Smart cities and visual languages
Following the launch of CityVerve, Manchester’s smart city demonstrator, Cassie Robinson, Strategic Designer previously at the Future Cities Catapult, now at Doteveryone, blogs about how smart cities could use a visual language to make IoT technologies more visible to their citizens to encourage greater feedback.
The infrastructure layer of IoT technologies throughout a city is not necessarily something that citizens can see or particularly want to know about. Citizens do, however, need to know of their deployment in terms of privacy and security. First and foremost people simply want seamless public services that meet their day-to-day needs.
Having visibility of what IoT technologies can offer opens up new possibilities in terms of citizen lead problem solving and creativity in a city. It could also make decisions more effective by creating a feedback loop of information, both for individuals and also for governance.
A visual language for IoT might be one way of starting to mobilise more people to create change in their cities. That is, mobilising communities of people from the bottom up and using real-time information to connect citizens, so that they can make better decisions. Think of it as real-time data as a social support system, knowing that you are crossing paths of friends, or there are other cyclists so you are part of a community.
To start thinking through this visual language we mapped out the technology functions of IoT and then thought about the kinds of interactions that it could enable at a human level; from knowledge of others (for example, being connected to people in new ways like virtual presence, a team dynamic, or for healthcare) through to knowledge about our surroundings (for example, exposing the invisible, remote monitoring and control, accessing the inaccessible, microsopic/macroscopics).
“There’s a funny thing about the term ‘the Internet of Things’ – broken into its parts – internet and things are both dehumanised in the way that they’re described. Too much of the smart cities community are thinking about the technology, and the physical and the human that is the instigator, the user, the participant, the recipient is absent from the description. That’s the challenge,” says Verity McIntosh, Producer at Pervasive Media Studio.
From this classification we then developed a series of icons that we imagined as a visual language placed around the city. In some instances the signs convey important information, however many of them signify ways in which citizens can create, generate and discover through interacting with IoT.
“It is useful in defining the ‘Internet of Things’ as separate from the ‘Internet’, or the ‘web’. So it’s going to be useful in explaining the next iteration of the internet, but for me it’s not really capturing the power of what this next iteration could do, or what augmenting all of our devices can actually lead to. It would be nice to see us talk less about the object or the network itself and more about what is this going to lead to. So, instead of it being IoT – it’s more the Internet of Action, the Internet of Decision Making, the Internet of Faster Feedback and the Internet of Greater Agility. On the flipside, it could of course be the Internet of control, or the Internet of Manipulation, which we have to be equally aware of. These are the kinds of concepts IoT is going push us towards, and we need to be aware of outcomes, not just structure,” says Verity McIntosh, Producer of Pervasive Media Studio.
This is a work in progress and we’re not necessarily advocating for a new series of street signs to be distributed through cities. What we are suggesting though is that cities need to find ways of visually communicating how technologies are changing the city landscape and highlighting ways for citizens to interact with these technologies, so they can be generative and part of city and community life. We also believe that the patterns and sequences in which a citizen might interact with and make use of these visual signs could also help create design patterns that would be useful for configuring how to better interoperate the IoT.