Urban Computing in a design studio context

The city being measured (by a Leica device)(The city being measured, encountered in Annecy, France few weeks ago)

The short article "Research through Design in the Context of Teaching Urban Computing" by Andrew Vande Moere and Dan Hill (Street Computing Workshop co-located with OZCHI'09, Melbourne, Australia) is an interesting read for people interested in both urban computing and teaching in design schools.

The paper discusses the role of interaction design in the field of urban computing by presenting various student projects. Interestingly, it also provides relevant resources in terms of approaches to student learning in this specific context ("research by design – design by research"). The project started with this issue of data that will soon "emerge from the street" and then be used as a material for new sorts of urban services "which in turn challenges new opportunities for designers across disciplines"".

(Picture of students work by Dan Hill)

To explore these aspects, the following assignments were proposed:

  • Photo-annotation: "An exploratory student assignment focused on the creation of annotated and illustrated photo-based montages, starting from existing street scenes rather than imaginary future cities. The overlaid textual and graphical notations indicated data sources that might shortly be inherently available in such streets, while also imagining the then possible urban services as a result." As interesting as it is, it seems that the scenario envisioned "proved less impressive, with many scenarios feeling under- developed, and sometimes inappropriate or irrelevant".
  • Design Fiction: "students were asked to construct speculative textual narratives through which their proposed design ideas would be articulated, contextualized and critiqued"
  • Prototyping (as well as documentation of prototyping to reflect on the design decisions): "the development of low and high-fidelity prototypes installed on and around the intended site location, in order to encourage students to explore their design ideas by confronting them with the reactions and opinions of passers-by"

Why do I blog this? Being involved in teaching activities in various design schools and working with Fabien on a series of workshop about urban computing, it's always refreshing to hear about how others work on these issues. The range of activities you can propose to students and workshop participants is very rich. This paper provides some good insights about them and, of course, on the topic of "what to do with the data".

On that note, I am happy to see that the authors encountered the same issue we had in different workshops. A conclusion like:

"much of the perceived innovation of the proposed student projects rests with the relative novelty of embedding communication technology and alternative information displays in a real-world, urban context. Discovering a genuinely compelling application for such technological platforms, and then making it work, however, proved to be a more challenging endeavor for the students."

...echoes a lot with similar experiences. Nevertheless, as they say, it does not diminish the educational value of this work.

Although I did not include the students' projects in my notes, they're quite interesting. Readers may also have a glance at Dan Hill's blogpost about it.

Besides, I was also fascinated by the following element:

"despite the emerging sense that much data is already currently created ‘in the street’, the infrastructure anticipated by the urban computing vision is still largely non-existent, out- of-reach, or so nascent as to be inaccessible. [hence the use of their own sensor infrastructure (a group was however "stopped and requested to remove all sensing devices by a worried police patrol")]."