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Future Voices

Future Voices

Teaching how to design futures for vacant spaces

Teaching how to design futures for vacant spaces

A set of participatory interactive experiences designed to activate unused and underutilized spaces around Pittsburgh by crowdsourcing community visions and projecting them into those spaces.

In collaboration with Hannah Rosenfeld, Leah Jiang, Monique Smith in 2016
I was responsible for prototyping, event performance, documentation.
Featured by Instructables.com

After an extensive research exploring how technology might create impact in Pittsburgh, we became interested in urban projection as an engaging way to invite the community into the process of imagining futures for underutilized spaces around the city. To test this idea, we hosted a participatory interactive projection experiment during the First Fridays festival, a monthly event that brings art and foot traffic to vacant spaces around Garfield, a neighborhood that heavily experiencing gentrification.

The components of Corus are the main candle in the bedroom and other “satellite” candles around the home. The app connects to the main candle through the cloud. The satellite candles are connected to the main candle through Bluetooth and can also control the smart lights such as Philips Hue.  Users can control the lights two ways: through the app and by using gestural inputs on the candles themselves.

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With a van's worth of equipment, we took over a vacant lot in Garfield, Pittsburgh and invited the public to share their visions for the future of this rapidly changing neighborhood. The positive response we have got has pushed us to think how we might scale down the technology behind the design futuring through projection more accessible to a wider audience like children.

Urban projection proved to be a powerful way to engage the public, and our participants were delighted to see their drawings brought to life. We did, however, identify opportunities for improvement. While some people stuck to the prompt, many of the responses we got were more playful self-expressions than specific visions for the future. This highlighted the learned nature of design futuring and the need to teach it.

Participants gather around a lightbox, which is monitored with a webcam from the top. A similar but non-digital setup has been used on overhead projectors.The webcam's feed is processed through Millumin software, which includes inverting the colors of the sketches and recording the last n of frames with a Quartz Composer sketch as well as a development UI. Then through computer's display output (HDMI), Milumin output feed is screened with a preferably at least 4000 lumens projector. After setting up the projector, a projection surface with a high visibility is suggested for gathering passersby's attention and interest easily. The division of the labor is crucial for a healthy operation. In the event, I was the software operator, who was managing the Millumin while my peers are interacting with passersby.The power of our event came from the people, who was cruising through Garfield. Most of our participants were strangers, who have seen our projection from distance and have got curious what is going on.

We were very excited to see that our youngest participants were some of the best at futuring. This pushed us towards the second phase of our project - a Future Voices Toolkit, which we facilitated 2017 Spring. The FV Toolkit is an open-source resource to support educators in conducting design thinking workshops. 

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The next phase of this project will be the development of an open-source, digital toolkit to support educators in conducting hands-on design thinking workshops with design futuring emphasis. In addition, rather than being another unapplied design thinking methodology, Future Voices will take on relevant issues and familiar spaces within the community as material for applied design projects.

We've envisioned Future Voices as a curriculum that will reflect the research, ideation and evaluation phases of the design process. The first module, Discover, will teach students to capture stories from their communities and reveal opportunities for change. Future will help them transform opportunities into imagined futures and bring them to life. Finally, Reflect will ask them to consider the impact of the futures.


 We've experimented extensively with making projector technology more accessible for our Future module of our curriculum to include the chances of its adoption. In reality, making a projector is incredibly simple - a generic flashlight and magnifying glass. We've built functional projectors from materials like flashlights, camera lenses, aluminum cans and office supplies using DIY instructions and downloadable files.

We've envisioned Future Voices as a curriculum that will reflect the research, ideation and evaluation phases of the design process. The first module, Discover, will teach students to capture stories from their communities and reveal opportunities for change. Future will help them transform opportunities into imagined futures and bring them to life. Finally, Reflect will ask them to consider the impact of the futures.


 We've experimented extensively with making projector technology more accessible for our Future module of our curriculum to include the chances of its adoption. In reality, making a projector is incredibly simple - a generic flashlight and magnifying glass. We've built functional projectors from materials like flashlights, camera lenses, aluminum cans and office supplies using DIY instructions and downloadable files.

We've envisioned Future Voices as a curriculum that will reflect the research, ideation and evaluation phases of the design process. The first module, Discover, will teach students to capture stories from their communities and reveal opportunities for change. Future will help them transform opportunities into imagined futures and bring them to life. Finally, Reflect will ask them to consider the impact of the futures.


 We've experimented extensively with making projector technology more accessible for our Future module of our curriculum to include the chances of its adoption. In reality, making a projector is incredibly simple - a generic flashlight and magnifying glass. We've built functional projectors from materials like flashlights, camera lenses, aluminum cans and office supplies using DIY instructions and downloadable files.

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Our process was not linear, but throughout our pivots, we remained rooted in learning and insight from research. We began with a broad project brief, to explore how technology might create an impact in the city of Pittsburgh. After a round of exploratory research, we defined a design question, synthesized and crafted principles to guide our ideation. We developed initial concepts, took them into the field for evaluation and iterated upon ideas to arrive at Final Fridays event.
 

We immersed ourselves within Pittsburgh's diverse communities to identify challenges and opportunities for a technological intervention. We interviewed designers, community activists, and local residents. We attended community events and spent a day wandering through the neighborhoods of Wilkinsburg and Homewood, both struggling with the vacancy and the rapid development. 
 

Our exploratory research highlighted the vacancy, the struggles of local business and supporting grassroots development as opportunity areas.  After a lengthy research debrief and synthesis session, we settled on vacancy and began brainstorming how we might employ technology to create impact in this area. We crafted a design question and developed the following principles to guide our design process.

Gather - Bring people together to exchange ideas and challenge conceptions about safety and community.
Inspire - Visualize possibility, make abstract futures concrete and inspire people to build stronger, more vibrant communities.
Empower - Give residents tools and know-how they need to take control over their spaces before investors do.

With our design principles' guidance, we developed sacrificial concepts. These served as stimuli for evaluative research, each reflecting an extreme design solution to test the limits of our ideas and stimulate conversation with experts and users.

Storyboard-LightYourOwnWay
Storyboard-LightYourOwnWay2

Light your own way is a series of concepts that explores how light might activate unused space. The first iteration is a concept for a motion-sensing light installation that would both draw attention to underutilized spaces as well as make them feel safer and more welcoming. The second one improves the concept by exploring interactive light boxes with embedded projectors. It also explores activating unused spaces with community ideas to encourage ownership.
 

Light your own way is a series of concepts that explores how light might activate unused space. The first iteration is a concept for a motion-sensing light installation that would both draw attention to underutilized spaces as well as make them feel safer and more welcoming. The second one improves the concept by exploring interactive light boxes with embedded projectors. It also explores activating unused spaces with community ideas to encourage ownership.

Light your own way is a series of concepts that explores how light might activate unused space. The first iteration is a concept for a motion-sensing light installation that would both draw attention to underutilized spaces as well as make them feel safer and more welcoming. The second one improves the concept by exploring interactive light boxes with embedded projectors. It also explores activating unused spaces with community ideas to encourage ownership.

Storyboard-CrowdsourcingTheFuture
Storyboard-BuileaBetterWilingsburg

To push the idea of crowdsourcing community input about the future, we also developed two concepts for physical and digital interventions. The first one is a physical installation that invites the community to build their visions for the future of a space. The construction attracts attention, while a recorder urns these efforts into an e-archive. The second concept, which was the design direction for our urban projection event, is a digital kiosk that collects community responses to a prompt and projects them into physical space.
 

We took these concepts to community experts to get feedback on what they thought would work and where they saw opportunities for further exploration. They were excited about the use of light and projection to activate unused spaces and responded well to our concepts that involved community input. It was at this point that we focused our desire to explore urban projection as a collective design futuring tool.
 

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To invert the color of the webcam feed, we have started by working on Processing and OpenFrameworks (OF). Although Processing was sufficient, its stability affected our decision on using it in our event. Alternatively, we have experimented with OpenCV on OpenFrameworks, using a bg subtraction sketch.

To invert the color of the webcam feed, we have started by working on Processing and OpenFrameworks (OF). Although Processing was sufficient, its stability affected our decision on using it in our event. Alternatively, we have experimented with OpenCV on OpenFrameworks, using a bg subtraction sketch.

To invert the color of the webcam feed, we have started by working on Processing and OpenFrameworks (OF). Although Processing was sufficient, its stability affected our decision on using it in our event. Alternatively, we have experimented with OpenCV on OpenFrameworks, using a bg subtraction sketch.

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Although none of us have experience with any related platforms, we were able to have a working prototype. We have tried our initial prototype with a similar setup in our studio, which gathered many interest. Our meeting with Ali Momeni was a turning point, and we have decided to use Millumin with Ali's "livedraw" QC sketch.

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At the event, we had problems about stacking two projectors vertically, which wasn't possible. Then we decided to go with a single projector, and aligned our template, prompts etc. accordingly. Our most affecting problem was the noise of LED flickering of our lightbox. We overcame it digitally.

At the event, we had problems about stacking two projectors vertically, which wasn't possible. Then we decided to go with a single projector, and aligned our template, prompts etc. accordingly. Our most affecting problem was the noise of LED flickering of our lightbox. We overcame it digitally.

At the event, we had problems about stacking two projectors vertically, which wasn't possible. Then we decided to go with a single projector, and aligned our template, prompts etc. accordingly. Our most affecting problem was the noise of LED flickering of our lightbox. We overcame it digitally.

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We have begun working with our partner and CMU Professor Dan Lockton to develop the first of the Future Voices modules. We plan to pilot the Future module in early spring, 2017, after which we will begin developing the remaining modules.
We hoped to have the Future Voices Toolkit up and running as an open-source resource for educators by May 2017.

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