Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Prototyping Sidewalk Civic Engagement

One last project to share from the Interaction Design Studio I co-taught at the CCA. 

This team, Casey Kawahara, Tanya Siadneva, Bogart Bockman, and Elizabeth Ibarra developed a provocative project for leveraging digital prototyping and tactical urbanism to enable civic engagement. 

What if people could give feedback or input on the future design of a space they frequently occupy, and give that feedback with almost no effort?

While it's not the most scientific way of collecting community input, as a prototype I find this to be a provocative solution to allowing people conveniently share their perspective. In a city like San Francisco where the process of change can be long and drawn out, a lot could be changed about how the community participates in redevelopment. And this project really begs the question: Are we collecting feedback from everyone who is impacted? Often only the most vocal opinions are heard, those who have such a strong interest that they can take time out of their schedule to attend hearings and form action groups. What about the opinion of everyone else?

Early in the project, disappointed with some early prototypes they deployed in some empty newspaper boxes, the team decided to pivot to a location where pedestrians would confront their prototype as they were walking by, right in the middle of sidewalk. 

The next prototype was a set of steps divided by a railing where one side of the steps had an Android sign, the other had an Apple sign. Sure enough, people were changing their course to make sure they were voting correctly with their choice of steps even though the vote had no real significance what so ever! From there the team continued refine the form factor of the method of input, eventually adding in digital components to activate it. 

The final design and video demo speak for themselves, this prototype definitely invites people to engage and share their opinion as they continue on their way. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

PicoShop: Reactivating Newstands to Create Tiny Retail

I am getting ready to reignite a project that I started proposing last fall. I've always thought the mostly empty newspaper boxes on SF sidewalks were a sorely underutilized resource that could be repurposed, so I am proposing PicoShop. I am going to build this with Arduino and iPhone, but I could definitely use some help if anyone is interested. 

PicoShop is a tiny pop-up retail space that leverages underutilized newspaper boxes to offer local designer/makers a public street presence to showcase and sell products.

By simply retrofitting newspaper boxes with a recycled iPhone, a Square, and a bluettooth-powered Arduino that activates an electronic lock, this underutilized street furniture that exists all over the world, can be reactivated. 


I think the 5M development at 5th and Mission in SF is an ideal location for this. There is something poetic about how the decline of the newspaper industry, the rise of online payment companies like Square, and the emergence of entrepreneurial makers like the Techshop's members all converge on this one site that is surrounded by a LOT of unused newspaper boxes. Square makes the transactions of these small product vending machines possible and it would be makers like the Techshop's members who could take advantage of such a simple retail presence. 

With a Square, an iPhone and an Arduino-powered electronic lock, any unused newspaper box in the world can be converted into a vending machine for locally-made products. Local designer/makers are thriving thanks to manufacturing help from places like TechShop, but getting public exposure is hard and driving traffic to your product website or Etsy shop can be a constant challenge. Why can't local makers showcase their products right where they are making them? Right out on the street where hundreds of people walk by every day?

The coin slot is retrofitted with an old iPhone and a Square credit card reader.

Once the Square app approves your purchase, a signal unlocks an electronic lock, allowing you to open the door and pull out one of the enclosed products.

Advertising panels on the backside of the newwstands can become advertising for the products in each PicoShop.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Confessions of Market Street

Another IxD for Objects and Spaces project that evolved from some really powerful early explorations was the Confessions of Market Street by Laurel Deel, Katy Law and Justin Ponczek. They began by looking at different ways of provoking people walking along an under-appreciated block of Market St. One prototype involved putting the receiving end of a two-way radio inside a small stuffed animal positioned in the middle of the sidewalk. Laurel, hiding behind street furniture would ‘animate’ the stuffed animal by having it say provocative things to people walking by. Eventually the team pivoted to confessions after placing a confession book on a podium in the middle of the sidewalk which got prompted a lot of pedestrians to pause and read and surprisingly often, fill in an anonymous confession. Another confession prototype involved hanging bottles with rolled-up messages from a tree. Each message was a prompt to encourage a confession.

Eventually the focus of the prototyping became an audio-based confessional where you speak a confession into a receiving box and listen to distorted version of a random previous confession in a distributing box. I like how the subtle shape of each box creates an affordance to prompt passersby to either confess into the ‘megaphone’ or listen into the ‘gramaphone’. 

The working final prototype is here. While I think the extended cut of this project in action shows a few too many of the flaws (when pedestrians try to open it up get a little confused) it reveals some really magical moments in watching what happens when a project is deployed and left for total strangers to discover. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interaction Design for Objects and Spaces

Nothing like reflecting over a holiday break to get you to fire up the old blog in the new year! This time it’s an inspiring studio I taught this past fall at the California College of the Arts’ Interaction Design department. I taught the course, Interaction Design for Objects and Spaces, with a couple of IDEO colleagues, Brad Simpson and Marco Triverio. As a fervent believers in the blurring between the digital and physical worlds, it was fun for all of to see how that intersection would unfold over the course of three projects with the inaugural class of the first interaction design students program on the West Coast. It was a studio that revealed the emerging potential of this new discipline of interaction design for the physical environment, and push us to push things forward. The focus of the studio was on iterative prototyping, primarily with Arduino where it intersected with physical making.

There were a lot of standout projects. In the second project, teams of 3-4 students focused on digital/physical experience that would activate the public space of the mid-Market district of SF. Through a series of scrappy physical prototype iterations, many of which happened on the fly, the students evolved their street activation and slowly began to bring it to life with sensors and actuators. 

One project was called MarkIt. The team, William Clark, Kelly Fadem, and William Litvak were exploring what would happen if the physical environment of urban space were tagged with user-generated information, to be retrieved by others for future reference. They explored a more ephemeral system that shared feelings about urban spaces as well as a more Yelp-like review/opinion of urban spaces.

The result was MarkIt, a playful anthropomorphic box that invited pedestrians to leave a comment about a specific location.  Simply push the button to get a thermoprinted prompt. Some of the prompts on the printout included:

   This place reminds me of ___________
   When I’m here I feel __________
   The thing I love / hate about this place is ___________

Each thermoprinted ‘sticker’ also came with a unique number that you could text in order to join the dialogue thread created by each post. 

An incredible first attempt at exploring a new to the world experience that encourages people to share something relevant about their experience of the physical environment of the city in a way that would be easily retrievable by someone else later on in a context specific way.