Can You Get People To Walk More, Simply With Smart Signage?

The successful Kickstarter campaign hopes handy signs will get people walking.

It all started with a series of unsanctioned signs in Raleigh, North Carolina. Matt Tomasulo wanted to encourage residents to rediscover the joys of walking around town, so he put up notices that stated how long it took to get from here to there—"here" and "there" being any number of specially selected locations—on foot. People paid attention, and Walk [Your City] was born.

Kickstarter was a natural choice to help fund WYC’s development. Tomasulo had previously launched a successful project on the site with Wear You Live by CityFabric so was familiar with the system, and wanted to gauge interest for WYC on a scale that expanded far beyond his own county line. It turns out there was—and is—an active audience for widespread tactical urbanism. After a vote of confidence from Kickstarter staff, who emailed it out as a "Project We Love," support from across the globe poured in and WYC reached its goal in a mere eight days.

Despite the obvious appeal that most campaigns give you something—some "thing"—for your investment, almost half of the 550 backers requested no physical reward, with another 200 pledging above and beyond the established amounts. "We realized that multiple languages could make this project that much more accessible, so we added that as an option if we hit $10,000," Tomasulo tells Co.Design (which they did).

"The larger goal of this project is to create healthy places for people—socially, economically, and environmentally," he says. So how does it work? Walk [Your City] is an open-source platform where people can create their own "guerilla wayfinding" signs that state the time it takes to wander from any given point A to point B. The locations on the original Walk Raleigh were "deliberate," Tomasulo says. "We wanted to reach different demographics—downtown business people, university students, and people going to the grocery store—with a collection of recognizable places and cultural assets that are perceived to be much further away from each other than they really are." The Kickstarter, however, will enable users to customize, choosing their own tos and froms through the online platform, which can then be easily exported, printed, and installed in their very own neighborhood. "The goal is that they can take these projects on as their own—to help pedestrians and drivers reach that ‘aha!’ moment, discovering ‘its only that far to walk there?!’"

The signs themselves had to be attention-getting but not aggressive. "The design of the signs is intentionally, and deceivingly, simple," Tomasulo explains. "But the process was a lot more difficult than you would think. We embedded a lot of information while keeping them as easy to digest as possible." Bold, minimal text increases legibility for both pedestrians and drivers, while bold color coding corresponds to the type of destination: green for public spaces, blue for civic or institutional landmarks, purple for commercial districts and centers. Each sign is enhanced with a QR code that links smartphone users with a pre-curated "Google Maps Walk," even those lacking that tech can interpret the analog directive and find their way.

Now, Tomasulo is working to develop the user experience and back-end functionality for WYC. "We are creating educational and instructional documents and guides to help users better instigate and create signs (or campaigns of signs) for their community," he says, in addition to pulling together a business strategy for the Code for America Accelerator. "Our challenge is to keep citizens as the main instigator and creator of the signs and campaigns, with cities welcoming and supporting the efforts. By keeping citizens at the heart of the project, they’ll become much more engaged stakeholders in their community." Until everything is up and running, however, his advice for citizens around the world is easy. "Take a walk!"

[Image: Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock]

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