Remaking a city by rethinking its design

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Date:
05-Nov-2013
Input sound file:
1001.MP3

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Session Name: Using Data to Program Creative Spaces
Chris Albrecht
Jennifer Magnolfi
Video, Sunday Reset

Chris Albrecht
02:57
[music]
How’s everybody doing, you have a good lunch? Those chocolate chip cookies were rich, wish I had some milk to go along with them. But they were delicious. Welcome back to the second half of the first day of the GigaOM Roadmap 2013 show. Just a couple of things as we’re filing in, please scoot in so people can get in and not sit in the aisle way, and we get reported by the fire marshal and everything. Just avoid all that, just move in. Also, mute your cellphones, you can still do what you need to do but just make sure they aren’t a nuisance. We haven’t really used this but audience microphones – if the speaker makes time for a question, raise your hand, and the microphone runner will come to you. And then, WiFi our network, if you’re just joining us right now, the network is “GigaOM”, the password is “roadmap2013” all lower case. Join us on Twitter. I think we were trending, “Roadmap2013” was trending a little while ago, so that’s pretty cool, thanks for helping us do that. Download the mobile app, you can take a picture of the QR code at the back of your lanyard, and you can exchange contact information by taking a picture of the front of the lanyard. It’s pretty neat, it’s magic! We’re just going to ease on in to the second half of the day. We’re going to start with Jennifer Magnolfi, and she’s going to be talking about using data to program creative spaces, welcome Jennifer to the stage.

[applause]
Jennifer Magnolfi
04:18
Thank you, Chris. We can get started. Our human experience, not only our user experience in digital space, how we connect with each other, how we learn, how we collaborate online is changing expectations over physical environments. Nowhere is this more obvious in designing high-tech offices or start-up spaces. Whether we do them ourselves or have somebody else design them for us, we want them to be high energy, to be fast, to be re-configurable by the user, and to give us visual and spatial access to our data. We want spaces to be connected because our lives are connected. One of the reasons for this is because we have become accustomed subconsciously to a design property we usually experience in software environments, programmability. So today I’m going to talk about programmable habitats, which is an area of research I have been exploring for a long time. I’ve been exploring programmability in creating physical space. This is, in other words, my own road map.
Jennifer Magnolfi
05:30
My research started in spaces like this, where habitation itself, human habitation is a function of programmed interactions between the user and his or her data and machines in this space. The entire habitat is, in fact, a user experience design problem. Because of the investment and the time and money and human capital required, these or similar habitats are usually designed around very controlled variables and for very specific data functions. Yet, if you understand this system further, you see that the core design logic of this habitat is actually to support a human user, to face unpredictable variables when variables emerge. So, in other words, a system like this which is highly controlled, is inherently designed to support a user’s creativity in facing unpredictable variables and predictable change. In some cases, these are variables for which we have no mental model, so think about the variables of a journey to Mars, where we have no processes.
Jennifer Magnolfi
06:32
In applying this research in high end labs or corporate offices; programming environments, one of the design requirements I find in my work is often productivity. This is a research collaboration back in my time at Herman Miller with Microsoft. This is predictable, as companies compete and try to increase the productivity of their employees. The question of work space and technology becomes a strategic design question and investment question; should we work from the office, from home, what types of tools do we use for sharing information, connecting with each other. When you apply this research and you actually go and look at environments at the edge of the world of work, you realize that a lot of these things don’t matter. In co-working spaces and hacker maker spaces, where communities naturally emerge, new design drivers are at play. The design drivers are serendipity co-creation, and the most powerful one from a user experience perspective, from a business perspective, is accelerating one’s learning and creating new knowledge. These tiny ecosystems at work actually replicate in analogue ways, the ways in which we interact in digital space and create new data. Because of this, the system yields higher returns. It’s like measuring instead of cost-per-foot of a work-space, the creativity and the number of new ideas per square foot, per hours of user space.
Jennifer Magnolfi
07:55
Inevitably, programmability requires entirely new metrics. So, while it’s really early in my field of work, one can already see how programmability and programmable habitats, even though this idea comes from digital data, it’s already shifting the way we create our spaces, even the most analogue ones. And if you understand this design logic, you actually can scale it. This was the context of my last applied research project. My sponsor tasked me to developing a system to accelerate or kick-start the preconditions of co-working these types of spaces, effectively generating the demand for co-working or for spaces where users would increase their knowledge before the buildings even existed.
Jennifer Magnolfi
08:43
My talk today is about using programmability design principles to accelerate these new user experiences in our world, in our habitats. And I learned a great deal doing this in a place where I least expected to use it, in downtown Las Vegas. Since returning home, I’ve had the opportunity to synthesize my findings, and I’m going to share some here, fully knowing that in no way can summarize the complexity of project of this scale and rapid change. At the time, the project was both simple and extraordinary. The context was Zappos had moved its corporate headquarters to downtown Las Vegas from the Henderson suburbs to the former city hall. CEO Tony Hsieh, my sponsor, made a significant personal investment and commitment to revitalize the downtown area in what is now known as the Downtown Project, which I’m sure needs no introduction here. Like any of my previous experiments or R & D work in labs or tech offices, this was the equivalent of the Wild West in programmability. There were no controlled variables, no platform, no defined set of users, not even a physical environment, so I can only hope to paint a picture of what this experience was like.
Jennifer Magnolfi
10:01
In designing programmable habitats, we say that everything is recognized as both digital and physical. So in simulating this and assuming that this downtown neighborhood can be a giant programmable habitat, of sorts, interactions were programmed in a way to increase resilience in the system. Basically, alternating random collisions of people and users in the real world, with focus and purposeful action, always at really high speeds. The habitat itself was a distributed network of spaces and user groups throughout the downtown. Very similar to what companies will look like in the future and users: employers and non-employers alike, would naturally move from one space to the other, quickly developing patterns, work processes and shared visions about their work. So, when I looked at the digital space where these interactions were happening, the pattern began to reflect in the data the increase of speed of online interaction across all these verticals of things that people were passionate about. So, meet-ups, pizza nights, monthly gatherings, monthly dinners etc. would naturally extend to digital space for the users.
Jennifer Magnolfi
11:07
Another thing that, for me, was strategically and personally important was introducing empathy in the system. If we can’t understand each-other’s differences, we certainly can celebrate each-other’s differences, let alone work together to build something. In this case, the analogue of co-designing a shared, co-working space like other analogues was something that created the conditions for actually seeing and listening to each-other. What I started seeing was that, while the users of the physical spaces online would actually peak right before in-real-life analogues would exist, and would drastically fall, shift to the physical environment where activity would actually increase and then become stabilized. In fact, what this says is that we actually like to hang out in the real world together, we like to work together and when we feel a sense of community, being together in physical space has new meaning, and directly impacts our work and our creativity.
Jennifer Magnolfi
12:09
Finally, at very specific moments in time in the system, moments of highest potential, we increase momentum and intensity. This basically means that we created the conditions for maximum increased knowledge transfers with people. This is a community mind-share meeting where hundreds of volunteer hours created and gave life to new ideas that people were passionate about, and the glue holding it together was the increase in trust in the network, something intangible and quite personal.
Jennifer Magnolfi
12:41
I call these projects “Proof of Concept” projects. Each of them was a unique design experience that had very unique creative signature and a life cycle in the history of the work that we were doing. As the early data revealed, for me, today I think it would be something even more compelling. At the time, it was a very small sample base. Something remarkable was already happening, and you could see it in both physical and digital space while you programmed. A work ecosystem was emerging. An organization, I would say, whose output (if you wanted to talk productivity) was accelerating new projects, new ideas and new leaders. So as I mentioned early, a programmable habitat is a system that is inherently designed to support creative problem solving, creativity. And these users address pretty tough design problems in their downtown habitat, in ways that I found incredibly meaningful. From an engineering perspective, they were unpredictable design variables that I didn’t expect to emerge from the system. From a human perspective, I found them to be, to this day, incredibly remarkable, humbling and inspiring, even months later.
Jennifer Magnolfi
13:57
Today, I want to share some of their stories, some of these user experiences. In the slide, for example, you see the Sunday Reset project. Vegas is not known for being a healthy city, and the sight of a group of people passionate about health and wellness at 4:00AM before the sunrise or occupying an old abandoned church training — because this little project hoped to press the reset button the first Sunday of every month, and it has been sold out and continues to thrive. Here’s a video with some of their stories.
Video, Sunday Reset
14:39

Stretch helps people learn how you create recovery after going for a run, a walk, or a bike ride. Act – that’s the thing that we want you to take. That’s your little bit of education that we hope you take and apply. In meditation, we like to use the term “gift” yourself. We want you to gift yourself this time to find peace, to become centered, to start on your act. Eat – what can you say about eat? Eat is essential, we have to eat. Maybe we help change the way you look at food – vegetables in particular – and how things are put together.
[music]
Jennifer Magnolfi
15:41
So, while you wouldn’t associate Vegas with health and wellness, this little community actually designed and experienced to change that and shift that perception. Equally, at the time that I was there, Vegas was not known for its tech scene but a few community members of VegasTech, after the community mind-share, decided to change that and to take their work and their voices all the way to Austin. So here’s some of their design experience.

[music]
Jennifer Magnolfi
16:42
So, without real planning, this was a variable that wasn’t predicted. This little user group creating a context where they raised $350,000, put 140 members of the VegasTech community onto a bus downtown and was the number one trending topic in Austin for a couple of days. Clearly, leaving their mark for something that was important to them.
Jennifer Magnolfi
17:06
The last Proof of Concept project I will show really says something about how when communities get together, you can really change and program your environments in extraordinary ways. This was an old block in under-utilized downtown Las Vegas, and Vegas here again is not known for its green spaces, but $10,000 was raised, and in the course of 48 hours, the design experience transformed this empty abandoned block into this, really shifting the perception and mental model of what a green block would be like in downtown. These are their stories.
Video, Sunday Reset
17:39

This is like Extreme Home Makeover, only the Greener Blocks division. When we came to this block, it was all grey. We understand how important it is have green space. The project is aimed at a 48-hour experience of a community and what it would feel like to be in a greener, healthier block in downtown Las Vegas. We reached out to the community. It was very much ground support. We did exclude anyone. All ideas were welcome. One person can only do so much, but when you get a movement of individuals taking it on and running with it, it’s very de-centralized. It’s almost like a bike club. It gets out of hand but in a good way. We love the city that we live in and we want to bring people in from the suburbs and show them what’s in their backyards and the urban landscapes that we have here. We’re beginning to do it for real, we’re creating greener blocks and greener areas downtown that are permanent, that are not temporary. They will not disappear. They will stay there. I like the whole sense of community that it brought to the downtown area. What we have is very passionate and engaged and committed individuals who have put their heads together. I love downtown. It’s very much a local effort of local community members who believe it’s needed for their community. It’s a place where we can try to work together to see what can happen. Magic can happen when people get together. We came together and just made it happen.
[music]
Jennifer Magnolfi
19:15
So, I end with this slide which to me said quite a bit about what I gained in my experience. I came into this project as an expert of programming, interactions and physical environments, learned quite a bit. One of the major things: thinking that our world is a very connected world and, in building our spaces, these properties, these ideas and the way we interact with each other is actually unlocking creative potential that we couldn’t have foreseen before. Perhaps, some of our knowledge and technology begins to apply and change the way we creatively shape our own communities and our own cities. Thank you.

[applause]