Field Notes

Rendering Prototypes

Here are some examples of line and rendered visuals I’ve been playing around with using Disputo monolitus (c.n. LinkNYC) as a starting point. The goal is to find a way to describe the object, but not to have too much extraneous detail.

I’m quite inspired by the work of Arup Digital Studio and Dash Marshall (examples below), so much so that I need to continue iterating the format so it isn’t such a blatant riff1Sorry Dan & Bryan. I need to have a few prototypes to see if the way people will use these tools as design objects (like Arup) or description objects (like Dash Marshall). I like the combination of real-world photographs with simple line drawings which express what the object does, why it exists, and why it’s important.

Participation tools for a new city centre library by Arup Digital Studio
Visual language for Reimagining the Civic Commons by Dash Marshall

US Patent US2333273A – Safety marker

As part of this project, finding primary sources is important to understand why each piece of street furniture or urban typology came about, and what problem it was trying to solve. While researching the Common Cone (Protectus conus – to be published soon) I found the origin story of the cone. Traffic cones were invented by American Charles D. Scanlon, while working as a painter for the City of Los Angeles. He holds US Patent US2333273A, a drawing from the patent shown above.

My invention pertains generally to Safety markers, and more particularly to markers used on highways to indicate wet paint, pavement repairs, etc.
Charles D. Scanlon

Full patent application for US Patent US2333273A and a local PDF copy.

Inspiration: Jan Kattein Architects


Jan Kattein Architects is a London-based architecture, urban planning, placemaking, developer, etc firm which uses architectural practice and design as a tool for dialogue and exchange, empowering the community. Their projects are small, scrappy, and amazing. 


I’ve been most obsessed with Blue House Yard (Instagram), a temporary redevelopment of a former carpark including creative work and retail space, a public square for markets and events. Maybe I’m older but to me this is the positive outcome of architecture applied to urban space, not some blobs which leak. The market-scale of their projects is quite evocative. 

Points of Inspiration

  • I love their line drawings. I’m not a huge fan of the god-eye-view, but it is often a necessary requirement to see the overall scheme. And they imbue this view with joy and life that I instantly want to go to this place.
  • Their forms are very basic, and typological, which makes reading the schemes clear and easy.
  • I love that they are also investors and developers in their schemes. This shows (to me) that they are true believers, and aren’t designing things which waste client’s money.

All photos and drawings in this post by Jan Kattein Architects. You should hire them.

About this project

I am obsessed with the city. While I grew up in suburbia, I went to an urban college and lived in big cities for the last 20 years. I’ve lived in Boston, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, New York, and Mumbai, with major stops in London and Singapore. That’s the greatest hits of urbanity right there.

A lot of attention is paid to the big moves of the city and great work has been done, from Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, to Lewis Mumford’s The City in History, to the most iconic example, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. These are big overarching books well worth your time.

But they miss the smaller details of urban living. Municipalities – Cities, villages, urban and suburban areas – are full of small bits of urban fabric which we almost never foreground: street furniture. These bits of urbanity are the unsung heroes of city life. They help keep us moving safely about our day by deploying signage and traffic lights; hold our newspapers before and after we read them; street furniture protects us with bollards and separated bike lanes; and street furniture brings us joy with trees and art.

I envision this project to be similar to another seminal, if controversial book: A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. Perhaps these are the smaller-scale patterns which flow from the objects themselves. I can only be so presumptuous. This website endeavors to present a wide cross section of communities, taking into account varying densities, geographic location, community age, and mobility mix, allowing wider insights. 

Wide-scale scholarship in this area, especially at this scale, is limited. Conducting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative will give designers and Civic Practitioners additional information and inspiration, leading to better decisions, positively impacting their communities.


You can check out some typology examples here:

Or try these:


All of this research can flow into final artifacts in different ways. The key design problem is finding the intersection of what I find inspiring, what other people find interesting, and what makes sense. So far, I’ve shortlisted the following outputs:


An encyclopedia and digital notebook for this project allowing experimentation, charting inspiration, prototyping, and recording all the work completed for this project.

You are here.

Field Guide

A portable guide for identifying street furniture, markings, and urban typologies in the wild. I envision the first edition focused on New York City, with future editions covering other regions and cities, as there will be a great deal of communal overlap worldwide (but I have to start somewhere).

Left: Old mockup.

Walking Cards

A set of identification cards practitioners can use as they go about their day, acting as both flash cards and design tool allowing exploration of new typology combinations.

Left: card prototype

I need your help

So I’ve been doing this project on and off for a few years, and while I’m invested, I’ve just gotten to the point where I can show the work in some organized format. I have some questions:

  • Is this useful to anyone? Am I just obsessed with this stuff?
  • What can make it better? What should I do less?
  • What kind of content do people want/need?
  • Is there an appetite for a Kickstarter/Patreon to help defray some of the cost?
  • What form factors are the most useful, or interesting?
  • I’m still working on the overall tone of voice for this project – go one way and it’s too dry, the other way and it’s too niche.

Inspiration – Magic: The Gathering

Note: This inspirational entry is way outlandish, and at the far end of what I envision the form of the final field guide. Wildlife Treasury is closer to what I imagine this project to entail, both in terms of form factor and content. These posts are an attempt to pull back the curtain on the design process.


Magic: The Gathering (or MTG or simply Magic) is a turn–by–turn card–based game where players face each other, draw cards, and try to kill their opponent by causing damage. Each player assembles a deck composed of spells, artifacts, creatures, and land cards (with different land types). New cards are continually produced and released, creating a complex ecosystem of collectors and players, with detailed rule systems.

If this sounds geeky and complicated, it is.


Ok. So I was (am) a bit of a nerd/geek growing up. And while I used to collect baseball cards, they just sort of sat there. While collecting things connects to a deep part of my wanting to complete things (this this project itself and my inspiration on Wildlife Treasury), baseball cards didn’t always feel useful.

So enter Magic, where you could put together a deck and face off against people; create customized decks and quickly experiment on gameplay; and create deeper backstories to these illustrated cards. I also played Dungeons and Dragons and Mechwarrior. Magic took less time and provided a more casual gameplay environment.

Like I said, I was (am) a bit of a nerd/geek.

The world of Magic is sprawling, and while the rules seem complicated, they are fairly simple once you play a few times (have you every tried to explain the rules of Baseball, Euchre, or Bridge to someone?). These simple rules create deep complexity and variation, much like cities themselves.

Points of Inspiration

  • Subscription and expansion sets allow growth and extension. Since I’m not going to get all parts of street furniture and urban typologies published on the first pass, this is a useful conceit.
  • Iterative play: there are a lot of gameplay options. A lot. Which increases complexity but allows for customization.
  • Beauty: some of the cards are quite striking and are pieces of art into themselves. How might I use beauty and illustration (besides photography) to make the everyday pieces of the street feel important and beautiful?
  • Story: each card contains a bit of a story, taken together feed into a larger universe. What is the story – explicit or implicit – should I tell?
  • Cult: Magic continues to have a cult following, how might I build a tiny cult around street furniture?
  • Typology Game: wouldn’t it be cool if there was a game based on these street furniture typologies? Where instead of killing your opponent, your aim is to make the street better? Could there be a card game based on the same research? Would people play it? Maybe.


More inspiration

Inspiration: City Stamps


United Airlines in–flight magazine Hemispheres had an article about cities featuring customized city stamps.


I love cancellation stamps – especially customized ones (see Fancy Cancels). In much of my work, stamps are something that I try to force into the project until I, or someone else, call attention to the absurdity with attendant mockery.

I think the messy physicalness of a stamp can lend some authenticity to the experience if done right. Stamps rule.

The Hemispheres examples aren’t great, but they were surprising, and I appreciated the little bit of thought that went into them.

Points of inspiration

  • Not everything has to be original
  • If people want to find their street furniture, is there a fancy cancel for that piece?
  • Details matter

Prototype: Cards

Some of my inspirations have been card decks of varying kinds – I’ve shared aircraft identification cards and Wildlife Treasure – and I wanted to share an early profile of what a card might look like (prototype above).

The design challenge is figuring out what information is germane for a card versus a printed pamphlet versus a website. Not only is form factor and brevity a consideration, but thinking of what someone might want to do with the different form factors is also important.

I can imagine a world where the cards are useful/fun as flash cards, small enough to bring along a city walk. Where the printed pamphlet acts as a more of a reference book, and the website the complete storehouse.