Data, Design and The City

September 2014

We designed a new undergraduate course structured around a practical challenge presented by a partner. Students used data analysis and participatory design to develop new ideas to address challenges of food waste and the circular economy. Students used design methods to prototype and test ideas such as an app to find plastic-free shops, removing the tray system from student dining halls, and offering healthier meal-deal options in on-campus shops.

Data, Design and The City is a 20 credit undergraduate course. It is a collaboration between Edinburgh Living Lab, the Schools of Informatics, Social and Political Studies, and Design Informatics at The University of Edinburgh.

This learning-by-developing course focuses on developing techniques in participatory design for the generation, use and impact of data as social and scientific evidence. Today's cities produce an immense amount of data —  just think of open government data, urban sensors, smart homes, and self-quantification. The students will gain foundational concepts and tools for data collection, interpretation, and ethical analysis. They will then take part in a collaborative, interdisciplinary project around a "wicked problem," identified in partnership with organisations in the University, the City or the region. Student teams will develop a prototype intervention, test and evaluate this with potential users, and finally present the results to the problem holder.

Previous courses have explored the themes of Active Travel; Walking in the City Centre; Waste in the City; and The University Food Strategy. Data, Design and The City is a course that combines interdisciplinary teamwork with practice-based challenges.

This course has evolved from a previous undergraduate course, Data, Design and Society. You can see some previous team presentations here.

Online Events

3-4pm Fri 29 May - Euan Mills.
One-hour Tweet Up discussion on Twitter (using #SmartPlaces) on article 'Design with Data: the need for data-driven and evidence-based approaches in the built environment industry'.

3-4pm Fri 5 June - Daisy Narayanan.
One hour Tweet Up  on her article 'Shaping a resilient future for Edinburgh'.

3-4pm Fri 12 June - Sarah Frood.
Tweet Up (using #SmartPlaces) on the topic of her article 'Digital and Face-to-Face' about digital tools for meaningful place-based discussions.

3-4pm Fri 19 June - Dr Jo Morrison
One hour Tweet Up (using #SmartPlaces) on her article 'Digital Placemaking for More Inclusive and Accessible Cities' - discussing how combining people, place, tech and data can lead to more welcoming public spaces for all.

3-4pm Thurs 25 June - Sally Kerr. One hour Tweet Up (using #SmartPlaces) on her article 'Why Local Data is the Key to Successful Placemaking'.

Panel Discussion - 3-4pm Fri 26 June.
One hour online discussion including public Q&A. Miss it? View the recording.

Guest Blog Authors

Ewan Klein

Euan Mills

Co-founder of the Digital Planning Directorate at Connected Places Catapult. Previously 16 years experience in the built environment industry, including advising the Mayor of London.
Cat Magill

Daisy Narayanan

Director of Urbanism for Sustrans. Interweaving policy, public realm design and key place principles to create liveable towns and cities.

Sarah Frood

One of the founding directors at Icecream Architecture. Delivering place-based (cultural economy, digital place-making, public art) projects for the past 10 years.
Ewan Klein

Sally Kerr

Independent consultant with expertise in digital and data innovation including Open Data, Smart City and IoT with a focus on the public sector. Founder of EdinburghApps. Cofounder of Edinburgh Living Lab.
Cat Magill

Niamh Webster

Digital Engagement Manager at the Scottish Government. Advises policymakers on using engagement methods to make sure people are meaningfully involved. Currently exploring how traditional offline ways of involving the public can be done online.

Kate Carter

Senior Lecturer Architecture Technology and Environment at ESALA, University of Edinburgh. Researcher in housing, architecture and sustainability. Worked on the ‘Present Voices Future Lives’ exhibition commissioned by the Scottish Government.


Ewan Klein

James Albon

James is a British author and illustrator. His clients include the Folio Society, The Guardian, Libération, the Wall Street Journal, Penguin Random House and WIRED. He studied illustration at Edinburgh College of Art, and went on to a postgraduate scholarship at the Royal Drawing School in London.
Cat Magill

Katie Quinn

Katie is an illustrator and comic book artist who works from her studio in Edinburgh. Her work is predominately digital; and has been used in editorials, publications, murals and exhibitions, with a recent focus on data comics.

Laura Sayers

Laura is a freelance illustrator based in Glasgow. Her intricate pieces are all made meticulously from different layers of paper, cut with scissors and finished with finely painted details. These are then photographed and edited for reproduction, providing a final print that has depth, texture and a novelty charm.
Ewan Klein

Victoria Rose Ball

Victoria is a freelance illustrator based in Edinburgh. Her work is predominantly digital and focuses on architectural illustrations, often with her own take on perspective and playful colour schemes.
Cat Magill

Jack Daly

Working from his studio in Glasgow, Jack is a Scottish freelance illustrator focussing primarily on advertising, editorial, and product illustration. Previous clients include Adele, BMW, and the New York Times.

Katie Chappell

Katie is best known for her fresh wobbly illustration and giant live window paintings. Global clients include Facebook, Google, as well as some of the UK's leading universities. An alumna of Edinburgh College of Art, she runs The Good Ship Illustration - with her pals Helen Stephens and Tania Willis.

Next Steps

The aim of these events is to open up new conversations and connections between university researchers, industry practitioners and local people, to share knowledge and create a network of people working to improve local places using either community engagement and/or data/tech approaches. We also hope they will start to identify what some key built environment challenges of mutual interest might be for people across Edinburgh. This will feed into EFI’s work longer term, with discussions, connections and thinking all acting as a pre-cursor to a series of in-person physical events and Smart Places exhibition and conference which we hope can take place later in the year.

As we consider the way forward into a changed and changing world, EFI seeks to put research, education and engagement in the service of the wider community and to support recovery and regeneration. The Smart Places initiative will contribute to conversations and activities in core sectors linked to the Data-Driven Innovation and City Region Deal contribution including creative industries; tourism and festivals; financial services/fintech; public services/data civics; future infrastructure; and ethics of data and AI​.

Related Events

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