Very Good Benches

A research thesis project for the degree of Master of Design in Digital Futures at OCAD University, 2020.

These benches don't want to be good, but very good

“Very Good Benches” is a project which exaggerates the ideas of "smartness" in technology through a series of benches which are very good at offering seats to the public. The benches compete to beckon people to sit on them through the use of audio and light. 

They sense participants sitting on them using variable resistors made of out e-textile materials such as velostat and conductive fabric. 

Each bench compares itself to other benches within the network. If a bench has fewer “sits” than others it will increase its effort to encourage someone to sit. This work examines networked objects in the urban environment to challenge notions of optimization and efficiency within smart technology.

"Optimization is the technique by which smartness promulgates the belief that everything - every kind of relationship among human beings, their technologies, and the environments in which they live - can and should be algorithmically managed" - Orit Halpern

Why it matters

Cities are increasing the amount of smart technologies in urban environments for the purpose of optimization. 

Optimizing city spaces creates more sites of data collection from the public (primarily developed through urban infrastructure).

How can we imagine alternative smart infrastructure that optimizes for people?

Often infrastructure is neglected and taken care of by communities. By using an Emotional Design and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approaches, this projects explores alternative interactions that could occur with smart technology in public community spaces.

The Benches

The process for designing the benches was iterative, with each prototype evolving from the previous ones before

Each iteration explored a combination of input, output, construction, interaction, and networking

The Interaction Process

This process diagram shows the different vacant & occupied interaction states to which the benches respond. 

The Final Benches


The benches were fabricated using a CNC mill. All pieces were cut on 3/4" plywood and then laminated in groups of three. The CNC mill provided uniformity amongst the benches.

The leg pieces being assembled to be laminated together. 

The legs slotted into the bench top. 

User Testing

Set up

Users were invited to interact with the benches without any direction. 

The sessions were divided into two parts:

1) 15 minutes of unguided interaction time

2) 20 minute group interview afterwards

User testing results

The feedback from the user testing sessions was categorized into 4 main themes:

1) Bench Design 

The design of the bench (handles, wheels, and felt covered top) cued the users that these were not average benches. 

2) Movement

Handles and wheels encouraged movement for the users. They were comfortable in moving and arranging the benches in different configurations.

3) Contextual Awareness

Participants were very keen on understanding if proximity affected the interactions of the benches. As a result, many different arrangements were tried and tested to see if the benches would react in a new way. 

4) Light & Sound Interaction

The light and sound patterns were noticed, but confusing to users. Participants were keen on trying to understand the different feedback patterns produced. 

The light and sound combination was described as creating personalities for the benches. The colour of the light and speed of the tapping sound mimicking different emotions. 

Next Steps

Narrowing the Scope

The  scope for the interactions in this iteration of "Very Good Benches"  includes both the user and the bench itself. The next steps for this work would be to divide and narrow the scope into two projects: A Bench for Benches and A Bench for People. 

A Bench for Benches focuses on the awareness of the bench itself. The benches would understand that they are being moved, if humans are near them, and would develop stronger individual personalities. 

A Bench for People is tailored to  human entities to create an interactive experience using the benches as a platform. 

These two projects both use developed traits from this current iteration of "Very Good Benches" such as the handles wheels, ability to sense vacancy & occupancy, and the perceived bench personalities. 

Using Format