How to design a useful Internet of Things — Introducing human centred design to CityVerve
In CityVerve we want to design useful things. We want to understand the real problems people have, and develop technologies and services that people will want to use. To help do this, FutureEverything is introducing a human centred design approach. We are also placing an emphasis on meaningful citizen engagement, and on bring ideas alive through art and culture.
On 27 July, we set the ball rolling on CityVerve with a human centred design induction workshop. In this induction workshop we teamed up with FutureGov to bring the teams together for the first time and introduce tools and methods they can use to develop useful services and technologies.
In the past, IoT and Smart City projects have tended to be implemented in a top-down way. Very few have left behind technologies and services that are used today. Our ambition in CityVerve is to do things differently. In CityVerve, we aim to build on best practice, and to create ways of doing things that can be replicated elsewhere.
We want CityVerve to solve problems for the residents of Manchester. The problems addressed in the induction workshop were helping people become more physically active to improve wellbeing, addressing the impact of air quality on people’s lives, and making public transport more accessible to all.
Introducing human centred design in CityVerve
Over the two year CityVerve project, FutureEverything will be working closely with a small number of the project teams, and introducing human centred design tools and methods to the others.
In the Induction workshop, we dived straight in and took the design teams on a human centred design journey, which included heading out into the city to do user research, analysing what we found out, and trying out design ideas by making quick and lo fi prototypes.
We also introduced past work on best practice, including our own past work on Smart Citizens (publication and platform), and resources such as the IoT Manifesto. Design principles we looked at include building and promoting a culture of privacy, only collecting data that is necessary, and empowering people to set the boundaries of how their data is accessed and how they are engaged with through the service. Read more on our Design Principles and process here.
For CityVerve, we have proposed a human centred and participatory design approach that is tailored for IoT Smart City projects. Based on the open prototyping framework, this involves opening the process to many contributors, and delivering interventions that are open and accessible to various publics. We will do this by collaborating with citizens as stakeholders and contributors to define and measure success. We are introducing community champions, who will support user research, and we will present artworks inspired by the social issues and technologies in CityVerve.
In the induction workshop we invited the project teams to follow a human centred design approach, and to be prepared to be challenged, and to abandon a favoured solution or technology, if that is the conclusion of the user research.
Let’s put people first!
Since we began working on smart cities and IoT at FutureEverything more than a decade ago — back then, we called it ‘locative media’ — we have championed a people first approach. We hope CityVerve can build on the work and ideas of the many brilliant people we have been lucky enough to collaborate with, who have put people at the centre of the smart city.
IoT and Smart City development can make lasting changes to the places in which people live, work and play. It can shape neighbourhoods and the lives of residents, in the same way as the development of urban road systems did in the 20th Century. So we need to see local residents are stakeholders in the development of these technologies and services. It is important we work with them as collaborators to address issues such as privacy and trust that can be barriers to user acceptance.
In CityVerve, we aim to place people at the centre of the design process, and also to engage them in defining and measuring success criteria for the project. In the induction workshop the project teams decided to drop the word ‘user’. We need to turn on its head the way ‘we’ the designers think about ‘they’ the users in technology projects, as in these fine words from Frank Kresin in FutureEverything’s Smart Citizens publication:
WE, CITIZENS OF ALL CITIES, TAKE THE FATE OF THE PLACES WE LIVE IN INTO OUR OWN HANDS. WE CARE ABOUT THE BUILDINGS AND THE PARKS, THE SHOPS, THE SCHOOLS, THE ROADS AND THE TREES. BUT ABOVE ALL, WE CARE ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE LIFE WE LIVE IN OUR CITIES. WE KNOW THAT OUR LIVES ARE INTERCONNECTED, AND WHAT WE DO HERE WILL IMPACT THE OUTCOMES OVER THERE. WHILE WE CAN NEVER PREDICT THE EVENTUAL EFFECT OF OUR ACTIONS, WE TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE (1).
There are many challenges and pitfalls involved in introducing a people first approach, which we discuss in our next blog post.
This is just the start
This was day one on our journey in CityVerve. It’s not going to be easy, we do not promise we will get it right first time. You can be sure we will not succeed in every way we would like. But it was a good start, and we hope in two years time we have some positive learnings to share, people feeling more empowered, and useful services positively contributing to life in the city.
All the CityVerve team and partners. Tom Rowlands, Callum Kirkwood, Natalie Kane, Naomi Burgess for the brilliant work teeing this up for FutureEverything. Simone Carrier, Matt Skinner and Chris Evans at FutureGov, it’s been a treat working with you guys, we hope it is the first of many. Daniel Santos, Feimatta Conteh and Vimla Appadoo who are new to FutureEverything’s design team and are going to be shaking things up over the months to come.
(1) Frank Kresin, ‘A Manifesto for Smart Citizens’, in Drew Hemment & Anthony Townsend (eds), Smart Citizens, FutureEverything Publications, 2013.