Q&A: 4th Street Bikeway Project

[Today: The return of guest Q&As to Murketing.com. This one comes from Nate Schulman, a master's student at California Institute of the Arts. He brought to Murketing's attention a recently completed graduate thesis project that you can read about below. More about Murketing.com Guest Q&A's, and how you can submit ideas of your own, here. Take it away, Nate.]

We all know about things like customizable shoes or DIY silk-screening outfits, which charge and assist you in the co-creation of “your” product. But those examples of “collaboration” are more about an end product than an end system. A thesis project by Joseph Prichard of the MFA graphic design program at the California Institute of the Arts offers a look at a different form of collaboration: Working with cyclists on a mapping system for cyclists.

His 4th Street Bikeway effort created an informational graphics system for a Los Angeles bike route, and involved Angeleno bikers in the process. I had a class with Prichard, and what interested me about his project was that the end-user/consumer of the program he come up with had a role in its creation — but in a new way. And I had a few questions. Those questions, and Prichard’s answers, follow.

– Nate Schulman

Q: Tell me how this project came about. Those not in Los Angeles might be asking: “People bike in LA??”

A: It started out with the vague notion of wanting to design something that would address some of the transportation problems we have here in Los Angeles. I’m not an engineer or an urban planner, but I feel strongly that there is a role for graphic design in encouraging alternatives to car use in our city.

The initial idea was a speculative redesign of the signage for Los Angeles’ 4th Street bike route. The goal was to design a comprehensive system that would make the route more attractive to potential cyclists — something that would address the shortfalls of current signage and hopefully serve as a model for future route planning.

To create a system that really spoke to the needs of the cyclists, it was important to me that I have members of the cycling community contribute to the design process. To that end, I held a series of participatory workshops where I worked with local cyclists to determine the form and content of the final system.

As the project progressed, a second component emerged that came to be as important as (or more important than) the first. In addition to the proposed “official” signage system, I designed a set of tools and templates that would allow cyclists to easily create their own DIY bike route signage. My aim was to involve cyclists not only in the design of the system but also in its eventual implementation and expansion. By providing a set of open tools, my intention was to give people the ability to design for their own needs.

What was the most exciting moment of the process? Likewise, were there moments of panic (a true testament of a thesis ;0)? If so, how did you work through them? Read more