Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Final Project – Street Map

After re-reading my studio assignment write-ups, I realized that my fear of failure was initially a barrier to actually learning and digesting the information I’ve learned. However, looking back on the actual experience, I felt less and less afraid of that with each lab exercise despite feeling unsure that I understood how each tool worked. Failure happens and, although what failure actually looks like changes from person to person, it provides an opportunity to try again. Creativity feels like a risk, which makes failure all more possible. Perhaps subconsciously I was pushing back on the idea of failing, and what that looked like, because I learned the different ways in which I limited my creativity. There were some projects I wasn’t entirely proud of, others I wanted to iterate over and over, and some I felt I was only starting to learn and wanted to dive deeper into. One project in particular was the Arduino.

The Arduino project was equal parts exciting and frightening. I didn’t know anything about coding prior to this class, so I went into the lab session thinking I would be screwed (I wasn’t). Duncan helped me understand the fundamentals of the code, which helped me appreciate the assignment even more. Getting my pompom robot to walk (with the code + the form of the legs) was fulfilling. I feel as though while my confidence falters every now and then, such exercises have helped me build my confidence as a maker and take “risks” in creating.

For my final project, I made a street map– I stitched street lines onto fabric, incorporating NeoPixels under the street map fabric layer and using a Joystick Arduino to control the lights. My initial idea was to create an item that could be used as a storytelling device in community participatory planning. At first I wanted to embroider a zoning map, but found that the zoning map itself really limited what else I wanted to do (work with an Arduino) in part because of the embroidery pattern and whether or not the lights would even be useful. Here’s where I found myself needing to compromise– I could either keep the zoning map or I could keep the lights and Arduino aspect and transform the form of the item without giving up its purpose. I ended up scaling the idea down to a street map, which I think in the end provides for more interaction and imagination on the user’s part. 

My learning goals were as follows:

  • Technical- I want to challenge myself and manipulate the loop function of an Arduino joystick, as this is the technical tool I have the least confidence in.

Here, I was hoping to dive deeper into the mechanics of the Joystick. I wanted to make it so with the Joystick, individual lights would turn on/off throughout the street map. I learned technical aspects such as making sure the setup I used for the Joystick complemented whatever setup I used for the NeoPixels. Coding still feels like a different language to me, and I didn’t get the lights to do what I wanted them to do. They were able to move (in unison, as opposed to individually) to the input on the Joystick.

  • Nontechnical- I want to create at least two designs of my concept, as I place more emphasis on the project versus learning from the process, and track what component I focus on.

As my in-progress and final pictures show, there were two designs/ways this project could’ve gone. In trying to keep the zoning map, I felt increasingly limited and frustrated as I was racing against the clock. In between both pictures, I reached out to my friends in the class who helped me brainstorm other visualizations of a map, as well as offered their input on how intuitive the map felt (especially given that the map I use in this project is based on my hometown, but the next step would be making this applicable to other places).

  • Nontechnical- I want to develop my communication skills and articulate 1) the problem at hand and 2) how my design would approach this problem.

My storyboard for the concept originally placed users in a tense community meeting where they are trying to solve a problem (rezoning). I had hoped my design would be a more straightforward way to solve the problem (offer alternatives). However, I realized there was a larger issue around dialogue, which changed the nature of the solution. The research I’ve been doing over the last two years (as a research assistant and in my thesis) focus on, not just neighborhood change, but on how people try to mediate it (or what gets in the way of having a dialogue). The solution isn’t the project itself…rather, I think the project could lead to a solution to neighborhood change (the supposed context of many neighborhoods and cities).

The process rather than the project taught me more than I anticipated. Through the various revisions and designs I found myself really letting go of my own preconceived notions of what the project *should* look like, which stopped me from truly incorporating the tools I wanted to work with in a way that felt organic. That makes this project meaningful for me– the thought behind it, as well as the opportunity to get feedback from others and continue developing it as part of my toolkit as a planning practitioner.

I consider myself a maker, though the word maker means different things to me now than it did in the beginning of the semester. The Papert quote definitely resonates, and I do believe that this class and this project incorporated hands-on learning and meaning. During my time in academia, finding a balance between practice and theory felt hard to achieve– I think making adds more to this balance, and directly implicates makers. I feel less detached (and more confident articulating my positionality) from the projects I make, and I think that’s a significant difference from what I’ve been traditionally taught in the academy.



Final product

Final Template

Initial template