Visual prototyping to understand wicked problems

We’ve previously discussed the concept of wicked problems - a problem so complex it seems insoluble. But as part of our latest research, we’ve taken considerations around wicked problems further, into an exploration of how visual mock-ups of concepts in stakeholder conversations can help us understand the wicked problem of public transport.

The Encircle team alongside some University of Sydney students designed three visual representations of potential transport projects for an urban setting, including a lights display, digital information display, and ‘bus stop of the future.’ We then took these representations to stakeholders in an effort to gain insights and understanding of what resonated and didn’t with them.

In presenting mock-ups to primary stakeholders, we learnt that they could be used as provocations of primary perspective in the wicked problems space. The reactions to such mock-ups gave us vital information about the viability or realistic implementation of our projects, and data for how we could tweak them to increase the likelihood of their being accepted. From what primary stakeholders often wanted to discuss, it was clear that many of their concerns revolved around the risks involved in prototyping on the transport network. Other sticking points were the alignment of new technologies with existing strategies and the potential for conflict between old and new strategies.

We also considered the use of visual representations as provocations of secondary perspectives – so organisational bodies one step removed from those closest to change, but who still had a stake in the change. Such organisations included advertisers and the NSW Government. From our conversations with such stakeholders, we gained important insights around visibility (e.g. one of the most important components of a bus stop was that people be visible inside it from other physical points in the area, for safety reasons), materials (eg. selected based on least likely to be damaged by vandals), and transport information (eg. what could be reasonably expected within existing contracts).

From this, we were able to discern the boundaries, design constraints and opportunities within the urban system our projects operate within. On some level, these could be considered to be ‘leverage points’ as we previously discussed when unpacking the bus stop. This also represented a shift in our understanding of what we were designing for and new realities of Sydney transport. It may be that the “best” design is not always possible – but rather “best-fit” in the context of the wicked problem of Sydney’s transport system.

A paper on this topic was presented at the Participatory Design Conference (PDC) 2014, Windhoek, Namibia

Building the case for new technologies

New technologies are heralded every day as the saviour of the large or small challenges faced by humankind. But though these technological advances may be exciting, and the benefits clear, there’s often a disconnection between the case for improving or updating the status quo from a technological perspective, and the business case for doing so…. Read more

The rise of the super-mobile human

The growth of the smartphone has reshaped traditional communications, media, and information-sharing processes the world-over. But a concept we’ve been considering as part of the Encircle project is the rise of the super-mobile human. The rapid expansion of the use of smartphones has enabled human beings to enhance their natural senses to a large degree…. Read more

INTERCHANGING – Future Designs for Responsive Transport Environments

The exhibition INTERCHANGING will showcase some of our research to date, in particular exploring speculative designs for future transport shelters. The exhibition will feature a 1:1 scale, interactive mock-up of a public transport Interchange of the Future. Featuring large screens and several sensors you’ll be able to interact with the model and experience a new world of travel… Read more

Last Train to Trancentral – From Infrastructure to “Info”structure, A Case Study of Embedding Digital Technology Into Existing Public Transport Infrastructures

This article was a further investigation into the various methods by which we may be able to move from an infrastructure to an “infostructure” – integration of responsive technologies into our transport environments. Presented at the Computer Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia Conference (CAADRIA 2011), the article examined three potential solutions for developing an… Read more

Infostructures – A Transport Research Project (Book Publication)

Alternate modes of mass transit will help the cities of Australia improve congestion on roads. But how do we encourage people to move to urban public transport and improve the existing network – especially given the constraints that surround the expansion of public transport networks? Infostructure: A Transport Research Project, a book written by Encircle… Read more

Tools for Multi-stakeholder Decision Making

Public transport is an area in which a number of key stakeholders overlap – including state and federal governments, particular government bodies, private entities, and the wider public. When there’s a range of interested parties, it can make it difficult to have a clear and decisive process in place for planning and executing a project…. Read more

“What the Bus” and Why Should I Bother? Designing For User Participation in a Public Transport Information System

In this article, we described the design and evaluation of a mobile application to show crowd-sourced bus arrival times and other information about buses. We wanted to use the power of passengers to collect and share data on the bus network at a time when there was no real time data about bus arrival times… Read more