Infographics' Importance

I’m a sucker for good design. You might not guess it when you see me; I’m often a bit disheveled, not nearly as stylish as I’d like, slightly sweaty and wind-blown, fresh off my bike. But a simple graphic or crisp image can inspire me to think and speak more concisely. Fortunately for us all, there are other people who appreciate good design and are good at producing it. It’s not just these works’ innate beauty, but their ability to turn complex data into useful information that makes them so powerful.

bicycle commuting

The US Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration recently held a student data visualization contest. Students from the US were tasked with combining data visually from various sources to make compelling policy statements. The two winning graphics were recently announced: Infrastructure Financing Policy Simulation and Visualization Model and Bicycle Commuting Trends in the United States. has been a master of infographics in my opinion, producing both printed-page and interactive graphics covering a plethora of topics for broad consumption. The winning student graphics don’t quite match the level of attention to aesthetic detail as GOOD’s, but still they are useful. Most importantly, the contest makes the statement that the Federal government is invested in promoting design; that it recognizes that often it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters for influencing decision-makers.

In my experience, the ability to take complex data and churn it into simple information is a rare and valuable skill. Students and professionals pursuing development should seek opportunities to practice it.

-          Terra Curtis

Data-driven Design Occupy Design, a new website to connect designers and protestors in the Occupy Movement, was born as a result of three hackathons in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC.  On October 14th, San Francisco-based designer and activist Jake Levitas organized the three events in order to bring data to the people and power to the movement.

Based on the philosophy that “It’s a lot harder to argue with statistics than it is with talking points,” Occupy Design hosts several images to both standardize and make more succinct the messaging of the protestors.  Some of the designs even help with the simple logistics of such a movement – need a bathroom, a place to sleep, a trash can?  Standardized signs will show you the way.  Protestors can go to the website, download the imagery, print it, and carry it to gatherings on the street.  Designers can go to the website, check out the list of requests, and create images for the people in the streets.  It’s a simple use of technology to organize, standardize, legitimize, and make more efficient a popular movement.

The mostly black-and-white images paint a starkly black-and-white picture of the state of the American union: the top 1% of earners have more wealth than the bottom 95% combined and something must be done to re-equalize the nation.  What’s not yet black and white is exactly how this could or should be achieved – a set of objectives that, once formulated, could benefit from Occupy Design’s message framing expertise as well.  Now, which tech solutions will enable millions to draft a set of concise objectives?

- Terra Curtis


2.0-D City

We talk a lot about Government 2.0 and the infusion of communications technologies into public services on this blog.  As written about before, public services are, in many cases, location-based and require spatial understanding to be implemented efficiently.  Students at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design have developed a technology that ties these two ideas together (video below). Using simple flashing lights and long-exposure photography, the team literally mapped WiFi signals throughout Oslo.  The resulting 2-D patterns (planes made of small blue-glowing dashes) serve as an almost eerie reminder of our “2.0” world.  It would be really interesting to see these WiFi topography maps developed for particular socio-demographic sectors of the city, as well as 3-D maps composed of several of the 2-D topographies.

Check it out for yourself.

[vimeo w=400&h=225]

Immaterials: Light painting WiFi from Timo on Vimeo.

- Terra Curtis


Thursday Video: Visions

The first video to share this Thursday comes from Gensler Los Angeles, an architecture, planning and design firm.  They worked with Sci-Arc, The Architect’s Newpaper, and LA Metro to create Network_LA Transit, a short video that inspires Los Angeles transportation officials to focus on user experience, to create a more customer-influenced system of flexible, multi-modal transportation options.  These visionary images and ideas are compelling and inspiring; understanding how actually to implement them is the next challenge Gensler should tackle. [vimeo w=400&h=225]

NETWORK_LA transit from tam thien tran on Vimeo.

Secondly, this video announces the 4th Advanced Architecture Contest for pilots in Barcelona, to “promote discussion and research through which to generate insights, visions, ideas and proposals that help us envisage what the city and the habitat of the 21st century will be like.”  The video itself doesn’t showcase much, so be sure to check out past editions.

[vimeo w=400&h=225]

Advanced Architecture Contest 2011 from Peter Crosby on Vimeo.

- Terra Curtis


Smart Phones as Hotel Keys

[youtube] Two Holiday Inn hotels in the US have begun a new pilot program that allows guests to check into their hotel rooms and unlock the door itself through their mobile phone. Participants in the MobileKey program are sent a text message containing their room number and a special key code on the day of their reservation. Overall the participating Holiday Inn branches are receiving reviews which range from warm to enthusiastic, many busy clients are thrilled to skip the concierge stop and head right to their room. Watch the Video above to learn exactly how MobileKey works.

Designing for Awareness

In the video below, interaction designer, Robert Fabricant, thoughtfully contemplates how designers can better understand triggers that help to change people's behavior. I found his ruminations on mobile and health technologies to be entirely relevant. Do take a look. [youtube]

Mobile App Lab in Africa

The World Bank in partnership with Nokia is set to create a mobile application laboratory in Afria in an effort to push innovation in the field, while providing special support to innovative solutions that address the diverse challenges facing Africa. According to Tim Kelly, the lead IT specialist at the World Bank's InfoDev global grant, the world bank hopes to "to increase the competitiveness of innovative enterprises in the mobile content and applications area, and to ensure that locally relevant applications are created to meet growing developing country user demands."

Through the laboratories that will be set up in various host countries, the program will assist local mobile applications entrepreneurs, helping them to start and scale their own business. In particular, the program will feature training and testing laboratories, identification and piloting of potential applications, incubation for startups and potential linkages with operators.

For the time being the laboratories will be situated in select African countries, however, the long term aim of the program is to cover all of sub-saharan africa. We'll update with more about this exciting program in the coming weeks.

Skinput from Microsoft

If you haven't already heard, the brains at Microsoft together with researchers from Carnegie Mellon came together last week to debut their innovative solution to our touchscreen-centric world, a technological leap that transforms one skin into their personal touchscreen. Using a pico projector to beam graphics---namely, the keyboard and touchscreen menu---onto a user's palm and forearm; the device then uses the distinct sounds that are emitted with one taps the different parts of our skin to identify which icon has been tapped. In total, Skinput has five piezoelectric cantilevers to detect sound frequencies which can detect the different buttons, detecting the five skin locations within 95.5% accuracy.

Though this is at very early development stages, I expect we'll see more and more innovations like this in touchscreen technologies in the coming years.

A Savvy App for Texting Fiends

For those of you who find yourself texting about sensitive information, be it professional or otherwise, you might take interest in ,, a new application for iPhones that allows senders to control the lifespan of individual texts. Adjusting settings, texters can control whether texts are deleted immediately after having been read or deleted within a specified time period---Given the specifications, texts are then permanently deleted from the sender's AND the recipient's phone. Check it out here.

Our Handbook on Innovation in Services and Mobility in Cities - "Connected Cities: Your 256 Billion Euro Dividend" - now out!

We are pleased to announce that our new Handbook on Service Innovation in Cities is now out, published by the DesignLondon at the Royal College of Art. The result of a collaborative effort involving more than 20 contributors, the book presents rich original data and serves as a resource for professionals from both public and private sectors, as well as entrepreneurs, engaged in the complex yet potentially profitable market for service innovations in cities.

You can flick through and order the book now at Amazon (UK), Amazon (US).

Mobility is not a technology, but a paradigm shift. The user, as citizen, professional, or visitor is in a state of mobility represented by the ubiquity of mobile phones in our society. Why this book asks, have highly appreciated services like mobile parking, tourism services, or solutions for the visually impaired not taken off despite the astronomical investments into digital infrastructures in the past decade? Why, have these infrastructures not had the productivity impact that the internet had on our economies, when more than 60% of the world population have access to them?

256 Billion Euro is the sum of opportunity presented in this book, following real business cases and examples of mobility and service innovations in cities. Drawing on the rich insights of Living Labs Global, the book illustrates what defines the market for mobility, neglected by many for its complexity. It logically structures the market opportunities, frustrations and successes, and actors that make or break success into a coherent call for action to fundamentally change how we deliver services in cities.
This book reveals important insights for public leaders, local politicians, service professionals in public and private organisations, entrepreneurs, technology experts, consultants and researchers interested in promoting innovation and excellence in cities today.

remap with Bestiario

This Friday I’ll highlight a project from the young and scrappy Barcelona/ Lisbon-based company, Bestiario. Combining art, science and design to create thrilling user experiences, the Bestiario team has put forth numerous unique interactive media experiences since it was founded two years ago. Check out their portfolio here. Digital Voyeurs should spend some time exploring the reMap project, a Bestario project based on; using a semantic search engine, the Bestario team illustrates relationships between images and text belonging to the visualcomplexity database. The project was launched in July of 2009 and is worth your time.

“It’s not rocket science, but…”

In his third law for predictions about the future, Arthur C. Clarke famously declared that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This is truer today than ever before, and almost every day sees the introduction of some new mobile application that is widening the boundaries for what we traditionally perceive as possible. A fancy and free iPhone application like Shazam has produced astonished faces and disbelief all over the world and it’s impossible to imagine just how the next big thing will make your jaw drop. Development of applications and services is happening extremely quickly, and at the Living Labs Global Summit in Zurich on 15th May we wanted to further speed up this process by bringing together some of the prime movers within this field. The matchmaking meeting included people from private companies, the public sector, universities, and cluster organizations, and the panel sessions were divided into three major themes: ICT/media-enabled services in cities, Healthcare service innovation, and Service innovation and design in cities. The matchmaking summit took place at the Hyatt, and in-between the introductory speeches and the panel sessions there were rich possibilities for people to meet over coffee and lunch.

No matter how fascinating and high-profile a guest speaker might be, the heart of an event like this still lies in the unscheduled periods of time where participants can learn more about each other. This was also true in Zurich, where everyone were happy to engage in talks from the first minute. This success was partly due to the fact that most of the hundred participants had already met over drinks the night before; Living Labs Global and the innovation district 22@Barcelona had invited everyone to an informal cocktail party at the Hyatt, and for several hours people were enjoying the setup before going out to dinner in larger groups where they could continue their conversations.

It was already during this first stimulating evening that I heard three different people describe their own services with the almost derogatory statement: “It’s not rocket science.” This has become a catch phrase for people working with the new technology, and I’m hearing it all the time from Innovators, venture capitalists, and cluster organizations – everyone uses it. Most of the time it’s actually meant as a positive statement about the service or application, and a more correct transcription should read: “It’s not rocket science, but…” Of course, this can just be a way to talk down people’s expectations before presenting them with all the great features that the product does in fact possess. But it still poses the intriguing question: Do the people who work with service innovation believe that it normally has to be rocket science to be good?

If this is indeed the case, if the use of advanced technology in a service is seen as something inherently good, then we are just facing the old bête noir of technology push. At the Matchmaking Summit in Zürich, we had representatives from the huge market that the public sector covers, and they met with companies that are realistic and focused on the needs of the users. Many great applications and services were showcased at the event – and even though they may not be rocket science, some of them are actually indistinguishable from magic.

It's no place really, but it's real.

Hamburg - Mediterranean Matchmaking Summit, January 16. The prolific writer William Gibson has stated that we live in an age that is dominated by a post-geographical feeling. The development of the internet and the mobile generation has revolutionized the way that we view the world, and the newest incarnation of almost universal WI-FI in combination with the arrival of the 3G phone has made things move even faster. With this in mind, it was striking that Sascha Haselmayer opened the summit by stating that we haven't even seen the beginning of the new market, and he stressed that, even though the need for services is evident, we are not seeing all the mobile services that one would expect.

Why are we not seeing the new services yet? There are many reasons for this, but one important factor might be that the post-geographical feeling still has certain limitations when it comes to how we interact in the physical world. Even though a vast Gibsonesque prosthetic nervous system has spread around the globe over the last 25 years, we are still living in a physical reality defined by national borders, cultural differences, and spatial divides. There is no doubt that people all over the globe share some of the same needs and face some of the some of the same challenges, but when Europe, the smallest continent, is unable to develop common solutions and standards, how can we expect to see better results on a global scale?

Living Labs Global is aware of this divide, and in Hamburg the network and its members showed that they are ready and well equipped to tackle the work at hand. By focusing on the collaboration between companies, investors, and research centers in Barcelona and Hamburg, Living Labs Global showed how fruitful such a summit can be when the organizers are conscious of the real barriers that exist in the market. It was the first time that Living Labs Global tried to use this specific angle on matchmaking, and it proved to be something that people have needed for a very long time.

With nearly 100 participants at the Empire Riverside Hotel, the summit was fully booked. Many had asked themselves if a proper spirit of openness and readiness to speak up could be achieved in only one day, but these worries quickly turned out to be completely groundless. It has to be said that most of the participants took a head start the evening before the event by attending a very nice cocktail party arranged by the Cavas Codorniu from Barcelona and the City Council. They served drinks in the hotel lounge, and in no time the whole place was alive with large groups of people engaging in lively discussions. As the arranged get-together ended most of us found our way to restaurants and bars in the vicinity, and I myself went to a nice informal dinner with a fine dozen of people from Sweden, Spain, Germany, and Denmark. Many of the participants later met up in the magnificent sky-bar of the Empire Riverside Hotel and it was a great to end the night in good company and with the view of Hamburg below.

The summit itself began the day after with Sascha Haselmayer's welcome, and it set the tone of the event: A real value network has to be built around the mobility market and we have to make some kind of coherence in the sea of service and market islands. Introducing North and South, he rightly identified Hamburg as a gate for trade and handed the podium to Judit Romera from Barcelona City Council, and she described Barcelona as a dense and creative city - a place in which to be inspired. Barcelona is also a cultural capital and it has become the central reference in the creation of dialogue between the Northern and the Southern rim of the Mediterranean. With 3.000 companies that have a productive presence in the city, Barcelona is also the most consolidated base of foreign companies in Spain. Jordi Sacristan from 22@Barcelona confirmed that the city is able to attract talent, and the innovative new area specializing in media, ICT, energy, and biomedical research is ready to welcome even more foreign companies and students.

As is always the case at these events it was hard to choose which panel discussion not to attend. There were panels on Media & ICT - which was very fitting considering Hamburg's long tradition in this field - Concept & Design, and Healthcare Service Innovation. There were experts at all three sessions, and there were also presentations from some of the companies attending, and several of them had showcases as well. As proceedings drew to a close, people wished for more time and in the healthcare session discussions were just starting to take off after Lekshmy Parameswaran's enlightening virtual tour of the company Fuelfor's services. Luckily, the following lunch arrangements set the stage for a series of animated exchanges, and it quickly turned into one of the most valued points of the summit; people agreed that they had rarely experienced such a congenial spirit of matchmaking, and it was also agreed upon that it was partly due to the scarcity of time: Time might have been a bit scarce, but everyone were determined to make the time available of the highest quality.

The time was also well-spent on the part of Living Labs Global, and even though we had high expectations, we were surprised at how positive the outcome was. The participants all found something of value to take home with them, several of the newcomers decided to become members of Living Labs Global, and the association has found a footfall that will make the next year very exciting. William Gibson has also described the ongoing technological revolution as being just as important in human evolution as the original creation of cities. It has always been a part of Living Labs Global's ambition to spearhead this development, and in a way we feel that we are indeed creating new cities. To be able to do this in cooperation with two of the old worlds prime specimens is a pleasure and a privilege. Barcelona will continue to be in our sight, and there is no doubt that the city will be the ideal background when they host the 3GSM there in February. It will also be a good opportunity to get reacquainted with members of Living Labs Global before the next big event in Zurich. Until then we'll keep building cities.,en/