Designing a New Way to Interact With Your City

Colleen Miller's See Spot Run NYC finds off-leash areas for dogs and their owners Last October, I happened to be visiting the new MFA in...

Colleen Miller's See Spot Run NYC finds off-leash areas for dogs and their owners

Last October, I happened to be visiting the new MFA in Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in New York where I overheard a group of students who were talking more like urban planners than interaction designers. They were tossing out factoids about public transportation and park acreage, comparing stats on traffic and recycling. They were discussing their new assignment: Chris Fahey's Interaction Design Fundamentals class had been tasked with creating applications-what we all now call "apps"-for handheld mobile devices. The excitement was stemming from the fact that their tools had bubbled up right from below their feet: They were taking the city's raw data and manufacturing it into usable information for its residents and visitors.


Derek Chan's NYC Landmark Hunt turns sightseeing into a game; Kristin Gräfe's MillionTreesNYC used a New York City Parks social events calendar

The assignment, it turned out, was inspired by a real-life opportunity: NYC BigApps, a competition initiated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, whose winners were announced last Friday. More than $20,000 in prizes were awarded to the creators of apps that range from grand prize winner WayFinder NYC, which gives directions to the nearest subway station, to Big Apple Ed, which helps educate parents (and students) about local schools. For Fahey, the assignment was the perfect way to tie together several in-school concepts into a real-world project. "In class we had already been discussing ubiquitous computing, social computing, and system design: the idea that interactivity was something not just embedded in devices and machines, but also into larger systems like companies and cities," he says.

Katie Koch's NYCgo Restaurant Finder pulls hotel and restaurant information from New York's tourism site,

In the last few years, more and more cities have opened up their vast troves of uncrunched data for designers, creating an unparalleled opportunity for citizens to become involved in government and urban issues. For interaction designers, this also represents a very concrete way to be of service to their community, and can help urban leaders to think about them as more than just the people to turn to when they need a new website designed. "One of the most interesting qualities of interaction design is that, even when you're given a limited set of inputs and outputs, a lot of powerful stuff can still be accomplished," says Fahey. "Think of the Nike+ ecosystem, where a whole universe of meaning is opened up by simply two bits of data: (a) time, and (b) the number of steps you took in that time. Everything in the Nike+ ecosystem, from the data visualizations to the training programs, to the competitions and communities, comes from people generating these two bits of data."

Stephanie Aaron's Book 'Em integrates data from three systems: the New York Public Library, the Queens Public Library, and the Brooklyn Public Library

While none of the students have actually produced their apps-yet-the assignment transformed their relationship with New York. They began to think about their cities as generators of information, and their roles as designers as almost like urban translators. "By starting out with raw, plain old data-just a list of trees and their coordinates, for example, or the recycling capture rate by neighborhood-the students were challenged to think about what the data really means," says Fahey. "How perhaps that data has some meaning inside of it waiting to be revealed through good user experience design. And how revealing meaning in data can change the city itself."

Clint Beharry created NY Loves U based on Richard Layard's Big Seven factors of happiness

As a culture, we seem to be obsessed with having a constant flow of information at our fingertips, from augmented reality applications to visualizations like GOOD's own Transparency infographic series. The field will continue to evolve as new technology will allow us to better integrate factors like behavior and location. But it's the designers' role to enrich the way we can respond to the data, and to each other, says Fahey. "I would love to see important data interpreted in more conversational ways, rather than just through data visualizations," he says. "Interaction, it is often said, is cognitively a form of conversation, between humans and machines, systems, and data."

Russell Maschmeyer's Hot Spot NYC merges information from NYC Data Mine to sites like Yelp; Gene Lu's New Green City lets residents see how their neighborhood ranks in overall sustainability

One example might be an exciting collaboration that was recently announced at the federal level: Expert Labs, a think tank filled with technologists, scientists and designers who will help citizens communicate with their government more effectively by developing tools that can easily track, collect and disseminate information between them. "This forces us to confront the question of what democracy is in a digitally-connected era," says Fahey. Maybe his students can take on that challenge next semester.

Eric St. Onge's Active NYC helps people find athletic facilities in their neighborhoods.

Thanks to SVA's MFA in Interaction Design program and the nine students from Fahey's class who passed along their concepts to GOOD.


The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.


Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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