Table with post-its, paper and other workshop materials

Design and the city: tabletop prototyping

In a workshop at the ‘Design and the City’ conference, participants focused on solving the problem of bicycle parking in the city. Bike parking in Amsterdam is now a tough problem. There’s basically no more room for the nearly million bikes that more than half the population uses daily to commute. In one year alone, 73000 illegally parked bikes were impounded, a costly situation for all involved. After presenting STBY’s research for Dutch Rail on this problem, we facilitated a workshop exploring future solutions.

The workshop took a tabletop design approach. Participants chose from among four goals, and were given a map, ‘user cards’ with specific profiles, cards with a location, and a few prototypical elements including a bike and a house. They made the rest as they went. They were asked to create scenario’s for 2020 or 2040, and to elaborate on one idea or concept.

It was interesting to see the effect of this hands-on approach. It seemed to really energize the participants: they felt they were building their own world along with their idea. Being able to point at something tangible, add and take away, helped them realize the full extent of what they could do.

There were a few things that worked less well. 2020 as a date was a bit too close to the present and gave participants the idea that they could only effect limited changes. It would have been better to take 2040 as a starting point, to imply greater malleability. The user card also turned out to have a restrictive effect. Some participants took it very literally and designed a solution limited only to that user.

We’re keeping this in mind for future user labs, being careful how we use workshop components to restrict or broaden the focus. For example, we can keep the focus in time further in the future, but limit the location to participants’ own street, with a real, detailed map, enabling them to use their extensive knowledge of the context and giving them a direct stake in a solution.

Rigorous documentation: A research superpower

When research activities get going in earnest, a lot is produced. If treated too casually, the mass of audio files and transcripts, flip-overs and mini-posters full of post-its, photos, interview notes and feedback mails can quickly turn into a massive hairball that no-one can unpick.

Where do people fit into the Internet of Things?

There are now more things connected to the internet than the number of people in the world. Many of these devices are inside our home, from Bluetooth speakers to smart coffee machines and fridges. In the future, even our plates and curtains might be hooked up to the internet. The house will then resemble a lab, in which we are the studied subjects. How much alcohol do we drink? How often do we wash our hair, or cut our nails? Are we snacking more than usual? Spending longer in front of the mirror? Maybe the homes of the future will know.

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Pushing the Boundaries

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