city around us will be shaped by decisions made about design, interfaces and the ways inwhich they are connected and made visible.’And who is going to play a role in those decisions? Iʼd suggest, it includes designers like us.
  11. 11. 2. Designing with data.Matt Biddulph gave a great talk on data analytics and pulled out this quote from Mike Kuniavsky
  12. 12. ‘Information is quickly becoming a material to design with’ Mike KuniavskyAnd there was plenty of it at Cognitive Cities
  13. 13. There was, perhaps inevitably, a fair bit of data porn on displayThis is a bit of spatial analysis from Urbagram on how journeys on the tube change of the course of a working day.I think I felt it at the time, and some of the post-talk questions raised it - aren’t we simply visualising what we already knowto be true?Well, yes - and some of it can be kind of trite.However, data offers us the chance to makes it measurable, provable and actionable - improving decision-making on howwe intelligently allocate resources, concentrate public transportation around hubs and peak times for example. Or changingthe way we think about an issue
  14. 14. And here’s a rather inspiring example of that from SENSEable City Laboratory at MITUsing RFID to affect the way we think, as citizens and as governments, about how we consume and... dispose.This is data informing our future actions, hopefully for the better.
  15. 15. And here’s a rather inspiring example of that from SENSEable City Laboratory at MITUsing RFID to affect the way we think, as citizens and as governments, about how we consume and... dispose.This is data informing our future actions, hopefully for the better.
  16. 16. Why this matters.So I’d like to talk a little about the relevance to information architects and user experience designers.Ten years ago this month, Adaptive Path was founded: a really important moment for our field, and I don’t think there is aperson in this room that doesn’t owe some kind of debt to their work over the past decade.Reflecting on those ten years in a piece on their site, Jesse James Garrett said the following:
  17. 17. ‘Sure, we still design websites (and UIs for kiosks, set-top boxes, mobile apps, and pretty much anything with a screen). But more and more, our clients are asking us to look at the total experience they deliver: integrating products and services, making the digital and the physical work together holistically, and crafting experiences that happen across multiple channels over time.’ Jesse James Garrett ‘Ten Years Later: Way Beyond Digital’‘We still design websites... but more and more, our clients are asking us to look at the total experience they deliver’This feels very true to me - if it’s not happening to you now, it probably will be soon.Here’s what Jesse said next:
  18. 18. ‘This trend isn’t just happening here at Adaptive Path. It’s where we see the whole field of user experience heading. The methods and approaches we’ve developed aren’t bound in any way to digital media — or, in fact, to any medium at all. And bringing a user experience mindset to organizations has the potential to make them more engaged with their customers, more empathic, and ultimately more human.’Wow. A recipe for UX world domination, eh?I’d like to just add a little note of caution in here.
  19. 19. Architects of the future.We’re not the first people to imagine a vision of how we might design a better future.
  20. 20. This is a clip Tom Cordell’s Utopia London - shown at Cognitive Cities - documenting the architects who shaped London’sskyline during and after the wars.
  21. 21. ‘We were trying to build heaven on earth.’It felt very apt having that film there to bring us back to earth.These planners and architects who imagined a different built landscape have much to teach us in building a new informationlandscape.The very people these architects so aspired to help quickly began to feel imprisoned rather than enriched by theirenvironment - for a whole host of reasonsWe’re not starting from a blank sheet of paper, but tentatively entering an era where the work of Jane Jacobs becomes asrelevant to us as that of Jesse James Garrett.The message from CC is that there’s an onus on us to broaden and deepen our knowledge, learn from the past and from thebody of work that already exists, to ‘wireframe the city’ in a way that is open, altruistic and inclusive.
  22. 22. Thank you. Slides and commentary available ‘soon’ at: London at night by NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center Adam Greenfield by m-king London cycle hire by pastaboy sleeps Jesse James Garrett by martin-kliehm for listening everyone.