In my master’s final paper I described how to adapt five basic criteria for public participation in urban planning to the Internet. The fifth criteria was information, defined as “provide more information in a clearly understood form, free of distortion and technical jargon.” For providing information over the Internet, the most important concept is usability.
If urban planners want to engage broad and diverse constituencies over the Internet through websites, forums, blogs, emails, or any web technology, they must consider the usability of these tools. It sounds like a simple concept, but anyone who has struggled to extract basic information from a convoluted government website will understand its importance. When we designed Rethink College Park, we used large fonts, a streamlined design, and intuitive interface to present information as clearly as possible.
That’s why I was particularly interested to hear from Julie Harpring, a master’s student in human-computer interaction design at Indiana University. She is interested in applying usability to urban planning for her capstone project. Although we just discussed possible ideas for the project and it won’t be complete until next spring, I liked the Bloomington by Bike and Bus map she created for IU last summer. Although technically it’s a simply application of Google Maps API, it seamlessly brings together disparate sources of information for students to use to plan travel (university bus routes, city bike lanes, bicycle rack locations and types, in addition to Google’s street map and aerial photos). Who knows how many bloated PDFs on government websites contain information that could be better displayed through such an interface?