Laura is a talented and very committed design student at ENSCI-les Ateliers in Paris. She worked with us on various projects as a design researcher. She has assisted the UK research team with tasks varying from data collection, documentation, analysis and delivery of the results. Her objective with the internship was to deepen her knowledge of service design and to develop her skills as a design researcher.
A STBY case study is published on the website of ExperienceFellow. STBY used the mobile ethnography tool ExperienceFellow in order to get a better understanding of the perspectives of Dutch people on health and sustainability in food.
The article shows how diverse private and governmental parties worked together in order to better understand the eating habits and attitudes of Dutch people. The focus of the research was how to best encourage people to eat more sustainable food. Although most people in the Netherlands are aware of the importance of a healthy diet, many have difficulties getting their heads around the relatively new concept of ‘sustainable food’. We decided to go for an auto-ethnography study, because it would allow to cover a longer time span and involve a much higher number of participants. Read the article Mapping the Dutch’s’ perspectives on healthy and sustainable food to learn more about our approach.
In order to create a cleaner and greener world we have to join forces and collectively come up with new ideas and solutions. That is why it is important to STBY to engage in sustainable projects and organise co-creation sessions focussing on climate action. An example of such an event is the Spring House Climate Summit in Amsterdam we organised in relation to the Clean Energy Challenge of What Design Can Do.
Amsterdams clean energy issues
The Clean Energy Challenge calls on designers and creatives to come up with new and creative ideas to tackle pressing energy issues in five different cities. Amsterdam is one of them. As the research partner of WDCD, we researched the local energy issues in the five different cities. We found that in Amsterdam there is little space for clean energy infrastructure. Solar panels and other visible interventions are not permitted on historic buildings. Other infrastructure necessary for the transition are too big to fit in the narrow and dense urban plan.
Need of creative brainpower
There is not enough space on land nor water to meet the electricity demands for the future of the region through renewable sources. Aesthetic concerns play a role in much of the wider metropolitan area, too. The city of Amsterdam needs some creative brainpower to invent creative solutions to make the energy transition to clean energy possible. Design has the power to approach the energy problem of Amsterdam with multipurpose concepts, products, services, and spaces.
Members club for innovators
Spring House is the shared office building where STBY is based in Amsterdam. And as Spring House is bursting of creative brainpower, it is the perfect place to organise a Climate Summit focussed on design. STBY is an active member of Spring House and makes use of the workspaces together with other Spring House members who all have the same desire: a more social and sustainable society. Spring House is also a lab and platform to collaborate and complement each others projects when relevant.
Motivate and inspire each other
Lots of Spring House members are involved in projects that strive for a cleaner and greener world. Some members work on national climate projects such as self-driven transport, others are involved in local projects, like urban agriculture in Amsterdam. At the Climate Summit we shared stories about current projects concerning energy and climate and mapped a wide range of existing initiatives by Spring House members.
Overview of all climate related projects
The network map helped us to make connections between projects and people and also showed us which projects could be complementary to each other. As a result of the summit, Spring House now have an overview of about different climate projects. It shows us how we can collectively make a difference as a Spring House community.
Seven different impact areas where included in the network map, which gave us a direction for forming groups during the workshop part of the summit, in which we used the workshop package STBY prepared for the Clean Energy Challenge of WDCD. The provided Cluster Board and Value Map supported the Spring House community with brainstorming on new ideas to tackle the energy problem in Amsterdam. After the pitches of the results of the workshop, it was once again clear that in order to make a real impact, it is important to connect with others and join forces.
The practitioners’ handbook: This is Service Design Doing, applies service design in the real world. It includes short descriptions of some of the core service design methods.
We contributed to the book by writing about two case studies, together with our clients Google and Vodafone. The first case is about the Service Experience Design methodology Vodafone developed and fine-tuned. We did deep-dive design research on several of their customer journeys. In our article you can read how customer journey mapping for specific projects can be linked up to customer life cycles with a more strategic scope. The second case is about building up service design knowledge across projects at Google. Over the past few years we have collaborated with Google on a series of design research projects. This case focusses on how we jointly identified a few principles about agile collaboration with interdisciplinary teams in large organisations.
You can order the handbook on the website of This is Service Design Doing.
Climate change is a global problem, yet we can locally design interventions that really make a difference, especially in cities around the world. It is well known that cities use lots of energy. To be specific; cities use over two thirds of the world’s energy and contribute to more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. This is why What Design Can Do (WDCD) is focussing its second Climate Action Challenge on urban energy issues. WDCD, IKEA Foundation and other partners are calling on creative professionals, students and start-ups around the world to come up with innovative solutions. As the research partner of WDCD, STBY conducted the design research behind the Clean Energy Challenge.
Focus on five cities around the world
The design research in preparation for the challenge, focused on finding out where designers can make a difference in five different cities – Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New Delhi, Nairobi, and Amsterdam. STBY initially explored the topic to set the scope and agenda for the design challenge, and then worked with our local research partners from the Reach network to define the final briefs that are most relevant to each location. These briefs are the starting point for the participants in the challenge.
Local relevance and urgency
The local relevancy of a design challenge is very important. That is why the local partners of the Reach network played a key role in the research. Throughout the initial desk research, we identified 5 key topics that seemed to be relevant to most cities. Together with the local partners we organised co-creative workshops with the objective to get insights on local energy issues from experts in the field. This way we jointly identified the topics that were most relevant to their cities. For instance, in the case of Nairobi we decided to focus on the topic of ‘Eating in the City’, while in Mexico City the focus is on ‘City Waste’.
Wider scope on clean energy
Initially we uncovered 10 different topics relating to clean energy where designers could make a difference, but we had to bring these down to five when it was decided to focus on the five participating cities. From that point on, the research focused on establishing a briefing package for each city that had both local relevance and a clear link to one or more of the wider topics defined. The workshops carried out in the five cities by our Reach partners were instrumental to this.
You can download the briefs we made for the Clean Energy Challenge on the website of What Design can do. You can choose one of the following challenges: Eating in Nairobi, Moving around in Sao Paul, Building in Delhi, Waste in Mexico City, and Cityscape of Amsterdam.
While working on a series of projects aimed at improving the experience of pedestrians and bicyclists, I was reading Andy Clark’s book Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action and the Embodied Mind. This proved an unusually fruitful combination, even though the book is about perception, not about design. But in the context of these design problems, Clark’s explanations became interesting points of departure which often reshaped my perspective.
His phrase: ‘a web of humans and machines, each of which are now busily anticipating the other’ seems to me a perfect description of what our busiest urban public spaces are becoming. As ‘smart’ systems become more prevalent, physical touchpoints are being minimised or disappearing altogether, from whole cashier-operated checkout counters to familiar everyday features like taps, handles and buttons. Displays of information are also becoming more fluid and dynamic, as printed posters and signs are replaced by screens with moving images, some of which invite direct interaction through touch. Augmented reality seems poised to become more practical, which means it will soon play a bigger role in the digital layer we use to make things findable with our mobile devices. All of this is driven by algorithms which attempt to both predict and steer our behaviour. And some algorithms are now becoming more than smart assistants – they’re becoming agents that act independently on our behalf, without much intervention on our part.
This raises interesting questions…
As physical touchpoints vanish or minimise, they take affordances with them. How might we add affordances and make the most of the remaining ones? The bicycle parking facility entrance we recently piloted has no doors – sensors identify the type of bicycle and user and initiate interactions. We realised that the sense of a boundary had largely vanished with the doors, so we paid special attention to the sculptural and visual qualities of the remaining components, so that approaching bicyclists would clearly perceive that they were approaching a boundary where some kind of interaction might take place.
What is the right way to make use of the virtual and physical realms for wayfinding? Serial mono-tasking – switching between the real and virtual worlds – is typical of mobile device use. This means less attention for the real world and its affordances, as people’s attention bounces back and forth between their mobile devices and surroundings. Clark mentions experiments that reveal that while doing a relatively simple task, people make more continual and intensive use of the world as an external buffer, than we might imagine. Will augmented reality stitch these two realms back together?
How smart should a touchpoint be? When should it work more like a tool, an assistant, or an agent?
I’ve often thought of this while observing the transformation of route information signage in public transportation. I rather miss the old ‘dumb’ printed overviews of whole bus routes. These have been replaced by screens that show only small parts of the route as the bus progresses, mixed with extra information and advertising. The result is that if I don’t know the route, I can’t pinpoint my present location and determine the number of stops to come so I know when to prepare to get off, and must rely on apps, announcements and asking fellow passengers to orient myself. I now also have to wait for ads to finish to see whether a stop is coming up, so I’m actually forced to spend more time watching the screen. What are the best practices for these kind of screen-based systems?
A place where a ‘smarter’ approach might work well is the subway map. Real-time, data-driven interactive subway maps can be smart assistants, using location info and predictive text to make finding a path easier. But they can also act as agents. For example, they might use real-time traffic data to change the visualisation of routes and nudge people to use less crowded alternatives, distributing traffic more evenly and avoiding blockages. Or the maps can offer these as defaults during peak times. (One of the advantages of Mr. Beck’s original schematic London subway map is that it distorted real-world topography, making the far-flung stations look closer by.) The maps could also offer more detailed information for first-time travellers than to experienced ones.
But public spaces must work for everyone, not only those with the most sophisticated technologies. How might we keep options open for old-fashioned, ‘dumb’ touchpoints where they provide more clarity to users?
Clark’s book is a tough read for the non-neuroscientist. The basic idea of predictive process – that perception is prediction minus a kind of ongoing correction based on back-flowing error signals, weighted for accuracy – and its ramifications, can be difficult to grasp.
The main thing I took away from reading it is that the see-think-act paradigm we’re used to is a good model for interaction, but shouldn’t be mistaken for a model of perception itself. Understanding the central role of prediction in perception and the way the brain, body and world form temporary ‘coalitions’ to solve problems, might help us to design the external buffers and supports our embodied, moving brains need to create optimal behaviours on the fly. This can help us create, in Clark’s words, ‘a world worth acting in’.
More about the ideas…
Clark presents a new theory of perception different from the basic sense-think-act model most of us are used to. The core idea is ‘predictive process’: that instead of passively sensing and interpreting signals, the brain pro-actively sorts out the incoming sensory barrage in advance and checks the accuracy of its prediction on the fly. So what we perceive is what our brains predict, minus a kind of constant correction based on incoming signals that don’t seem to match the prediction. If you’d like to know more, his interview with Ginger Campbell on The Brain Science Podcast is a fun and accessible introduction. For those of us working with robotics, the book also contains interesting examples of the theory’s application in that field.
The development of wearables is continuing apace. Established luxury and tech brands, newcomers, startups, have all begun creating serious offerings. Consumers can already choose from a range of products, from wristbands to watches to rings and other kinds of devices.
Consumers’ expectations seem to fall into two categories: smart and pretty.
‘Smarter’ means that just raw data is not enough any more. We seem to expect recommendations or a program tailored to the individual. Even simple data like numbers of steps needs to be interpreted and can mean very different things, depending on what a person’s goals are. So customisation as well as contextual data analysis are important areas of development.
‘Prettier’ wearables prioritise fashion, and are being created by fashion brands mainly in the form of hybrid rings, watches and jewellery that include selected smart functionalities.
Here comes the dilemma: sophisticated software and hardware, by definition, is dynamic, fluid and changing while luxury products like jewellery keep their value precisely because they don’t change and are meant for a lifetime (or more) of use.
It will be interesting to see whether and how designers go about combining these two aspects into successful hybrid forms. And how these, in turn, might change people’s behaviour and perceptions of smart wearables.
I was recently involved in service design research to support an initiative that involved potential changes to the client’s staff’s way of working, but also to the design of its program of activities and to part of its interior.
As we explored the problem, I found myself re-reading the work of seminal thinkers including Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, William Whyte, Christopher Alexander, and Kevin Lynch. Their ideas about the relationship between spatial design and human interactivity proved particularly useful, though they date from decades before we and our environment become digitally enhanced and networked in a ‘world-wide-web’.
Their work provided our team with the key to understanding the complex ways in which spatial design, organisational culture and activity impact each other, enabling us to make next steps.
Gehl’s (Life Between Buildings) insights about the ways in which ‘low-intensity contact’ underpins the growth of deeper, ‘high-intensity’ relationships – and his observations of the ways the built environment can help or hinder its flourishing – helped us create design principles for the new space and activities. Alexander et. al’s approach (A Pattern Language) – gave us a form to use in creating a conceptual model of the built space based on the way users experience it and interact in it, as opposed to relying solely on functional requirements or style conventions. Lynch’s (The Image of the City) abstraction of edges, paths, nodes and other elements that make up users’ mental model of a space, helped us interpret user input to form a realistic idea of the constraints and opportunities offered by the building’s interior design.
What we can learn
One striking feature of these pioneers’ approach is their lean integration of quantitative and qualitative research. This enabled them to create strong evidence for findings which otherwise might have been dismissed as nostalgic fantasies or subjective impressions not rigorous enough to base design interventions on. They deployed a rich set of instruments: measuring the number and duration of encounters, the speed of walkers and traffic, and using mapping, path-tracing, interviews, time-elapse film and photography. They used these to create solidly evidenced models that revealed the relationships between behaviours and environments. Their visualisation of their findings was also innovative and thought-provoking.
How many? Who? Where? What? How long? They showed us how these seemingly simple questions, when answered through rigorous data collection and combined with qualitative insights, can reveal new kinds of order that are hiding in plain sight.
Some reading tips
How to Study Public Life by Jan Gehl and Birgitte Svarre contains many cases with explanations of the methodologies and results, from the 1960s up to very recent ones. For a great example of quant-qual integration and visual representation of results, see Appleyard and Lintell’s visual explanation of the relationship between the traffic speed and social life of three San Francisco streets on page 114.
If you don’t have time to read Jane Jacobs’ work at length, read the section about her in James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, entitled ‘The Case Against High-modernist Urbanism: Jane Jacobs’.
I attended a workshop at the Open Data Institute in Shoreditch, an organisation with the important mission “to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data.” My day-long workshop focused on finding and preparing data and got me thinking about how we as design researchers can take advantage of all the data sets publicly available to us across sectors, from healthcare to product design.
Before diving in to how to make sense of a data set and communicate this to others, we began by looking at the important differences between big data, open data and personal data – and where they overlap. Important to note here is that not all “big data” is ‘open’. Here, open means “anyone can freely access, modify, share and use for any purpose…” (opendefinition.org).
Two methods: story-first and data-first
When you use data as a source, there are two main methods. One is story first, where data is used to enhance, fact check, or dig deeper on the story. The other is data first – while looking at a data set, something seems surprising, interesting, or worth investigating further for patterns or anomalies. For example, a data set from Illinois in the US back in 2012 showed that 89% of those arrested for jaywalking (illegally crossing the street) are black. Upon further investigation into why this may be the case, reporters went to these neighbourhoods and saw that many streets didn’t have sidewalks or indicated crosswalks – people were essentially being forced to jaywalk, and then were getting arrested. Officers were then going specifically to these locations, knowing that they could find people jaywalking to arrest them. Often, as in this case, a data set on its own doesn’t tell the whole story.
As design researchers, we start with exploring the experiences and perspectives of individuals, often in relatively small numbers. From this (often) qualitative data, we draw insights to feed future design work. In our research and analysis, can we also be drawing on these large quantitative data sets to feed our insights? Would they add something valuable to the picture?
In our future projects, it will be interesting to see how we can use ‘open data’ to broaden our skills (and our insights) as researchers. It’s also an exciting time to be asking these kinds of questions, as more emphasis, legally and otherwise, is being placed on organisations and governments to make their data easily accessible to all. Take for example data.gov.uk, the European data portal, or the World Bank’s data catalog. These are just three online databases with a huge amount of data for us to filter through and add to our own research and insights. Trial and experimentation will show the value of open data for design research.
The Design for Europe conference is the main way the European Commission implements its Action Plan for Design-driven Innovation. STBY participated in a session on social innovation, with a presentation about the Refugee Challenge at the What Design Can Do Conference.
The focus of the Refugee Challenge was to see if the period between arriving in a host country and waiting for approval to stay can be improved. STBY’s role was to make sure the design brief would trigger and empower applicants to come up with relevant, realistic and creative ideas for solutions.
A recent survey among all 600 applicants revealed that half of them are still working on further developing their ideas. They are highly committed. The challenge clearly tapped into a strong urge for designers to be engaged in solving wicked social issues.
The Design for Europe’s website contains a video with an impression of the conference, and a very rich collection of resources on business, public sector and policy innovation.
This year’s Design & Emotion conference at Amsterdam’s Pakhuis de Zwijger was a great opportunity to pause for “Celebration & Contemplation” – this year’s theme. Speakers included renowned Dutch designers Maarten Baas and Christien Meindertsma. The Design & Emotion Society asks how we as designers and design researchers can explore and integrate the emotional experiences of design through products, services or interactions with new technologies. The conference opened up on a playful and thought-provoking note. We all wrote a research question we’d like explore through the conference events on a balloon. The stage became a sea of purple balloons and design research questions (such as: Sustainability versus design versus emotion?)
Technology-supported emotion measurement
We presented STBY’s Auto-Cam project at a breakout session on ‘User Research Tools’, in which we shared our work and learned about other projects exploring new approaches to user research and its tools. My interest in this topic led me to attend my favourite event of the conference, a short workshop called “Technology-supported emotion measurement”, led by Katja Thoring, Frederik Bellermann, Roland Mueller, Petra Badke-Schaub, and Pieter Desmet. These designers, researchers and scholars are working at the forefront of this emerging space, looking at how new technologies can be used for new forms of design research.
We first had a look at the landscape of technologies available for ‘emotion measurement’ – some technologies I am familiar with (such as the Autographer wearable camera, or the GoPro), and some I found out about for the first time – like the Emotiv EEG headset, a wireless headset which can measure facial expression and map this to various emotions (e.g. excitement, nervousness, jealousy, etc.). However, ‘emotion measurement’ is in itself a complex topic to research. Just what is meant by ‘emotion’ to begin with? And is this something we can somehow objectively measure? Pieter Desmet walked us through just some of the ‘types’ of emotion we can measure – from behavioural (e.g. bodily or facial expression) to verbal self-reports, to visual self-reports. ‘Emotion’ itself can be seen in a broader framework of mood, affect and emotion which makes for a complex area to navigate and research.
In only a short time, they gave us a great overview and introduction to the topic at hand. We split into groups and were each given this handy deck of cards, ‘New Technologies for New Design Research’, which included a card for each technology we could explore and think about in terms of its potential application. How might we as design researchers use aerial drones as a research tool? We were asked to as a group consider a research question we have and come up with a plan to use some of these new technologies to explore it.
My group asked the question “How do professional athletes experience sports massage?” (One of us was a designer at a performance wear company, who was very interested in the topic). It turned out to be a rich question to explore in this context, thinking about the different technologies we could use. We came up with a research approach that included having athletes wear an Emotive EEG headset before, during and after a massage, to measure their brain activity and emotion throughout the experience. We also posited using an aerial drone, to visually capture the experience of a sports massage on the massage table (as long as the aerial drone is quiet enough to not disturb them!). We would then interview the athletes to hear from them directly on their massage experience, and discuss with them together changes or improvements they would like to see.
Even though it was a fictional and relatively quick exercise in designing a research approach, it was a hands-on way to think about how we can use and make the most of these technologies as design researchers. Are we far off from using aerial drones and wireless EEG headsets in our design research? This workshop brought us face to face with newer technologies that will continue to become more widespread, in design research and beyond.
How can we develop products and services for a world in which age does not matter? Intergenerational design was a buzz phrase at the recent Age Does Not Matter festival in London, and it is a promising approach to the challenges posed by an ageing society. But is it enough?
I had an interesting conversation with my mother recently. She is currently in her mid-sixties and thriving, juggling her role as a successful business manager, zumba classes, gin & tonics with friends and the numerous other activities that put my social calendar to shame. Put simply, she likes to think of herself as more youthful than most youths, and rightly so.
She has recently decided to work remotely for a few days of the week, to, you know, spice things up. I got really excited when she told me this, and immediately mapped all of the trendiest co-working spaces near her house. When I showed her the short-list, I was surprised by her reaction. “I can’t work at those types of places,” she told me bluntly, “I am too old for them.”
Youth, middle aged, elderly, and some millennials and baby-boomers in between
These are the boxes that define us as we progress through life. At closer inspection, they have formed detrimental stereotypes and deeply entrenched schisms upon which we have built many modern institutions, from transportation and healthcare to housing, work and leisure. As citizens live longer and healthier lives, these divides prove outdated and are a hindrance to inclusive and sustainable societies.
How can we go about reversing such deeply entrenched stereotypes and start designing more inclusively? Intergenerational design has been touted as a promising solution, but just as form follows function, function must, in turn, follow values. The way that our current systems function- whether it is the healthcare, insurance, housing or transport systems- are all influenced by societal norms and values. Currently, the major issue is that we (anglo-saxon folk, for all of you cultural relativists squirming) do not sufficiently value the elderly and their contribution to society. Inadequate functions and forms naturally follow suit.
Form Follows Function Follows Values
Back to my mother and co-working spaces. If I were starting-up a business, reaping the benefits of a business network that many coworking spaces offer, or simply just needing to chat about women in the workplace, my mother is just the person I’d like around. I would value her presence, and that of those like her, in a coworking space. At the same time, I’d hope that she would find value in the stimulating environment and the fulfillment of playing a mentor role. This, in turn, would influence the function and form of the entire coworking experience. The same principle can be extended to housing, healthcare, transport and technology.
We need to emphasise the value of intergenerationality to inspire radically different system functions and forms. Events like the Age Does Not Matter festival really bring these issues to light. I hope conversations like the ones that took place lead to the much needed changes in norms and values, so that we can move toward designing more inclusive forms of intergenerational products and services.
At the WDCD Live 2016 event in Amsterdam on 30 June and 1 July 2016, Marie de Vos and Geke van Dijk of STBY gave a presentation of STBY’s work as research partner of the Refugee Challenge, helping designers arrive at relevant, viable and effective solutions. The video of Geke and Marie’s presentation is now also online on Vimeo.