“Five years from now, if you are not using something I have made, then I am doing something very wrong,” claims Greenfield in a very watch-this-space prophecy.
When we last spoke to Adam Greenfield, he was set to revolutionize cities using smart technology via his new gig at Nokia.
It didn’t work out.
“I came to them because of their enormous user base,” Greenfield explains, “and like any designer, I want my stuff used every day by tens of millions of people. In the end, however, none of the things I was working on ever saw the light of day.”
He puts it down to a cultural thing. Nokia, a Finnish company, is engineer driven. “Take a Finnish mindset, an engineering mindset and combine it,” he says. “You end up caring about things like optimal antenna design and start telling people that they should want our phones because they have the best antennas.”
In truth, nobody cares about an antenna. They care about their phone working, about its functionality, how it looks and whether it offers an enjoyable user experience. “It needs to be intuitive, and reliable,” Greenfield says. “I use my phone for about fifty different things every day – a remote for my TV, browsing the web, shopping, playing music and sending videos to my wife in Korea. My phone is an aperture onto the network.” (He uses an iPhone.)
Which is all why he left Nokia and started his own company, Urbanscale – a venture he elaborated on during his keynote address to Amsterdam’s Picnic audience last week.
Smart cities exist to various levels of success. “Seoul is the best, Tokyo is the worst,” says Greenfield, “but the potential is there in every city. All you need is the availability of mobile devices that connect to the Internet.”
The problem is having an authority with the right vision and power to model the urban environment. The infrastructure exists, but it is not being taken advantage of. “Nobody is binding it together or wrapping what is available up in an attractive proposition,” he says.
And it is true. A city’s bureaucracy is not known for its attention to design or for being able to negotiate well with big companies who in turn are also not renowned for their design prowess.
“Everybody has the power, but nobody is in control, “ says Greenfield.
Which is where a company like Urbanscale steps in.
“There needs to be an agency that can intervene on behalf of the ordinary person,” says Greenfield. “That agency needs to be able to forge communication lines between the massive technical systems that exist in the background and real, everyday people. Right now the systems are not designed to account for one another.”
Urbanscale is based in New York, and employs six people. Its vision is applications, products and services for municipalities, cities and even other companies. Long-term it sees its goal as coordinating a city’s technical potential, or ensuring that every city is being as smart as it can be.
Cuurently the team is working on a kiosk system for Chicago and Helsinki. “But we want to deploy this system in every city on earth,” Greenfield says with characteristic ambition.
The project is for a big screen-based information service to be available at various points around the city.
“It will be an elegant monolith with an enormous touch screen,” says Grenfield. “People can interact with it and pull information off of it using their own mobile devices.”
Getting directions, booking tickets, hailing a cab – it can all be done via the screen. “I think it will also help people to feel more deeply connected to the place they live in,” Greenfield says. “In that way they can get more in tune with their city’s rhythms.”
His bigger point is that by designing a compelling experience, users will feel happier, more confident and more on top of their city’s technological development. “A good system will drive out bad alternatives,” Greenfield says “And our system will not rely on a weak network, which ruins too many mobile experiences. We will use different architecture.”
Greenfield has no doubts that this will work. “Five years from now, if you are not using something I have made, then I am doing something very wrong,” he ends.
Points of sale
( 0 Votes, average: 0 out of 5)
click to vote
- Amsterdam Fashion Week 2013
- Dutch Design Week 2012
- Milan 2012
- Amsterdam Fashion Week 2012
- Dutch Design Week 2011
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2010
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2011
- Dutch Design Week 2010
- Dutch Design Double 2010
- Milan 2010
- Design.nl 100th Issue Favourites
- Dutch Design Week 2009
- Dutch Design Double 2009
- Milan 2009
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2009
- Going Out - Restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs and hotels
- Graphic Design Festival 2008
- Dutch Design Week 2008
- Retail Therapy - Where to buy Dutch design
- FreeDesigndom 2008
- Milan 2008
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2008
- Design.nl Tokyo favourites