Second Story Interactive Studios
Ecological Urbanism App
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Ecological Urbanism App
Besides being a beautifully designed app, we felt that a live and constantly growing body of research could be an immensely powerful tool for those working in the fields of ecological urbanism, it might become a template for documenting other fields of research.
Ecological Urbanism App
With the majority of the world’s population expected to live in cities by the year 2050, the field of sustainable design is becoming increasingly important to our culture. The Ecological Urbanism app we created for iPad adapts and expands content from the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s book of the same name. Much more than an ebook, it presents an entirely new way of looking at the information interactively.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The basic goal of the project was to adapt the Ecological Urbanism book for iPad, keeping in mind that the field of sustainable design is constantly growing and changing and that the app’s content would need to grow and change with it. Because we began the project with so much material, we were able to think about the big picture early on and strategize how to make the content work interactively. Our approach became a mash-up of media: hardcover book meets periodical sensibility, combined with interactive technology and mobile hardware. While the book format is inherently static, the app is nimble and dynamic. Our hope was that readers of the book would turn to the app to rediscover the material from different angles, nurturing a more robust understanding of the content by consuming the information in new ways. They would have the opportunity to revisit old stories, access updates, and learn about new projects as they developed. Those unfamiliar with the book could use the app as a user-friendly access point to the world of sustainable design. Finally, because of the evolving nature of the field, we also needed to set up the client for self-sufficiency by giving them the ability to easily update the app as new projects came to fruition.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Although many digital adaptations of books necessitate a traditional linear approach to storytelling, this one required the opposite. Because of the nature of the content – a collection of stories chronicling advances in sustainable design – we had to come up with a non-linear way for users to experience the entries. We essentially had to re-think the way people read books. With an encyclopedic gathering of information, most people are going to depend on an index to help them navigate. Ecological Urbanism is about sustainable design: where it’s happening, how it’s happening, when it happened, and on what scale. We used this synthesis of the content to create visualizations based on the book’s data. The data visualizations functioned in two different ways. First, they created a visual index readers could use to explore the content. A deviation from the traditional list format, this index offered valuable information about the stories (such as geography and date). Second, the visualizations exposed patterns across disparate projects that illustrated trends in sustainable design. Uncovering these patterns was exciting; it presented an opportunity to look at the stories in Ecological Urbanism in a completely new way.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
We began with the material from the book, the leftover content that wasn’t published, and two additional years of research a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design had compiled. We had a sense of how many articles and projects the client would want to add each month after the app was released, which enabled our team to analyze the collection with an eye toward the future. We started deconstructing the diversity of entries and reassembling them in visual modes, gleaning commonalities in scale, geography, and time. The connections in the data encouraged us to create a dynamic experience using these visualizations as an entry point. We prototyped with both current and projected content to ensure our concept would succeed. Given the ever-changing nature of the sustainable design field, it was also important for the client to be able to easily update the app’s content. The entire collection is supported by a CMS that enables administrators to keep up with the latest projects as they become available.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Given the rate at which the world's cities are growing, sustainable design has become a necessity. The app visualizes the growing body of discourse surrounding the design and management of cities by cataloguing data and allowing users to explore it in thoughtful ways. For example, an interactive map enables the user to search geographically to identify where the hubs of innovative urbanism are unfolding. Users can also browse with a timeline, filterable by scale and keyword, providing another access point to the content. As the stories grow, the patterns in the data will evolve and change accordingly. Although we built the app to grow organically and prototyped what this might look like, we cannot predict how the data visualizations will evolve over time. What we can say, however, is that the Ecological Urbanism app, is flexible, user-friendly, informative, and enlightening. It is designed for a changing world.