Thing-centered City Making (2019)

Design Research / Speculative Design / More-Than-Human Design / UX & UI

What can ‘things’ in the public space tell us about the city, its citizens and the dynamics associated with city making?

 Thing-Centered Design takes a more-than-human approach to design by considering non-human actors in the design process. Through this perspective, the project ‘Neighbourhood Disruptors’ uncovers an interesting relation between two different groups of ‘things’ that inhabit the city: Permanent vs. Temporary Things.
This dynamic, and its associated power relations is represented in this project by a traffic cone. The cone is a temporary thing, it arrives in the neighbourhood by order of an external entity and disrupts what’s there – the permanent. How can this power relation be reversed? What if the traffic cone belonged to the neighbourhood? What if the space it creates was for the community and bottom up initiatives? What if instead of signalling change, the cone was the trigger for change?



The original context explored by the project was particularly interesting and rich. The citizens of Rotterdam West , when given the budget by the local government to improve their neighbourhood, decided to join forces and work on several initiatives to take ownership of what was happening in their community. Despite the several bottom-up initiatives, Rotterdam West still faces several challenges, for instance, because there isn’t one central community center, the several organisations and initiatives have difficulty in making decisions together, communicating  between them and with the citizens.

I decided to focus on one specific challenge:  How can we bring more people to engage in forms of participatory city-making? Based on this challenge, I decided to frame the research question as:

“How can citizens move in and out of the flow of their day-to-day routines to be more engaged with their neighbourhood and local community?”



The project was done using a thing centered perspective 1. By taking a thing perspective, the designer (and design team) are able to assess a different level of insights that otherwise wouldn’t be possible to assess. This perspective allowed unique insights and novel ways to frame the challenge to emerge. Important outcomes are the distinction between temporary and permanent things in the public space and how this distinction carries its own power relations and dynamics between the two groups and the citizens.


Based on the findings from the Data World, I decided to conduct an interview with one of the things found in the ‘Temporary’group: thhe Traffic Cone. This interview was done to understand how he feels about this disction and what are its ambitions and  perspective on the world around it.


The traffic cone as an object holds several dilemmas, but the most important of those is that it “works for the neighbourhood, but not with the neighbourhood”. The first video aims at exposing these dilemmas and trying to reverse them. What if the cone has a place? What if it wants to interact with people and not be avoided? What if the cone comes before the decisions are made and not after?


The ‘Community Cone’ emerges through these dillemmas. It is then spread throughout the neighbourhood so citizens can use it to create space for discussion and raise awareness to important issues or ideas. It works alongside with an app that allows people to write their ideas, follow others’ ideas and vote on them.

You can check the app prototype here:

In this way, the cone continues to act as a disruptor. It aims at calling for attention and creating space and time in people’s rountines for the neighbourhood. Most importantly, the Community Cone aims create a space for discussion before change happens and reverses the relationship of power to the members of the community.


For a more in depth overview of the process, take a look at the project report.

1. Thing-Centered Design is an approach developed by Elisa Giaccardi and Iohanna Nicenboim at TU Delft. For more resources take a look at their online course or Thing-Centered Design toolkit website.

Go back to my work or view the next or last project

All rights reserved © 2020. All things here represent my work and thinking unless stated otherwise. KVK: 78542359