Smarter Cities Challenge Proposal: To You

Addressing social isolation within Vancouver through using open-data & access to tech to create in-person community interactions.

July 2018 — August 2018


City of Vancouver & City of Surrey


Service Designer
Interaction Designer




Proposal for Smarter Cities Challenge


This project was developed for the Smart Cities Challenge in collaboration with the City of Vancouver and the City of Surrey. As service designers, our objective was to address social isolation through data, access to technology, and create in-person community interactions through two main touch points: VPL Digital Centres and Vancouver Pop Up.

How can this digital transformation help marginalized populations, including the homeless, build a brighter future? How can we use technology to connect people and encourage person-to-person interaction?

Problem space

We believe that connections can lead to investments in the city and community. Through keeping our neighbourhoods safe and our economy strong and competitive.

How might we help others discover a shared, meaningful experience together in order to foster this vulnerability and connection?


Gathering services that are readily available in Vancouver, we developed the concept of using shipping containers concepts to connect marginalized areas through interactive experiences.

Vancouver has many initiatives that support similar concepts but aren’t marketed, therefore not many people know about it. We took this secondary research to develop our concept as a sub brand to keep with consistency so that it has potential to grow and be known for bringing communities together through interactive experiences.

We saw potential for it to grow into different ways to connect different marginalized areas.

Figuring it out

Through primary research, we concluded that a lot of people rely on social media and the general media to catch up with one another. Through observational research, we inferred that multi-sensory experiences led to more verbal, communicative interaction with others.

So people who were eating, shopping, walking together were more likely to effortlessly socialize.

There were areas in Vancouver that were lacking in digital literacy. This presented to us an opportunity space for mobile digital centres to target marginalized areas within Vancouver to increase digital maturity.

In the more popular areas of Vancouver, efforts have been made to make free wifi more accessible. This has reinforced the convenience of being able to catch up on social media and connecting with one another through tech.

Final iterations

Street parking rental has become a more common way for businesses to set up, so we decided to have these installed near recreational hot spots like parks, downtown, and tourist heavy areas.

Pop Up Vancouver will allow for social and contemplative experiences using branding collateral to attract the attention of a new interactive experience.

Vancouver Public Library Central is the only branch offering the high demand digital literacy classes.

VPL Digital Centres will increase technological accessibility for marginalized and isolated populations by having desktop computers available for use, free WiFi, and offering digital training sessions. Training is requested by the community and is provided by VPL’s efforts to increase digital literacy.

Impact of initiatives like these would result in an education driven method of bringing marginalized communities together for a connected experience.

We have presented our initial stage of this project to the City of Vancouver, and they strongly encouraged us to explore funding options for a pilot.

As these projects balance creativity and potential for execution, incorporates action based research, and integrates with existing offers. Which allows it to be feasible for immediate implementation.

Biggest takeaways

This is the first time I created a storyboard, moodboard, and directed a big video prototype project! Claudia and I worked through learning about adjusting lighting, setting up for filming, and understanding how colors/lighting really affect the outcome of a video and it's message.

The beginning of converting our copywriting into UX writing was a catalyst for how we were going to approach our branding, story telling, and video prototype. Paying close attention to every choice of words & their connotations, a brand’s voice, and tone is very important when presenting and showing an idea's value to a user and or stakeholder.

Sandra is a UX designer and researcher currently based in Vancouver, Canada.