Increasingly all our projects at Sitra are being produced in as open and legible a fashion as possible. We’re a public body, with a mission of stimulating system change, and generating debates as to what that might mean, so sharing is a strategy as well as a (good) obligation.
With that in mind, we’ll be sharing some of our design work behind the product, as well as the field trips, conversations and reviews that we’ve been posting so far. As we’ve begun to indicate, we’re using the product to help unlock some of the wider ‘dark matter’ around the area—to do this, the product needs to be convincing, and in this case, a real service.
We believe products, services and projects need to be real—or at least convincing, plausible, executable—to uncover the details required to enable systemic change, as it is only in the process of actually building something that you find out the possibilities and the pitfalls, the barriers and the sweet spots. Under conditions of uncertainty, there is only one way to find out what needs to be done, and that’s to do it.
So here are a bunch of early product or service sketches from my notebook, over the last couple of months. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to share what they’ve turned into so far.
Most of them are a little oblique (!), sketched as they are in haste, often during a conversation, and as a way of exploring and opening up as much as refining and deciding. So they are ‘for the record’ at this point, as a form of reflection for the project, rather than particularly meaningful or insightful to others. However, I’ll try to unpack them a bit here and connect them more over time. These sketches have been long since superseded but they do describe where later iterations came from, to some extent.
The above scribble explores whether we might need a stream of good ideas—user-generated? curated?—which users can borrow from and translate for a particular place. “Translate” is the key interaction there, perhaps. Creating a set of global good ideas isn’t so hard, but unpacking why they worked and what is transferable or replicable is clearly key. It also (slightly unthinkingly?) suggests that everything in the platform is tied to a particular place.
This sketch notes the basic proposition or flow on the left facing page—possibilities are combined with places which generates proposals for projects, which in turn produces investigatory or transformational work in dark matter and debates, ultimately leading to decisions. (I think the alliteration here was actually accidental to begin with but pleasing!) The idea that debate should be part of the platform is key, given the lack of debate around public decisions in general in Finland—see the lower left sketch has three objects: project, process and debate (over-simplified.) Right-hand side has a level of refinement, with project details (text, a polaroid-like image), a kind of gauge of vote or funding (here, a bit like a vertical “totaliser“), and then, below, a few similar projects (around here, like this), debate, and on the right, bundles of legislation this project touches. This right hand side is quite key—what permits and other elements of legislation might this project hoover up, and how might it a) avoid unnecessary permits, and/or b) shape existing permits or legislation (or indeed organisational stance) to become better, smoother, more citizen-centred. This is one of the key aspects of the project for us (and so is somewhat different to the other crowdfunded/-sourced urbanism platforms we’ve seen emerging out there.)
Above, some variation on the previous idea, I think part of a sketch of part of a conversation with Bryan. On the right I can see a sense of a progress indicator, but rendered as the kind of ‘bits downloaded’ grid-like pattern familiar from Bittorrent clients like XTorrent (also a bit like a hard disk fragmentation diagram.) So this describes a picture being slowly assembled as the project progresses, through the accretion of elements like permits, funding, votes or time contributions from, as it says, lawyers or engineers working pro bono. Note also the text snippet “legibility engine”, which is partly how we see the project, with, lower down, “dark matter legibility” broken down into legislation, possible business models, and other (like demographic data on possible audience/customer base/local community etc.) The left hand page is a bit of a mystery, but I can see a scribble of a Camionette in there, and Bryan suggested idea of borrowing the “minimum viable project” concept i.e. setting a low bar, figuring out only what needs to be in the platform it to be viable, in order to enable prototyping and experimentation. And yet, lower down, testing the idea of “due diligence” (how diligent? how much is due?). Squaring this circle, bearing in mind we are often talking about public resources, public spaces, public projects, will be key.
Again, perhaps, the idea of collecting/accreting approvals and backing, but here the idea of using Foursquare-like badges comes in, somewhat (the grid of circular badges). I’ll come back to this (but just quickly, as a Foursquare user, it’s amazing how compelling the simple badge idea is, and what is often not discussed is how it produces a particular set of outcomes i.e. you only get badges for certain things. How can we use that to tend projects towards holistic decision-making, say, or even more explicitly, sustainable development? All will (may) become clear. You can see a scribble which says “BADGES + STAMPS”—this takes Foursquare and combines with the idea of civic seals. I was watching Borgen at the time, and like the official seal at the end of the title sequence. The scribble below is an abstracted rendition of the emblem of the City of Helsinki—a crown over a boat.) See also the phrase “civic Whac-A-Mole“, which I like but can’t remember what it refers to. Unless it was this sense of knocking off permits or hurdles as soon as they appear. Again, these are scribbles accompanying a conversation with Bryan, I believe. See also the idea of a “clinic” to help potential projects—this is super-interesting (borrowing a little from the VC world), but obviously expensive. Bottom left a list of potential field trips.
Here, not much, save the map becoming very prominent (since downplayed.) Still the vertical totaliser, but indicating a more hybridised progress bar, featuring as it does “milestones” like visiting a clinic, and so on. A horizontal version of this looks to be at the bottom.
Finally, the result of these scribbles (more or less, though they’re not in chronological order) is this fuller sketch, which has a lot of the detail. This is part of figuring “the edges of the system”, rather than an attempt to make a plausible wireframe of a real service you’d put in front of a user. In a sense, though, it should look vaguely plausible, and so vaguely self-explanatory. Vaguely. So we have a toolbar, focused solely on ‘Add a project’ (in reality, would be more.) And then a large image (we’ve later promoted video in our thinking, after Kickstarter, but here the photo), helping define a central block containing the project essentials—a text description, who’s proposed it, who’s backing it (not picking out yet what “backing” means), some icons indicating a sense of scale (big or small), timing (slow or fast) and value (in terms of shared value, or different kinds of value created.) Then a discussion, noting the social media icons (for it to be a genuine public service, it will need to be fully accessible to all users, one way or another, and so one can’t rely solely on Facebook comments, for instance. Probably.)
On the right, note that the totaliser has become three kinds of progress bar (yes, this is too much, but this is drawing everything in order to discover what to erase)—this is because we want to explore, at this point, crowdfunding as well as voting (here called “backing” which is confusing, with funding) and how far the project is through the approvals process. We need to balance all these elements somehow—or at least we do, at this stage. Note that the permits also generates a sort of “issues register” to deal with. We want to bring this stuff in explicitly, but without creating a foreboding sense of bureaucracy that puts people off, and simultaneously using the platform to look critically (constructively) at those permits and processes. This will be a particularly interesting tightrope walk in terms of both system and interaction design.