I aim to shape products, interfaces and services that mediate meaningful dialogues between people, systems and their environments within everyday life.

Posts tagged ‘urban’


Rainbow City

One of the best things I love about New York City is its brilliant use of urban space to engage the public.

On my recent trip to NYC, I had to re-visit the High Line, a revitalization project transforming the elevated rail line into an innovative public park and space for exploration, interaction, and art installations. This summer, the High Line opened the new section 2 extension that lead to a new public plaza below called The Lot. To my delight I encountered Rainbow City, a whimsical playground filled with giant colourful balloon sculptures (including a bouncy castle) inviting both children and adults and to play.

The installation has since been taken down, but now in its place is another great idea: an open air rollerskating rink. Wonderful inspiration for other urban cities.


Urban Typography

Axis Maps produced a gorgeous series of typographic maps illustrating geography through typography. The works appear as a typical maps viewed from afar, but close-up details reveal only words comprising the landscape. As described by the creators:

Created as a labor of love, these unique maps accurately depict the streets and highways, parks, neighborhoods, coastlines, and physical features of the city using nothing by type. Only by manually weaving together thousands upon thousands of carefully placed words does the full picture of the city emerge.

Some more interesting typographic posters at Ork Posters


CASCON 2009: Day 1

Today was my first day at IBM’s CASCON conference featuring talks and workshops from industry leaders and academic researchers.

Computing for a Smarter Planet


conference was kick-started with a keynote session by Martin Wildberger from IBM Canada speaking about Computing for a Smarter Planet. As the world becomes smaller, flatter and globally integrated, companies are adjusting their business processes to fit into this transforming ecosystem. As a result, technological solutions are providing businesses innovative and strategic ways for social change.

Wildberger describes our world as becoming instrumented through RFID and ubiquitous technologies, interconnected by networks, process chains and horizontal integration, and intelligent as we collect more data and information. The more data available can provide new insights and thus new intelligence to spur a process of innovation for smarter work, smarter food, or smarter telecom to name a few.

An interesting example discussed was the idea of smarter cities, in which we can incorporate sensor technologies through the infrastructure to make cities cleaner, safer and more efficient. The use of ubiquitous technology can effectively change social behaviours: traffic congestion and pollution in Stockholm was greatly reduced by automatic charges based on flow and time of day, acoustic sensors and recorders in Chicago allow police to triangulate the source of a gunshot, and drivers looking for parking in New York City can be immediately notified of the location of a free parking spot.

Notification Design in Collaborative and Social Networking Environments

This workshop looked at technology as interruption in our daily lives. Joanna McGrenere from UBC presented her research on notification design in the Jazz collaborative development environment before we broke into small groups to examine and discuss instances of notifications in technology, systems and devices. Phone rings, emails, and calendar reminders are obvious examples of notifications as are less noticeable forms such as seat belt signs, PA systems, traffic lights, microwave beeps and elevator floor signs to annoying examples like fire alarms and alarm clocks.

So when does notification become interruption and when are interruptions considered disruptive? We determined that notifications interrupt when they make us stop one activity to attend to the notification. Phone calls and alarm clocks are interrupters while seat belt signs and traffic lights are not.

In terms of the level of disruption that these interruptions cause, it depends on the context of the situation in which we find ourselves, the content of the interruption and how valuable it is to us, how much control we have over the situation, and the frequency and duration of the signal. A false fire alarm is then considered a huge disruptor as it has no value to us, forces us to evacuate a building, and continually signals off loudly for an extended period of time. Another big disruptor occurs when software/OS updates take full control of our system and we are left twiddling our thumbs in front of the screen until it has completed.

The subject of the new Google Wave came up in regards to its playback concept, in which the non-linear collaborative discussion can be played back see how the conversation unfolded in context.This could be an interesting platform in which notifications can be eliminated; rather than receive notifications every time an update has been made and by whom, users can now simply access the conversation whenever they want and still remain in the know.


Nuit Blanche ’09

cn_tower_moon Personal Path To Pregnancy (tm $$$bonuses, Contests, Upsells

last” src=”http://michelleli.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/deadbeatblast.jpg” alt=”deadbeatblast” width=”160″ height=”241″ />Torontonians came out in droves last Saturday for the 4th annual “free all-night contemporary art thing” that ran from sunset to sunrise. It’s spectacular to see such an event bring out so much people and liveliness out to the streets during the wee hours of the night to experience city-wide art exhibits. Projects ranged from the playful and participatory to the haunting and mysterious.

Of course, this type of creative happening also brings out spontaneous activities unplanned by the city: buskers with fire and chainsaws, collectives encouraging group gatherings in the middle of the street, and my favourite, an awesome 8-bit musician by the name of deadbeatblast performing electronic music using the sounds from playing GameBoy and Nintendo games.

Unfortunately in the 6 hour span I was out, I didn’t get the chance to see all the exhibits on my must-see list and completely had to skip out on an entire zone. It’s become a victim of its own success — meaning huge lineups and massive crowding. Some projects had up to 75 minute waiting times, such as the fantastic Space Becomes the Instrument (but quite worth it in the end.) In total I probably waited around 2.5 hours in lineups, which was a horribly inefficient way to spend my time.

Below maps the highlights of my evening from 10pm to 4am.



Tokyo Morning Commute

Experiencing a morning rush hour commute on Tokyo’s metro is a fascinating, albeit overwhelming ride. In a car stuffed with crushing bodies, just when I don’t think I can physically get any closer to a perfect stranger, more people take the plunge

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in at each new station stop.


In a city as dense as Tokyo, these cramped commutes are a daily fact of life. Imagine not even having the room to lift up your arm to hold on to a pole yet in the end not making any  difference since the mass of bodies squishing against you seem to keep you in balance from falling.


A subway etiquette I appreciate over all of Japan is the restricted use of cell phones, which makes the ride unbelievably quiet. Unlike in Hong Kong, where everyone chats loudly on their mobiles, Japanese  subways are filled with people busily texting or playing games on their cellphones. Just a tiny glimpse of everyday life in Japan.



The Best and Worst Cities to Look for Work


Source: http://www.good.is/post/transparency-the-best-and-worst-cities-to-look-for-work/

Now that I’m done with my masters program, it’s time that I start looking for a job. GOOD published an interesting infographic visualizing the unemployment rates in American metropolitan cities.

For myself personally, location is appearing to be a factor as to the kind of opportunities I can find relating to interaction design or user experience. For example, after living in Hong Kong I’ve come to realize that over there, design is not highly valued as a business strategy but still strongly perceived as simple re-styling or giving different physical forms. Toronto, on the other hand, is home to a handful of creative design firms, particularly in web, branding and advertising, yet I haven’t found many consultancies specializing in user-centered design, especially ones seeking interaction designers. It seems that the opportunities that appeal to me are more prominent in the US, especially San Francisco, NYC and Boston, as well as some cities in Europe, including London.

Let the search continue, wherever it may lead me.


Taipei aka Japan Lite?

On a recent weekend trip to Taipei I discovered the city to be quite an interesting mix of mainland China and Japan. On the one hand, roads are much winder and space seems more abundant allowing for more green space and parks (something I don’t see much of in Hong Kong). In the denser shopping/entertainment districts, the streets begin to look more like Japan’s urban landscape with vertical shop signs and the familiar ubiquitous Japanese shops like Family Mart and Mister Donut.


Apart from the streetscape, many buildings in Taipei are built with a Japanese architectural style and Japanese-style teahouses are dotted throughout the city. Additionally, Taiwan boasts having the world’s highest number of Japanese restaurants outside of Japan. Of course, besides trying the famous local dishes of beed noodles, shaved ice, Taiwanese breakfast hamburger, one must also enjoy some Japanese food (“kareh raisu,” anyone?), which tastes just as good as any authentic version in Japan.

taipei food

Taiwan is also big on tea culture, especially milk tea. Walking into any 7-11 store, you can have any choice from an entire fridge of teas, ranging from black to green or milk teas in various flavours. Bubble tea also originated from Taiwan, so it is no wonder why the locals love their teas in all styles and flavours with tapioca or jelly (and again, either flavoured on non!)



Sai Yeung Choi Street

Setting out to Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok to conduct field observations can be quite overwhelming. Being in the heart of one of the most dense areas on the entire planet, one’s senses can be completely inundated by glowing cantilevered signs, wafting smells of street food, blaring sounds of music and voices through loudspeakers, and the pushing of bodies in the moving crowds.


Hong Kong’s tourism board touts the street as “Electronics Street” so we decided to map the street layout to include the store category types lining the street. We also studied the sidewalk and vehicular road space along with the directional traffic routes.



With the implementation of a pedestrian scheme, we realized it made sense that the street employs ever-changing one-way directions to discourage vehicular traffic. During the evenings and weekends pedestrians take over and the street comes alive with spontaneous performances and informal activities and social gatherings.

After observing street activity during the daytime and evening on both weekdays and weekends, we analyzed the various spaces, uses, and activities present on Sai Yeung Choi and mapped them along private/public and informal/formal axes. From this point we decided to focus our field research to address our hypothesis: enabling pedestrian activity facilitates new interactions and functions on Sai Yeung Choi Street South, defining its unique character in the context of Mong Kok’s themed streets and making it a good public place for youth.