Soofa and Sidewalk Labs: Designing for Digital Transparency in the Public Realm

Photos courtesy of Sidewalk Labs

Photos courtesy of Sidewalk Labs

When technology is added to the public realm, it is increasingly important for the public to be aware of what’s happening around them.

At Soofa, our vision has always been to be transparent and pedestrian-centric in the way we design and deploy technology in public spaces – and to have a voice in shaping the standards and best practices for how smart cities technologies are layered into cities and neighborhoods.

From collaborating with the City of New York to help write and put into practice the Internet of Things Guidelines to participating in civic initiatives like the City of Boston’s Beta Blocks to gather public input in smart cities decision making, we are always eager to participate in precedent setting activities that advance the responsible deployment of digital technologies that make life better for people.

This is why we jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with Sidewalk Labs on their newest initiative to design for digital transparency in the public realm.

The end result of this exciting collaboration, which includes participants from all around the world, is to create an open source iconography that will enable the public to see and understand the digital technologies that exist in the public realm.

As Sidewalk Labs describes, “nutrition labels demystify the content of the foods we consume. Creative Commons logos quickly convey the key elements of their copyright licenses. Universal symbol signs help us effectively navigate through transportation hubs anywhere in the world. Yet there’s no clear design language for the digital technologies that increasingly surround us. We believe people should be able to quickly understand how these technologies work and the purposes they serve.”

Photos courtesy of Sidewalk Labs

Photos courtesy of Sidewalk Labs


Ed Krafcik, our VP of City Growth, joined the Sidewalk team in Toronto for the first of several collaborative, co-design workshops (Toronto, London, New York, San Francisco) to define the key themes related to digital technologies that are important to communicate in the public realm. The day long workshop yielded insightful conversations, meaningful debates, and ultimately, a number of early prototypes of icons that will evolve into the final working set of icons that will advance digital transparency and enable agency in public spaces to be released openly in early April.

We are also thrilled to be able to test this set of icons on our Soofa Sign networks in cities like Boston, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Miami this spring to gather valuable public input, test, and iterate to work towards a globally recognized standard for digital transparency.


Want to get involved?

Sandra Richter