OATS 2016


Better Block PDX presented at the Oregon Active Transportation Summit (OATS) 2016, curated by Katie Mangle of Alta Planning. I spoke about the role information design plays in our projects.

The leap of imagination that helps Better Block projects become real changes in space use is accomplished partly with good visuals which connect the intent of the project partners with the public. At OATS, I compared the information design of Better Naito to marketing, and in a way it is the marketing of public space because it maximizes the mileage we can get from very ordinary materials.


Imagine that you are shopping for a shirt for a New Year's Eve party. There are only two inputs : the shirt, and the idea of December 31st. Yet the taste of homemade ginger cookies, the smell of a Christmas tree and board games at Lisa's house might all drift into the room uninvited when you catch sight of a $20 white cotton button-down to your liking. A $200 embroidered silk blouse with nacreous buttons could induce a vision of a tall champagne glass on a rooftop bar overlooking the city and hey, did you just get promoted!?

What happened there that created all this new information? This fantasy state is marketing, the ability of objects to elicit scenarios and future projections unconsciously within seconds. After all, everyone is a planner. Whether we work in that profession or not, each of us is a storyteller speculating about the future.


To finish this analogy, in a Better Block mock up, the shirt is the traffic candlestick and the New Year's party is the project site. What makes this candlestick different than the hundreds of other construction candlesticks around the city? Information design that answers the basics of reporting - who, what, where, when, how, why - and helps us along in our imaginings. Then we might first imagine, then actually walk down Naito Blvd. on a Saturday, carried towards the smell popcorn and the affairs of a fair.


Hold on. Today media has the power to push beyond informing and into communication, this is the "social" media we all know and love - Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, the comments page, Forums, Instagram. To date, there are over 990 references to the hashtag #BetterNaito. These represent discussions, questions, complaints, compliments, and photo documentation. Without the prescribed predictability of focus groups, meetings, or canvasing, social media is rich with candid and genuine information about specifics - timestamped and tagged.


Branding a Better Block project frames a conversation by making it easy for the public to reference and discuss a complicated idea with the small breath of two words. This is my area of expertise with Better Block, I am thankful to work with an incredible group of people that bring many talents to our table - traffic control planning, business management, and policy advice. Our strength is in the diversity of our backgrounds and the ability to see one problem from many angles, just the way Fat Pencil Studio helps build concensus through visuals. One day perhaps you, too, will be prompted into action, helping us set up something fun around town, to reimagine our city again and again.

Yelena Prusakova was an illustrator at Fat Pencil Studio from 2013-2017.