Archive Page 2

I demoed Commons at the New York Tech Meetup (NYTM) in November at the 92ndY.  NYTM is a monthly gathering of the NY Tech community, mostly comprised of folks from the startup scene, including developers, investors, entrepreneurs, hackers, founders, etc.  The theme for this month’s meetup featured innovative ideas originating at NY universities. The 700 house seats were sold out for our demos.

Here’s the video, go to 2:00 minute mark for my presentation:

NYTech Meetup November 2, 2011 from NY Tech Meetup on Vimeo.

Forbes published a piece on the event, and featured my project:

I opened the demo with a quick look at the current NYC 311 mobile app and talked about how it’s user experience is really limited in terms of offering a way for people to track their reports, bringing people back to the app on a daily basis, and delighting users. Then I spent about 4 minutes showing the Commons app, talking about the importance of making citizen reporting more social. Afterwards, we had a brief Q&A on stage which was great.

Some of the NYTM tweets I got from attendees were pretty funny, including the guy who made the NYC 311 app. He said “I made the NYC 311 app, and I agree that it’s pretty frikkin boring!” Sort of hilarious.

I saw Talk to Me, a new exhibit that opened this summer at the Museum of Modern Art, exploring “Design and the Communication between People and Objects”. I was expecting the exhibit to be more focused on interactive media and human-computer interaction design, but actually I discovered that it is about more than good interface design or the interactions between people and technology, it’s about the meaning and emotion behind the communication between people and objects.

On the floor, I found myself much more drawn to the displays about human-to-human communications, and the language patterns we see in these methods of communication, than I was to the interactive media displays. I don’t know if this is due to my predilection for languages and culture, but most likely so. graffiti taxonomy

One of my favorite displays was the “Graffiti Taxonomy: New York and Paris” by Evan Roth, 2009 and 2011. He cataloged characters from graffiti tags into letterform and typography taxonomies. In doing so, he isolated the ten most commonly used letters in graffiti (A, E, I, K, N, O, R, S, T, and U) and displayed these crowdsourced catalogues to show the different regional styles, commonalities, and deviations among each letterform.

Here’s a photo I took of the “S” form.

The other display that I really liked was the “Homeless City Guide”, by Emily Read and Chen Hsu, 2007. These two ethnographers developed a pictorial code for homeless people to communicate with each other about safety, shelter, dangerous places, free food, and other important events, by writing on walls, sidewalks, and other surfaces in chalk.
homeless city guide
These non-permanent marks keep the information up-to-date and relevant, like a Twitter feed, that is somewhat ephemeral in nature and always changing with the times. This is very important on the streets when things are changing so rapidly from one day to the next.

The tagline is “Make Your Mark and Help Others to Read the City”.

I especially liked that they even attempted to introduce a rating system for some of the symbols to give a more qualitative aspect to the message. For example, the symbol for “soup run” has a rating associated with it.

I wanted to see a video about the design and development of the code, but they didn’t have any to watch. And I wanted to know what homeless people thought of this code, and if they created any additional symbols on their own.

There were some other projects that I enjoyed seeing at the exhibit, but these two really resonated with me. I really like these simple forms of communication that we develop, despite the fact that our society is in the age of cloud computing, mobile computing, and the like. The simplest forms of communication and language, like pictures and symbols, are still useful and relevant because of the meaning and emotionality that they convey.

In the realm of interface design, how should web interfaces be colored, spaced, formatted, accessed, ordered, architected, and what sort of content should be where and why. Our class did an Interface Design Roundup to collect a set of useful digital design tips.

Here are some tips that I’ve found useful in my work over the years:

    Consistency with the overall device experience is more important than consistency across platforms.

    Make objects consistent with their behavior. Make objects that act differently look different.

    Consistent standards. Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

    Choose metaphors well, metaphors that will enable users to instantly grasp the finest details of the conceptual model.

    Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue.
    Make actions reversible. Support undo and redo.

    Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

    Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

    Use status mechanisms to keep users aware and informed.

    Offer users stable perceptual cues for a sense of “home”. Stable visual elements not only enable people to navigate fast, they act as dependable landmarks, giving people a sense of “home.”

    Reduce the user’s experience of latency. Communicate the potential length of wait time through an animated progress indicator or message.

    The back button is our friend.

    Text that must be read should have high contrast.

    Use font sizes that are large enough to be readable on standard monitors.

    Test with representative users well before a product ships.


Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics.

Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini’s list of basic principles for interface design.

UX Booth and mobile UX design.

We should create designs that are appropriate to the audience, the location, and the purpose. This means that a product or service should take on a different appearance, different modes of operation, depending upon its intended function.

Donald Norman talks about this idea in his book, Emotional Design, which is more of a study of the emotional and social effects of good (and bad) design on humans than his first book, The Design of Everyday Things, which talks a lot about the cognitive aspects of design and really defines the field of study we know today as human-centered design. Both books are a great read and I highly recommend them to designers and artists alike.

What I like best about Norman’s philosophy is the emphasis he places on thinking about how objects evoke certain emotions and feelings from people when we use them. The history of people’s interactions, the associations that people have with objects, and the memories they evoke are really interesting. The realm of feelings is very powerful because our emotions reflect our personal experiences, thoughts, and memories. “Special” items evoke meaningful memories and stories for people, and it is very difficult to disrupt these deep connections that we have with objects in our lives.

In his book, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer explains how our brain makes decisions and learns from mistakes, and how we can “feel” intrinsically rewarded by getting what we thought we would get. It all happens through neuron dopamine receptors in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the part of our brain involved in the detection of errors and the revision of future predictions about expected outcomes.

What’s really interesting about the neuroscience research that Lehrer writes about is that it reveals why people have expectations about events in their lives and why they can get easily frustrated or disappointed if those expectations aren’t met, and how people learn from those disappointments and form new patterns of predictions for future events.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on my dopamine neurons.”

The implications of this research on the field of design is clear. It’s so very important for designers to consider people’s expectations when designing anything, whether it be a product or service, as this kind of an understanding can be very useful when trying to map new interactions to neural patterns that have been defined over a long period of time. The best designs meet people’s expectations and strategies for neural processing of events from the start, without forcing people to learn by trial and error. The best designs make it easy for our brains to map well-understood metaphors for things that we’ve used our past to new things that we’re using in the present.



We designed a light sculpture, called Pandora, inspired by the Italian Futurist and Cubist art movements. The Futurists were obsessed with speed, technology, machines, cities, and industrialization, and our light sculpture echoes these themes: rapidly changing flares and shadows, pieces broken up and reassembled, with a lot of geometric movement.

My partner, Thitiphong Luangaroonlerd, and I really liked the use of a single light source and water in 3D sculpture, and we wanted to combine these two materials in our piece. We both like the work of Olafur Eliasson, and artist who uses these mediums in his art. We chose to use glass and mirrors, water, and a green laser as mediums in our light sculpture, as we wanted to explore the effects of “bouncing” and “diffusing” the laser light, to manipulate how the diffraction of light waves creates beautiful shapes and movement against the black darkness.

We were lucky that my husband owns a high-powered, 300 milliwatt 532 nanometer (green) laser. We constructed a completely pitch black room and used this single laser to create the green light in our sculpture. We filled several glass containers with water and placed mirrors at different angles to catch the light.

The laser is roughly 60 times more powerful than a standard laser pointer, so Thitiphong and I had to wear protective glasses when we were using it. This safety precaution made it quite difficult for us to see the laser effects in real-time, so we had to experiment and record our movements on video and then play back the video to see what worked and what didn’t work. This method actually created a really fun, adventurous dynamic in our work and allowed us to be really free with our creations. In the end, I think this experimental aesthetic contributed a lot to our final piece.

Here are two demos from our laser testing. We started by testing the laser in a single vase filled with water placed on top of a mirror.

Demo 2

Demo 1

Here are some Futurist and Cubist pieces from the 20th century that inspired us in our work with this piece of art:

Gino Severini

Carlo Carra

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson

Giacomo Balla

I wonder what these guys would do with lasers.

Light Sculpture


Our first lecture in Video Sculpture focused on the importance of light as a medium in 20th and 21st century art. We briefly looked at some examples of Renaissance and Luminism art, and the visual effects of light and color, and we discussed the physics of light, and the physiological and psychological effects of color theory. We also looked at the styles of Futurism, Cubism and Installation art, and discussed the effects of movement and contrast in 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional works that are oftentimes site-specific.

My two favorite artists we examined this week are Dan Flavin and Olafur Eliasson.

Flavin uses fluorescent light as a medium for creating light sculptures. His work mixes light and construction of geometric shapes and objects, sometimes blending colors together and other times filling a gallery’s interior or corridor with a single color. He built interiors that are white and reflective to give maximum attention to the lighting.

I like how Flavin’s light sculptures explore the characteristics of color, as if setting a “mood”, ranging from intensity to peacefulness. I’ve always loved stained-glass art because of the way the color patterns reflect on surfaces when light is shining brightly through, and Flavin’s work seems like a modern interpretation of this same effect.

Eliasson uses water, mist, mirrors, and lighting effects to transform public spaces and galleries into experiences. He really takes into account the physical space, and has built incredibly large works, for example filling the hall at the Tate Modern with his Weather Project, and building huge Waterfalls in New York City harbors.

My favorite installation of his was the indoor sun at the Tate Modern, in 2003, called ‘The Weather’. Even though the installation did not give off real physical heat, it made people feel like they were actually at the beach.

In particular, I really like Eliasson’s use of water to play with representations of natural and artificial light, as some of my work has also been using organic material, such as water, in physical computing and sensor networks.

See my Channels project from 2010.

My interview with Luke Fretwell, founder of GovFresh was posted today:

The 411 on the 311: Q&A with Commons founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick

We asked new 311 iPhone app Commons co-founder Suzanne Kirkpatrick to share her thoughts on the new venture, 311 and trends in open government and Gov 2.0.

What inspired you to create Commons?

Sometimes moving to a new place gives you a fresh perspective on routine activities. When I moved to NYC two years ago, I was surprised to see so many opportunities for neighborhood improvements near my home and school, and I was fascinated by NYC’s highly utilized 311 citizen reporting system. It was clear to me that NYC citizens care about improving their city, and that our City government is committed to listening to its citizens.

But one thing that struck me about these analog and digital methods of reporting was that people were not reporting as a community — they were reporting as individuals — many people reporting in parallel without any shared awareness of one another’s activities. I then thought about designing a virtual social system that mimics the town hall meeting, where one person reports a problem or suggests an improvement, and 49 people “vote it up” (or in today’s terms, “like” it). In today’s super connected world, we need a civic engagement system designed to support conversation among many people at once – and that is how I came up with the initial idea for Commons.

Then I started thinking about the ways that I could connect to my new neighbors on the issues that I care about in our neighborhood, while on the go and in short bursts of focused time and energy, kind of like playing a game that is on-going over time and is something that you keep coming back to check and make a move. Citizens are now used to having a digital presence that is de-coupled from our traditional notions of time and space.

We have apps for citizen reporting of problems and complaints, like 311, SeeClickFix, FixMyStreet, and we have apps for sharing ideas for improvement, like Give A Minute (Local Projects), but I have this notion that these two worlds should be united in one as they seem like two sides of the same coin to me. I believe these two methods complement each other for a more complete civic engagement experience, and Commons aims to fulfill this vision.

I’m a graduate student at ITP in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where I study interaction design, social software, and creative technology, a graduate researcher at the NYU Polytechnic Social Game Lab, spring intern at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Digital Coordination, and summer intern at Apple doing mobile user experience design, so I spend a lot of my time these days thinking about the intersection of these things.

Aren’t there enough 311 apps out there? How is Commons different?

We think Commons is one of the first in a new genre of “civic gaming”, a new approach to take citizen reporting social. It’s a mobile, location-aware civic media app for urban communities that merges methods from traditional citizen reporting tools, with gaming mechanics and social voting.

We hope that Commons will challenge the ways in which people think about their role in their communities, and in civic life in general. We hope it will transform the way that we as citizens engage with one another about the issues and places we share in common, and how we approach solving many of our own problems before government even gets involved.

Commons provides a fun and constructive outlet for what is usually a frustrating experience of complaining about how broken your city is. And it goes way beyond reporting a pothole — in fact, if you report a pothole in the game, you most likely won’t win very many votes or kudos from your fellow neighbors because the game is designed to reward creative solutions and collaborative problem-solving. We already have apps and websites for reporting potholes, like SeeClickFix and FixMyStreet in the UK, and like the NYC Daily Pothole, so we’re not aiming to create another one.

In our 3 playtests and on actual game day, players said they really liked the positive social mechanics and voting aspect of the game, and how ‘community leaders’ seem to naturally emerge from the streams of activity.

I don’t think people need attractive game mechanics to want to get involved in community service or town hall meetings, or any other sort of activity. On the other hand, elements of fun and competitive play introduce opportunities for serendipitous social interactions and competing to do good, which I love. Doing activities with a thematic approach, or mission-centered perspective, helps keep people focused on the objective while having fun and making each individual’s input count.

How do you hope to officially integrate Commons with municipality 311 centers?

Commons is a social platform that leverages crowdsourcing and location-based reporting techniques to improve city services and standards of living. This civic engagement game is a way to connect citizens through the places they share in common, and to enable the government to fix the right problems, faster. Through Commons, local government can 1) receive accurate and timely information, 2) identify priority areas, 3) efficiently allocate resources, and, ultimately, 4) demonstrate accountability to its citizens.

Our goal is to build the next version of Commons as a cross-platform app on iOS, Android, (and possibly RIM in cities where it makes sense), with SMS integration and interoperability with Open311 technologies and read/write APIs for each city, so that 311 teams can integrate with Commons on the backend to pull its incoming data into their current operating centers and visualize trends from the data in real-time.

It is our hope that the data gathered from Commons will be valuable to city governments and municipality 311 centers, whose mission it is to enable citizen-centric, collaborative government and to expand civic engagement through new digital tools and real-time information services.

What trends do you see occurring in open government / Gov 2.0 that you’re most excited about?

Commons is definitely Gov 2.1+, combining the powers of serendipitous social interactions, mobile crowdsourcing, and game mechanics.

Some of the rad trends in Gov 2.0 that I’m digging right now are: 1) cities supporting open data initiatives with read/write APIs, 2) mobile and location-based services, e.g. mobile banking, m-health, and m4d (mobile for development), 3) open standards for 311 services, like Open311, 4) citywide grassroots innovation contests, like NYCBigApps and DataSF App Contest, 5) open sharing of dev tools and code so we don’t all re-invent the same apps over again for each city, e.g. Code for America. I am also a huge supporter of bottom-up projects like Open Street Map, where citizens can collaboratively edit geographical data about their cities and neighborhoods and build useful and relevant maps from scratch.

Download Commons on iTunes.

Video from nydailynews: “Taking the Town Hall Virtual”

Grateful for the nice Vimeo short produced by The Collaborative, where I talk about my involvement with the 2011 Games for Change Festival.

Games for Change Festival 2011: Suzanne Kirkpatrick from Games for Change on Vimeo.

During the festival, Games for Change ran nine 1-minute videos of games for change funders, creators, leaders. These are great, thanks guys!

Commons mobile app was just accepted to the iTunes app store.  My first app in the app store.

The app is available in English for free download, try it out next time you’re in New York City.  The next release for other cities is coming soon.