Sensing the City

The aim of this assignment was to gain a good understanding of basic communication design by interpreting our own space. For us, that is the city.

I was given the car park to examine, so for over 12 weeks this was the space I would be observing. So my project became:

Sensing the Car Park

Over the course of this assignment I spent a number of hours walking in the car park observing the communication process between the car park and its users. I noted behaviours demonstrated by drivers, focussed on exploring the unwritten rules of the environment, collected items which you would expect to find in a car park, as well as observing the movement of users and how that was influenced by the car park’s design features.

At first, it may appear to be a place devoid of design and communication, but on closer inspection, it is clear there is an active communication process through various forms of design elements, colours and scale.

The car park is an environment in which there is continuous communication (not always with sound), which determines codes of behaviour and the basic rules of that area. Design is used openly (but also subtly) to steer conduct and behaviour. For example, the lines drawn on the car park floor communicate to the user (i.e. the driver) how he/she should navigate the car park, park the car and then exit afterwards. This is all done without words, just lines and symbols. This message is effectively communicated and understood by all. We then adapt to these rules whilst in the car park.

The car park utilises both traditional and digital design. Here are a collection of signs which fall into both categories. They create a visual narrative to the car park experience.The use of graphic design in the car park environment provides visual clarity of the expected behaviour. The strong and prescriptive message directs the user’s engagement with the car park and also ensure they pay attention to the needs of other users. Without that awareness of the rules the car park would not function as intended.

This first notion led me to take a look at the obvious signs that are present in the car park and I started to photograph them throughout the car park, in order to help me visualise the area and its different elements. Also I was observing in photographs different textures, surfaces and materials. The signs in the car park create sensory reactions, for example the stop sign warns of danger (with effective use of the colour red). It evokes a feeling that something bad will happen if the user does not comply with the instruction.


Throughout the project I was experimenting with assignments given in the lectures. This process also helped me to play around with the pictures I’ve taken, to create categories and experiment, to help me find more concrete way to find my detail to start collect data about. One of the pieces I did was to create an literacy cutout piece out of found objects from the car park.  I found parking tickets and I put together “Be Able Person” piece. And this design really helped me to concentrate into the detail that parking ticket represents.


I started off by collecting data of the overall placement of the ticket inside the car. Taking notes and walking around in car park looking at the ticket placements either on the: Main window in right or left side, right or left side car door and the dashboard again either placed in right or left.

I also looked at whether, like any environment, there were distinctive groupings in the car park. The most obvious definition of a group in the car park is the make, design and colour of the cars. I photographed a number of cars and then tried to identify particular popular groupings.

After awhile only collecting data about ticket placement seemed thin and I also thought about the over all meaning of the ticket.

The design within the car park environment creates a dialogue with the user, for example when someone purchases a ticket from the machine there is a communication in progress. The driver informs the car park how long they intend to stay by the value of the coins they insert in the ticket machine. The car park then confirms acceptance of their offer to pay for parking by issuing a parking ticket.

I also including more information about the ticket it self, like: time and money marked on the actual ticket. This info, I mainly collected by taking photos and then processing the data afterwards in my sketchbook. I marked out time that was printed on the ticket until the ticket is valid for and also the money spent. There is a set price range from 0-2 hrs=£1, 2-4 hrs=£2, 4-8 hrs=£3.

I also noted that I must have looked suspicious to other park users, when I was roaming the car park and zooming into window screens with my camera.

So my sketchbook holds the numerical data and markings about the data I was finding.


I my data visualisation I concentrated on the information I had gained about the placement of the parking ticket and also the ticket itself and the time and money that is marked on it and then showcased in the car.

I did one bigger piece which holds the numerical information in the form of dots positioned either in the main window screen, car door windows or dashboard. Also noting in different tones to differenciate between right and left sides. I used bleach to mark the amount in the right side of screens and white dots for the left.

The A3 piece of paper I sectioned into four boxes to show the data from different days. I chose to use black paper to have a look of constellations because that is how the placements looked to me. In hindsight I probably was concentrating too much on the artistic look of the micro data, and I guess that didn’t really serve the purpose when it comes to clarity. But my aim was to do something that requires closer examination of the data, that from at distance would look very different.

My second visualisation was done of time and money data of what is the most popular time range (0-2 hrs, 2-4 hrs, 4-8hrs) amongst the park users.

I chose to use neutral and grey scale backgrounds( representing the tarmac, but also a good neutral tone)  and dotted the amount of data about the users on the surface using different colours :

green=0-2 hrs ( it is less used option)

blue=2-4 hrs (secondly popular option)

red=4-8 hrs ( the most popular and busy time, and hence I chose to use the primary colour)


In conclusion I could have done much more and bring the visualisations from “flatland” representations as E.Tufte would but them, into 3D form. As I did research for inspiration visual artist like Katie Lewis and Andreas Fincher who take their work into sculptular from. I want to still work on taking these ides forward and perhaps create something more successful using sculpture elements.

And final slideshow to draw together all the process.

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