Uncovering the subjective experiences of city life.
Harvard Graduate School of Design - 2013
Networked Urbanism was my first Urban Planning studio and the birthplace of Place Pixel, later to become Place Pixel Inc.
Inspired by ideas from the Situationist movement from the 1950s–70s, my teammates Thomas McCourt (TJ), Benjamin Scheerbarth (Ben), and I conceptualized an application for understanding the subjective, emotional experiences of city life. Below is our winning entry to the Architecture Boston 5x5x5 competition. It demonstrates early ideas and implementations, but the motivations presented remain strong.
Physical planning and urban design decisions are increasingly guided by the patterns expressed through massive amounts of networked data. As a driving force, the smart city paradigm seeks to revolutionize the way we collect, quantify, and analyze this data, allowing for a depth of insight and degree of responsiveness that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. Preoccupation with objective information, however, will yield models that are inadequate representations of the true urban condition—a condition largely defined by what one might call the first two meters of a city, the human layer. In order to achieve the next level of fidelity, a social variation on the smart city must incorporate the systematic collection and analysis of subjective impressions and emotive responses to the built environment.
One of the core tenants of the Networked Urbanism studio, adeptly run by Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, was the act of networking with potential advisors, collaborators, and stakeholders. Below is a timeline of how how our ideas and implementations evolved as we engaged the community.
Another core tenant of the studio was that of testing our ideas as frequently as possible. As a result, we devised an analog method of gauging the subjective experiences of people in our university building, Gund Hall (we called it "GSDemo"). We placed survey posters in each of Gund's many environments, then tallied the results to see if we could extract any meaningful insights.
In addition to being a great deal of fun, GSDemo yielded a number of interesting findings—from more obvious correlations between sentiment and amounts of traffic (negative) and sunlight (positive, to a certain extent), to more surprising ones, such as dips in positivity due to a batch of desks that caught and damaged clothing. The results were sent to administration for further review.
Having an idea for an app is one thing, but as I learned through this process, making one is entirely another! Coming from an architecture & landscape architecture background, many of the patterns and best practices of UX, UI, and visual design were foreign to me. It actually took a while to realize what I didn't know, and quite a while longer to develop the requisite skills. Here are the first passes at the Place Pixel app (check out Gabbermap to see the fully realized product).
Little did I know that Place Pixel would take me far, far beyond a simple studio project. In an unlikely series of events, fueled by an unwavering insistence that it be made real, I shepherded it from the academic realm to the Harvard Innovation Lab, to the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, to an eventual $1MM raise for Place Pixel Inc. Below is the fully realized (and consumer-ified) version: Gabbermap.
Lastly, the third leg of the stool: the product that researchers (Vetty employees) use to actually conduct the background checks.
This is a basic researcher workflow. Note that it is divided into 3 stages:
Generally, teams of researchers are assigned to different accounts, with each member taking on a specific phase. Due to Vetty's limited resources, individual researchers take on their own accounts and conduct all 3 phases.
The main focus of the researcher dashboard is the "Adjudication Needed" column, which uses a simple "yes" or "no" to indicate when there is a pending task. Hovering over the cell in the column brings up more detailed information.
Because researchers are trained users, the dashboard can adopt more complexity for more power. Below, custom components that allow each column to be independently searchable:
Much like the client portal (for account managers), the candidate details are where most of the tasks are done:
The researcher portal is now undergoing a major redesign to accommodate larger teams. Stay tuned!
Whew, that's it! A complete Consumer Reporting Agency platform from scratch. As of this writing, Vetty has experienced a 10x increase in MRR and is now undergoing a serious M&A bid. If you have any questions, or would like to work together, please don't hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.