Category Archives: Cognition

World’s Largest Study On Cyclist Behaviour: Copenhagen To Cape Town

Considering how cyclist actually use the road is key to organising how we design roads streets for all users -from Future Cape Town on T he Sustainable Cities Collective 

“We truly believe that well-designed infrastructure leads to better behaviour from cyclists

Copenhaganize Cycle Study 001

Desire Lines of cyclists turned into a permanent lane in Copenhagen

Copenhagenize Design Co, the international consultancy specialising in bicycle urbanism are launching a new project that will span continents and use their unique Desire Lines Analysis Tool.

Copenhagenize Logo

The Desire Lines of Cyclists– The Global Study – is described as “the natural evolution” of the original Desire Lines analysis of cyclist behaviour and how cyclists react to urban design called The Choreography of an Urban Intersection. The results of that analysis were unveiled by CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen at Velo-City 2013 in Vienna.

The study from which took place in Copenhagen in 2012 was based on video-recorded observations of 16,631 cyclists during a 12 hour period. Copenhagenize explored the anthropological details of bicycle users and how they interact with other traffic users and the existing urban design. Three categories of cyclists were identified: Conformists, Momentumists, and Recklists.

Choreography of an Urban Intersection and Copenhagenize fixesChoreography of an Urban Intersection and Copenhagenize fixes

Based on this study a new methodology to analyse urban life: the Desire Line Analysis Tool seeks to decode the Desire Lines of cyclists. The main purposes of the analysis is to get a thorough understanding of bicycle users and to rethink intersections to fit modern mobility needs. Like William H. Whyte, Copenhagenize want first to observe people and hence employ anthropology and sociology directly to urban planning – something they feel is sorely lacking.

With increasing focus on re-establishing the bicycle as transport in cities around the world, understanding the behaviour and, indeed, the basic urban anthropology of bicycle users is of utmost importance. Rethinking the car-centric design of intersections and infrastructure is necessary if we are to redesign our cities for new century mobility patterns.

For Copenhagenize there has not been any concrete way of mapping cyclist behaviour. Copenhagenize Design Company’s techniques utilise Direct Human Observation in order to map cyclist behaviour – and gather a motherlode of valuable data from it.

In the last two years at Copenhagenize, urban planners, anthropologists and urban designers have worked on testing, improving and realising new studies in Copenhagen. Using the city as an actual-size laboratory, they observed, analysed, mapped thousands of cyclists’ behavior.

They then went to Amsterdam, a city considered as a model for many urban planners, and in collaboration with The University of Amsterdam, Copenhagenize Design Co. worked on nine intersections and 19,500 bicycle users.

Watch the video here, and read the studies herehereherehere, and here.

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We’re Only Beginning to Understand How Our Brains Make Maps

All our instincts as “place” designers are well founded  it seems –  all of the fine details, ambiences and local differences we cherish are really important to how we navigate space and understand where we are and wether it is safe, dangerous or cool to be here – the latest neuroscience, albeit with rats,  is giving us new ammo in a our tangle with both virtual and the banal retail worlds. By Emily Badger at Atlantic Cities

The more scientists learn about how our brains construct cognitive maps of space, the more we may learn about how to design those spaces.

About 40 years ago, researchers first began to suspect that we have neurons in our brains called “place cells.” They’re responsible for helping us (rats and humans alike) find our way in the world, navigating the environment with some internal sense of where we are, how far we’ve come, and how to find our way back home. All of this sounds like the work of maps. But our brains do impressively sophisticated mapping work, too, and in ways we never actively notice.

Every time you walk out your front door and past the mailbox, for instance, a neuron in your hippocampus fires as you move through that exact location – next to the mailbox – with a real-world precision down to as little as 30 centimeters. When you come home from work and pass the same spot at night, the neuron fires again, just as it will the next morning. “Each neuron cares for one place,” saysMayank Mehta, a neurophysicist at UCLA. “And it doesn’t care for any other place in the world.”

This is why these neurons are called “place cells.” And, in constantly shuffling patterns, they generate our cognitive maps of the world. Exactly how they do this, though, has remained a bit of an enigma. The latest research from Mehta and his colleagues, published this month in the online edition of the journal Science, provides more clues. It now appears as if all of the sensory cues around us – the smell of a pizzeria, the feel of a sidewalk, the sound of a passing bus – are much more integral to how our brains map our movement through space than scientists previously believed.

And the more scientists learn about how our brains construct cognitive maps of space, the more we may learn about how to design those spaces – streets, neighborhoods, cities – in the first place. Or, rather, we may learn more about the consequences of how we’ve built them so far. How could any urban planner, for starters, not love the idea that “place” is embedded in the brain?

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Digital Maps – Is what is mapped what is “really there”?

A flush of blog posts on on the rise of digital maps and apps for location  based services via smartphones and GPS devices lead via my readings of Actor-Network-Theory  (ANT) and beyond to wanderings in the realms of ontology and epistemology to my backyard and garage where loads of junk left over from past ‘lives’ as sporting wannabee etc. and children’s-clearings-of-their-rooms-once-they-have-left-home-combine in strange ways to trying to picture what it means if the construction of these maps is actually responsible for the creation of “my” reality?

What is going on here:

When we are informed by The Economist that we can have The world in your pocket are we  being delicately suckered into believing that this is really in our interests – in the past when we have ventured out into the unknown local and not so local world in order to get the things we need to sustain our lives, we have consulted directories and maps to tell us where to get it. This is nothing new – but in terms of ANT we might  have brought these things into being by wanting them – our instruments i.e. directories and maps, by virtue of our consulting them, start to constitute the world  “in -here” before becoming reified (made real) by our acting on the information and “finding” them “out-there” !

These ideas explored from early beginnings in Science and Technology

Studies by among others Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon  are developed into challenges to the structure of our conceptions of reality ~(After method – mess in social science research Law 2004) and what it means to me and my perception of myself in relation to this “reality” – or more simply who am I really? – am I anything more than the sum of my “programs” which have been embedded into me from birth by the social world and culture I am embedded in? Is it even possible for me to discover “myself “, let alone break out from this “matrix” and lead a life apart from it?

Or, is my reality “made” by my interaction with the connections/relations that I have with people and things “out-there” and that I talk to myself about “in-here” – as such the memories and stuff that I identify with as important or I use to construct this version of myself and as my interests move – some become redundant and are left behind – but still exist in a materiality that includes the junk in my back yard and the “stuff “of children which is left in my garage while they, the children,  are “out-there” in  London and I communicate with them “in- here” on Skype. Or what is it like to be my mother who is 93 and gradually loses touch with the sequence of the days and the “reality” of her relationships with me as a son and is more present in her “in-here”  memories of her college years in Cape Town before she was married than my presence in the “out-here” nowness?

Which brings me back to the descriptions of “out-there” of maps and digital devices that are trying to guide me to the fulfillment of my  desires or help me make sense of the bewildering density of data that floods my now disassociated “in-here” world and aims to fulfill my every desire ? Open-air computers;Cities are turning into vast data factories

This works if “I” live in part of the digitally engrossed world and I have been culturally modified to accept these programs. The ongoing project of this thinking seems to relate to a pre-existing structure that can manipulate me into doing what it wants – or at least provide so much stuff that I might want while I am searching for what I need that I will buy it- but does such a structure in fact exist?  – or is it too the result of the program we are wielding/writing  as we scribe and leave our traces in this “ether” or plasma”? Can I choose what I want or am I a helpless “ant” biochemically programmed to follow traces across the perilous ground of the “out-there” world? Your friendly neighborhood app: The internet is going local

Fynbos at Cape Peninsula

So, as I was walking with few friends and family across the top of our local mountain at Silvermine Nature Reserve,  I was in my usual reverie caught between what it means to “be-here-now-in-the-moment”- “out-here” and wondering “in-here” what it must have been like to be the first person to wander onto this mountain top and have no staked-out and stabilized paths to follow, let alone know from memory the names of countless fynbos plants that are endemic to this  place alone and that are dependent on the local ecology and interaction between the climate of mountain mists and the geology of  Table Mountain Sandstone. To have wandered around without any of the trappings of an “advanced civilization” and its technologies which seem to have been instrumental in both the “discovery “, mapping and then permanent modification of these very mountains and their occupants. Actually, unimaginable, to be a “stone-age” inhabitant  like one of the “San” or “bushmen” that lived or passed through and over these places “before” colonization by Western Europeans – what did a “Sans” maps look like – what was he/she thinking when they ….

“Suddenly I am jerked back  “into -being-here-in-this-very-very-

Not the baboon who took our bag -also having fun with technology

nowness” by becoming aware of troop of baboons on the side of the path- one of them – a very large male- has red tags on his neck and a radio receiver collar – not a good sign here where these baboon troops have become habituated to walkers as easy targets for food and sweets ! Very alert now – internal reverie recounting “don’t be afraid – they can smell if you are afraid” – flood of thoughts – reassure the rest of the party behind   that they should just walk past – nonchalantly! Not so easy -shouts – our guest walker has had his bag grabbed off his back by the dominate male baboon who has proved his trouble maker status as indicated by his red tags and is busy ripping the bag to shreds in search of delicacies! Stand back – “wait till he has finished – careful!!”

Anyway we made it back – he lost interest – important keys to cars and expensive rain gear are unharmed – opportunity too buy nice new hiking gear in mind ( use for smartphone app) – and we are on our way!

Whose reality now?

More of more later.

Q&A: Finn Butler on wayfinding design

Investing in evidence based design is far from common –  retail business’ mantra that “the customer is always right” is not yet firmly entrenched in the design professions way of thinking – yet – but I am sure its coming – here is an interview with a firm that believes firmly in following the evidence to promote ease of way-finding in notoriously difficult to negotiate environments – from smart planet By 

MELBOURNE – At SmartPlanet, we’ve written about wayfinding from all different angles; as environmental graphic design, operating system, cognitive map and even as an iPhone app. But as a professional practice, it’s still relatively unknown and arguably undervalued.

Pioneering wayfinding as a new discipline is Finn Butler, a specialist with over 20 years of international experience in designing for complex built environments.

Since joining the Melbourne design studio Buro North in 2008, Butler has executed strategies for some of Australia’s most public projects including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre and Westfield in Sydney.

Butler’s early career focused on transport wayfinding systems for Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, Delhi Metro in India, and the U.K.’s major rail stations.

We recently caught up with Finn Butler to discuss wayfinding semantics — what it is, why it’s important and where it’s headed as an industry.

Wayfinding expert Finn Butler

SmartPlanet: Where did the term ‘wayfinding’ come from?

Finn Butler: I think Kevin Lynch first used the phrase wayfinding in his book Image of the City to describe the process of designing and organising space to facilitate navigation, so in its modern sense the term has been around for about 50 years. As a design discipline, wayfinding is still in its infancy and is still evolving.

SP: Is there an agreed definition?

FB: Many practitioners describe wayfinding design in terms of the navigation of physical space with a strong focus on signage. I personally believe that wayfinding design is the design of navigational behaviour and not signage, which often combines the navigation of physical space as well as processes. This requires the consideration of a broad range of measures, including the development of operational processes, environmental changes and staff training as well as information delivery in the form of signage.

This approach differs from a purely graphic or signage response, as it requires an understanding of fields and ideas that usually exist outside the design field, such as semiotics, affordance and syntax modelling.

Quite often the best wayfinding strategists come from operational backgrounds or from the sciences rather than from a design background

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How Motherhood Changes the Brain

If you wonder what motherhood has to do with  cities, then think – well where did you come from and how happy were you with your childhood/family experience – many didn’t have one! I think understanding more of what makes people happy , sad, successful, adapted, creative etc is essential knowledge for anyone who intends to cater fro peoples needs within the urban or any other environment. From my health news via! Urban Life

Chocolate treats and sentimental cards may sweeten mom’s belly and heart this Mother’s Day, but it turns out motherhood also goes right to the noggin, with plenty of research showing how having kids, and even the process of childbirth, can change a mama’s brain.

Recent research has revealed some of the changes that take place in women’s brains during motherhood, and experts say that understanding how a mom’s brain works could help them figure out what motivates moms to care for their babies.

“With this research, we hope to better understand how to support moms who don’t naturally experience a brain reward response when they interact with their baby,” said Dr. Lane Strathearn, a developmental pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

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Facial Monitoring: The all-telling eye

Pervasive surveillance is now becoming extremely personalized – is there an infringement of our private space – are we even aware of all the body language we imply in a brief glance at  a piece of chocolate cake, a shiny new bauble in a window display or an attractive woman’s breasts in a magazine or in person! from The Economist

Webcams can now spot which ads catch your gaze, read your mood and check your vital signs:

IMAGINE browsing a website when a saucy ad for lingerie catches your eye. You don’t click on it, merely smile and go to another page. Yet it follows you, putting up more racy pictures, perhaps even the offer of a discount. Finally, irked by its persistence, you frown. “Sorry for taking up your time,” says the ad, and promptly desists from further pestering. Creepy. But making online ads that not only know you are looking at them but also respond to your emotions will soon be possible, thanks to the power of image-processing software and the ubiquity of tiny cameras in computers and mobile devices.

Uses for this technology would not, of course, be confined to advertising. There is ample scope to deploy it in areas like security, computer gaming, education and health care. But admen are among the first to embrace the idea in earnest. That is because it helps answer, at least online, clients’ perennial carp: that they know half the money they spend on advertising is wasted, but they don’t know which half.

Advertising firms already film how people react to ads, usually in an artificial setting. The participants’ faces are studied for positive or negative feelings. A lot of research, some of it controversial, has been done into ways of categorising the emotions behind facial expressions. In the 1970s Paul Ekman, an American psychologist, developed a comprehensive coding system which is still widely used.

Some consumer-research companies also employ goggle-mounted cameras to track eye movements so they can be sure what their subjects are looking at. This can help determine which ads attract the most attention and where they might be placed for the best effect on a web page.

This work is now moving online. Higher-quality cameras and smarter computer-vision software mean that volunteers can work from home and no longer need to wear clunky headgear. Instead, their eyes can be tracked using a single webcam.

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Sunni Brown’s visual persuasion – Doodling & Creativity

Being a user of mind-maps, fast sketches and doodles  the translation to mainstream use and the removal of the frustration people experience with drawing you all know,  or are people who say “I can’t draw” this should open your mind to how you can use words and sketchessquiggles and lots of interesting colours to find and make your ideas communicable and fun. From DAILY MAVERICK

In the beginning there was the word and the word was good. Better than good in fact, it was aloof, if not arrogant and proud. Written language was deemed to be a sign of elitism and intellect, and so it became de rigueur that if you were a child you went to school, and learnt letters and words and sentences. And when you doodled in your work book, your teacher told you to stop making a mess and get back to the real business of learning.

Photo: Examples of doodles Sunni has done for corporate clients. 

Sunni Brown is a visual revolutionary who wants to change all that. Why do words inevitably get the upper hand, Brown asks. “There are a lot of different takes on why we have verbal dominance. Historically, literacy, verbal and spoken language has been associated with a certain level of status and economic class. If you are educated, have the capacity to communicate and interpret language, this somehow makes you more intelligent than other people. You become part of an elite group of people,” says Brown.

Human beings are moreover heavily visually orientated, but despite this, for the longest time text has dominated visuals. “People haven’t made the connection between doodling and thinking, or sketching and problem solving, or visual language and creativity. I don’t think we understand how to apply visual language, and this misunderstanding is a consequence of having a cultural aversion to visual language, which is perhaps related to the historical classism. But that’s just a theory – I haven’t done enough research to offer a definitive answer.”

Photo: Sunni Brown teaches us to make the connection between doodling and thinking, sketching and problem solving. Applying visual language to life.

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Invisible Fields

From Domus An interview from Barcelona by Ethel Baraona Pohl

I  see this exhibition, which I will only be able to see by means of its representation in images from cyberspace, as a tangible sign of the distorted relationship we have the technologies which both bind and isolate us. A the very time we see this massive increase in invisible wave and electromagnetic fields filling all the available space we are made aware by microbiologists that we were always surrounded by fields of the microbial clouds that make up our atmosphere and the rhizosphere below it and permeate our bodies and all the objects that make up the biosphere. Ironically both these large scale urban electromagnetic fields and our fossil fuel  activities,  themselves the results of ancient sunlight stored by living organisms,  have polluted and killed off incomprehensible numbers of the very microbes we depend on for our livelihood in the soils and atmosphere and in our bodies (seeInteractivos? Garage Astrobiology – Microbes and EMF. 

Maybe it is time we became aware of this relationship – is it in fact not more important of our survival than these transient communication waves – after all when we examine what is being transmitted how much of it has any real value. In the words of Frank Zappa talking about Television : “I may be vile and pernicious , but you can’t look away! Don’t touch that dial folks, I’m the slime oozing out of your TV set,”

I s this what these fields contain and imply – our serfdom to the consumption system – or our empowerment to resist and reform it?

Clara Boj and Diego Diaz, Observatorio, Interactive installation, 2008

We inhabit intangible territories. The networks of invisible infrastructures which surrounds our world are extensive and growing day by day. In this context, Invisible Fields explores how the understanding of our world and our cosmos has been transformed by the study of radio waves. For a better understanding of this concept, José Luis de Vicente and Honor Harger have curated the exhibition starting with the invention of telecommunication technology at the end of the 19th century, and explaining how the radio spectrum became a tool for rethinking the world we live in. A world within an enigmatic landscape where there’s no geographical distance and is based on technologies of information and communication.

On this context of enigmatic topologies which has been there for more than a century, the projects presented at this exhibition simply makes visible the territories created by invisible waves. As Lucy Bullivant pointed in 2005 [1]:

“Electromagnetic space—also called Hertzian space—is physical and nonvirtual. It consists of a ghostly poetic ecology that exists just beyond our familiar perceptual limits.”

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As brain pathways deteriorate, so does our memory

Memory loss with aging especially short term memory – the kind that makes us forget peoples names and that makes my 92 year old mom repeat her stories to us over and over, are common to us all as we get on in life, and research such as reported here from John Hopkins University is interesting, but I am concerned that the focus of research is on cures and mitigation with drugs, is there any work here or elsewhere that is investigating the role of use of the brain, memory exercises and even possibly dietary issues in reduction of brain pathway deterioration?


The role of memory in our experience of our interaction with the city and ability of older people to access the city and use it with confidence as well as how to design way-finding and legibility  within local urban areas and buildings is still a little explored area of research. As the average age of urban populations in urban environments increases it will become more essential for designers to build places that we can negotiate without fear in order to have the vibrant streets and safe cities of the future we desire , our initial understanding of way-finding and its importance in the urban context comes from Kevin Lynch ‘s  1960’s book  The image of the city”,  later research and similar work being done in urban environments is well documented in the article from UD E-World on Wayfinding,  which also lists the work of Bill Hillier, Julienne Hanson and colleagues at The BartlettUniversity College London and Space as well as IDeA Centre for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access : I would like to hear form anyone who can provide information or links to practical research in this field.

This article from by Christina Hernandez shows the types of medical based research that is being carried out 
“Can’t remember where you parked the car? Blame it on your aging brain pathways.

Research out of Johns Hopkins University shows why our memory falters as we grow older
Pathways to the brain’s hippocampus degrade — by as much as 20 percent — as we age. I spoke recently with Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences and lead author on the paper in PNAS, about the work — and how it could eventually help Alzheimer’s disease patients.

How did you conduct this research?

[These pathways are] how bits of the brain communicate with each other. If you have input coming in through your eyes or ears, it gets filtered through those pathways before it gets to the part of your brain that stores memories. Early on, we tried to look for evidence of this specific pathway that leads into the hippocampus because people haven’t been able to get an anatomical way to look at it [in humans]. It’s very small and tucked among other fibers going in different directions.

We tried to find a way to use technology called diffusion imaging. We were able to use a high spatial resolution to look at things in far more detail. Once we do that, we can see evidence of this pathway if we restrict our field of view to a specific direction. We know from anatomical studies in the rodent and some primates exactly where this should be. Using a bit of fancy math, we’re able to get a signature of that pathway. We were able to quantify this — basically use a measurement scheme to see what degree to which this pathway is intact in young individuals and older individuals. We found that, as you get older, there is a clear degradation in this pathway.”

Read the full article here:

Additional Resources: 

Integrating space syntax in wayfinding analysisAnna Maria Nenci, Renato Troffa, Lumsa University, Rome, University of Rome La Sapienza 

Architectural Wayfinding Design 

Robert Irwin on the Mechanics of Experience

From The Dirt

Robert Irwin was the keynote speaker at the Parsons conference, “Aftertaste 2011: Immaterial Environments,” this past weekend. His lecture, “On the Nature of Abstraction,” was a meditation on the “mechanics of experience.” Sitting on a simple stool with his typical sunglasses (he has glaucoma) and baseball cap, Irwin begins the lecture by claiming to be dumfounded by the praise that was lavished by Jonsara Ruth and Sanford Kwinter who handled his introductions. Irwin then began an hour of speaking and drawing which was both humble in presentation and humbling in clarity and power.

On the chalkboard wall behind him he writes the following list:

Sentient Being              Cognitive Self
Immaterial                      Material
Visceral                           Cerebral
Perception                      Conception
Feelings                          Thinking
Beauty                            Truth
Actual                              Factual

Continue reading Robert Irwin on the Mechanics of Experience