Day 33: Roadblocks

I’ve had quite a busy time since I last updated my blog, so I’m just going to jump right into it and run through everything that has happened over the past fortnight.

A couple of weeks ago, I was really struggling with my project. I lacked inspiration, and to an extent, was awaiting that eureka moment that would give me a direction in which to work. I was inspired by the Fun Theory project that I mentioned in my last blog post, and was therefore interested in seeking out some odd behaviours that I could latch upon, possibly developing a product idea around that.

I decided to take a day out of Uni, taking the train through to Glasgow to observe the public going about their business, waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ll be honest, I was quite nervous about the trip, as I was going to Glasgow with no directive, trying to think on my feet and see what I was naturally excited about. I chose Glasgow firstly because of its size, but also due to my relative unfamiliarity with it in comparison to Dundee. I hoped to organically find my way around and not dither around my usual and familiar loitering areas in search of a spark of inspiration.

My worries about finding something nothing of note were almost instantly vanquished. I walked out of Queen Street Station, out onto George Square, and was instantly met with a man throwing an entire bag of pigeon feed by his bench around the plaza. The Bird Whisperer was even catching them in his hands, intently staring at them, for reasons I know nowt. My designer alarms were going off instantly, taking inconspicuous photos at every moment that he looked away, yet to my surprise I found similar behaviours as I explored even more, with similar grains scattered around Buchanan and Sauchiehall Street.

The Bird Whisperer

This strange event made me think, not about taming the wild pigeons of our urban streets, but more-so about the ecosystem and wildlife that resides in cities. After all, cities are hardly animal friendly areas, and much of the ecosystem (pigeons, rats, bugs) are considered to be disgusting vermin. I wasn’t keen on developing these ideas as they felt a bit too niche for my liking, but I was glad to realise that the day would turn out to be stimulating at the very least.

As I walked around more, many of my assumptions were either proven, or surprisingly disproven. For instance, I made an assumption that the majority of people using a street like Sauchiehall would be entranced in their phones, walking aimlessly like technologically possessed zombies. Yet people walking in groups of 2 or 3 would be chatting away happily, and believe it or not, more than most people by themselves were walking with their heads up, admiring the commotion and assortment of shops around them. I guessed that the majority of people by themselves would be scrolling through texts or even catching the odd Pokemon, things that I do myself to act as a simple distraction in slight moments of solitude, but I was wrong — even young people were taking in the scenery around them.

People did, however, tend to get sucked into their phones on George Square

The day in Glasgow was interesting, yet for me, it was interesting at most. I had ideas during my day there, yet none of them truly excited me. None of them felt “right” — “right” being a weird feeling I usually get when designing that feels like the clear, obvious way to move forward. I decided that whilst the Fun Theory approach was quite cool and playful, I could incorporate these elements more into my design in other ways, rather than making that the underlying theme of the project. A new directive was needed.

I was eager to complete my Show and Tell presentation the following Monday, which would be an opportunity to discuss with Chris and Andrea (my tutors) the work that I was doing, and how I should move forward. Two things were made quite clear to me during the presentation. 1) I need to read more into what a Smart City is, but apart from that, the desk research is going well so far, and 2) I need to question to what extent I am going to work with data. Because a Smart City is so reliant on data and the Internet of Things, I really need to strike the right balance, for me as a designer, between data and how an individual or community interacts with it.

Truth be told, data isn’t something that makes me leap out of bed in the morning with excitement, dying to work with. It’s not something I really want to work with, but at the same time I need to accept that these qualms do not mean that it doesn’t exist. So for me, I need to look more into data, and be more conscious into the role it may possibly play in the year to come.

Fun ol’ data

Despite my relative ignorance of data, and the role it could play on my final product, I did have one hugely positive stride forward that day. I spoke to Chris about my worries with my project and my lack of directive, and the prospect of having to do a further 2 weeks of desk research with little applied focus. He told me that I should go with my gut feeling at this moment of time, and think less about the feeling of impending doom when making an important decision in such an important project, but instead think about the potential that it could have in a few months time.

The gut feeling in question was my inherent inspiration from the cycling counters that I’d mentioned last week found in Edinburgh. How could these objects be redesigned for a different use? Instead of harvesting data to learn more about cycling behaviours, why don’t they actually challenge cyclists to use their bikes more, or even inspire more people to cycle instead of drive? I could even take a step back entirely, and think in a wider sense about cycling in the city, and what the issues are for those who prefer to use their bikes. Going back to what I said about Smart Cities needing to be more human-centric, this feels like an interesting route to go down, and it incorporates the data gathering aspect of the Smart City with a more human-centric angle on the whole topic.

The more I think about it, the more cycling seems like a logical territory to work in. I was looking at so many issues, like noise pollution, air pollution, transport, health, energy (the list is endless), yet the bicycle as a pre-existing object is in part, the answer to these various issues. Strangely enough, its widely ignored as a viable means of transport, with negative attitudes, at least in Scotland, aimed towards urban cyclists. The reasons for these perceptions and mentalities are things that I will need to look int0 more in the weeks to come.

Interestingly enough, I have a holiday to Copenhagen booked for the first weekend in November, which is completely unrelated to my project. Copenhagen is the number 1 cycling city on the planet, a title that I always thought belonged to Amsterdam, yet unbeknownst to me, more people commute via bike in Copenhagen than they do in the entirety of the USA. This is a shocking statistic, perhaps a bit more understandable when you consider the vast sprawl of most American cities.

A horde of cyclists in Copenhagen

I will try and use my trip away to Copenhagen to admire some of the cycling infrastructure present within the city, and from what I’ve heard, it would be very difficult to ignore it. I am also playing around with the idea of taking a short weekend away to Amsterdam for a more focused excursion to investigate their infrastructure. I would have to be wary, however, that it doesn’t turn into another short holiday, and has some really focused insights taken from it. Time is of the essence, and it’s mad to think that a month of 4th year has already passed.

In the week to come, I will be trying to nail down the cycling aspect of my topic, and trying to link that back into the Smart City research done from before. I will also by updating my blog again with insight into my Design Enterprise report, which is beginning to fall into place. Busy week ahead!


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