Design Thinking and Urban Information

Over the past year, I’ve had a chance to talk with a few dozen Chief Innovation Officers and other city managers implementing software projects. There is almost universal agreement that three things are important:

  • Developing a shared vision
  • Fostering citizen engagement
  • Addressing ethical issues

These three things are important priorities. What kinds of resources are available to help achieve them?

In developing projects to support spaces for citizen participation in Greater Lansing, Michigan, I’ve identified five resources that help to understand the broader context of software development, helping to identify a pathway for an innovative and responsive organizational culture. They share a focus on design thinking, but provide a very broad set of experiences in implementing urban information systems.

Making Cities Smarter by Martin Tomitisch is one of the few books at the intersection of design thinking and software development for Smart Cities. Design thinking techniques are helpful for moving beyond the perspective of a team of software developers to understand the world of the user. This book provides a strong understanding of what makes the urban context distinctive. The design framework and the chapter on “Understanding the Urban Experience” provide a solid grounding, and one of the strengths of the book is that it focuses on the complete cycle of software development through deployment.

Experimental Model of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech by Laurenellen McCann puts public life as the focus of the civic software development process, tag line, “meeting people where they are. ” McCann identifies 5 criteria to determine. The strength of this is a deep understanding of social networks and power.

Designing for Cities: Technology and the Urban Experience by Michael Clare and Paul McConnell demonstrates how “design methods can be applied to some of the most critical challenges among three major groups: citizens, civic stakeholders, and commercial interests.” The book is centered on case studies of the MTA Subway System and LinkNYC, a municipal WiFi system. Clare and McConnell identify the challenges of designing for citizens and provide a clear road map for each step of the design thinking process.

The Citizen’s Right to the Digital City: Urban Interfaces, Activism, and Placemaking is an opportunity to strengthen bridges connecting academic perspectives whose strength is a deep understating of citizenship, representation, equity, agency, and other ethical principles with participatory design projects across South America, Africa, and Asia.

Studio Gang’s Reimagining the City Commons examines what happens when we reimagine publicly owned assets as a connected network. The book focuses on strategies for a single neighborhood in Philadelphia, offering tangible recommendations and techniques aimed at making networks of public places more relevant, useful and potent. This perspective is an important example of an integration of place, information, and community voice. Too many resources like this are either highly technical or too simplistic. This resource is pitched at an appropriate technical level–it is engaging enough too inspire community participation, but identifies strategies that can be implanted in ways that genuinely transform urban life.

5 Replies to “Design Thinking and Urban Information”

  1. The book Citizen’s Right to the Digital City provides a variety of case studies and examples from around the world to show how urban interfaces, citizen participation, and a city can create a productive, sustainable, and livable urban environment. Each chapter of the book focuses on a topic that has been blind peer reviewed by contributions from leading researchers regarding that topic and then debates the impact of these trends. The book also introduces media architectural interfaces which is supported by the description of design, deployment, and evaluation of two different design studies. This book shows us how we can conduct research through co-designing cities with citizens, and how this creates a sustainable infrastructure to open up data and support social innovation.

  2. The book Reimagining the City Commons shows us how we can make places of interest, like a transit stop, into more than a place to go but more or less into a community hub where people want to go. This book demonstrates how architecture can be utilized to make space more engaging to the community. The book puts forth the idea of putting multi-use open spaces that can bring people together in a multitude of capacities. The book shows us how to apply our user research into making recreation centers focus on wellness. A specific chapter of this book shows us how important sketching is. That it can save a lot of time and money on everybody’s end. Because you can easily visualize, share and discuss.

  3. -Designing for Cities: Technology and the Urban Experience provides advice and examples for getting to know a large group of users with a limited study size.

    -Gives specific advice for design thinking in a city setting and gives a guide to approaching large design projects.

    -Learning about current employees and current work flow is a key learning aspect that helps inform our current design practice.

    -As technology continues to alter the way we live and work within cities, designers have an opportunity and responsibility to help shape better environments.

    -By leveraging existing design methods for new challenges, we can shape solutions within the complex and demanding civic ecosystem that can be used by everyone.

  4. In reviewing the book Making Cities Smarties, we found 5 important ideas throughout the book:
    1. Good “apps put the user(citizen) in the spotlight, rather than focusing on governments and other public city entities.”
    2. It is important to keep in mind that the data will only be as good as the questions asked.
    3. It is important to see the designing and prototyping of a city app as a dialogue. The design affect the choice of technology, just as the choice of technology affect the design.
    4. It is important to understand and know when to build a reactive system or an interactive system.
    5. Use prototypes (to encourage iteration and incremental improvements) instead of trials.

  5. Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement

    This book provides in depth research and specific examples of civic projects and how they came together.

    The book includes a set of criteria that can help determine if an approach is “people first”

    The book talks about the use of using one approach that’s already known to learn the use of another one.

    The book is broken up into different “modes” or ways to create tools for civic engagement, which makes more digestible for the reader.

    This book goes into detail on how to create tools for people based on structures that already exist instead of ignoring how people interact with their community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *