Prioritizing pedestrians through play : enlivening the ground plane with interactive tiles




Martinez, Sarah Ariana

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Most pedestrian experiences are truly pedestrian. Although there are many examples of paving and flooring designed to be aesthetically pleasing for pedestrians, over time, cost-effective “quick fixes” often destroy the look of the ground plane.

Beauty, humor, and playfulness are some of the most important tools designers have to get other people to care about and pay attention to potentially boring and unpleasant things. For centuries, people around the world have enlivened the ground plane with temporary forms of ornament for both ritual and aesthetic purposes. These installations are often very elaborate, colorful, site-specific, and labor-intensive, but typically last only a day or two before the elements and foot traffic destroy them. What makes kolams, sawdust “paintings,” and chalk art powerful forms of ground-plane enlivenment is that they exist for only a short time, which maintains their novelty and interest.

In contrast, the benefit of permanent ground-plane solutions is that they are low maintenance and durable, so the ornamental enlivenment lasts as long as possible. But their novelty and delight usually wears off quickly because they don’t change.

A relatively new form of ground plane enlivenment that combines the best aspects of temporary and permanent installations is responsive or interactive tiles: they are both durable and changeable, and invite active engagement from passersby. Responsive interactive tiles have great potential to enliven the ground plane, but right now, most of the available technologies are very expensive and afford users very limited functions and interactions. Most of them are behind paywalls at theme parks or in clubs or trade shows, which means one must “pay to play.” However, because these technologies are quickly becoming more affordable and accessible, I have developed a collection of foot gestures and proposed applications that will make full use of their potential and make the experience of being a pedestrian less pedestrian.



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