What Making Friends with a Duck Can Teach Us About Urban Design

Milan Metthey spent months trying to hang out with a duck. What he learned might help us design cities that function well for multiple species.


Over at We Make Money Not Art, Regine Debatty introduces us to Milan Metthey, a Design Interactions student at the Royal College of Art, London, who has spent the past couple of months trying to make friends with a duck.

For his first attempt (documented in the video above), Metthey scanned his face into 3D modeling software and melded it with the head of a duck, "in order to get a new hybrid duck with my own facial characteristics." He then put that new and, frankly, quite scary-looking head onto a remote-controlled duck, and sent his avian alter ego out onto the pond to make friends. Unsurprisingly, the other, "real" ducks want nothing to do with him.


Next, Metthey dressed up as a male Mallard duck, and filmed himself shuffling around in yellow leggings with a duck call in his mouth. But when he showed the resulting video to a lady duck, she refused to look him at all. Perhaps this is how ducks flirt, by playing hard to get, but the effect is disheartening.


Finally, Metthey realizes that if his appearance and moves won't win a lady duck's attention, he can always turn to bribes. He stages a one-on-one dinner with a friendly female, during which he snacks on sweetcorn while she gracefully nibbles at similar-looking yellow pellets of duck food. As Metthey explains to Debatty, dinner is definitely the most effective way to make friends with a duck, because "there was a magic element to trigger an interaction: food"

Aside from the inadvertent demonstration of the power of a shared meal to bring diverse groups together, and their whimsical charm, Metthey's experiments do serve an interesting purpose. His research is driven by the question of "how technology can help reduce the gap between species," particularly in the case of an animal—the Mallard duck—that is perceived as wild, and yet lives alongside us in our cities (his next project attempts to "enhance and facilitate cohabitation" with urban foxes).

As cities continue to grow, spreading outward across the landscape and into each other, it's worth thinking about how experiments like Metthey's might help us design urban ecologies that function equally well for all their animal inhabitants—as well as how technology could enhance our increasingly tenuous connection to the natural environment. The experience has certainly changed Metthey's relationship with ducks, as he explains to Debatty:

You inevitably do get closer to the animal when you design for it. Spending so much time with the duck in mind does have a big impact. However I do force myself to keep the relationship I have with them strictly professional. I don't want my feelings interfering with the project. I still eat duck from time to time even though now I take a different look at my plate.


Visit We Make Money Not Art to read Debatty's full interview with Metthey.

via Michael Belanger / Flickr

The head of the 1,100-member Federal Judges Association on Monday called an emergency meeting amid concerns over President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr's use of the power of the Justice Department for political purposes, such as protecting a long-time friend and confidant of the president.

Keep Reading
via United for Respect / Twitter

Walmart workers issued a "wake up call" to Alice Walton, an heir to the retailer's $500 billion fortune, in New York on Tuesday by marching to Walton's penthouse and demanding her company pay its 1.5 million workers a living wage and give them reliable, stable work schedules.

The protest was partially a response to the company's so-called "Great Workplace" restructuring initiative which Walmart began testing last year and plans to roll out in at least 1,100 of its 5,300 U.S. stores by the end of 2020.

Keep Reading
via Rdd dit / YouTube

Two people had the nerve to laugh and smirk at a DUI murder sentencing in Judge Qiana Lillard's courtroom and she took swift action.

Lillard heard giggles coming from the family of Amanda Kosal, 25, who admitted to being drunk when she slammed into an SUV, killing Jerome Zirker, 31, and severely injuring his fiance, Brittany Johnson, 31.

Keep Reading