Posted by Selma Bjorklund

A day in the field

A couple of weeks ago a colleague and I headed out into the wild to collect people flow data. Armed with clickers (ok clicker simulation apps, we’re millennials), notepads, and warm clothes we hit up some well-chosen junctions and walking paths in Coventry, UK, in order to understand how the public realm is being used.

Our first find was that counting people is difficult. You have to keep your eyes not only on the street, but also on the clicker, and people come in literal hordes so keeping track of who you’ve counted is almost impossible. A couple of minutes in you find what strategy works though, and after that you click away like a machine.

Once our clicking routines were in place, we encountered our next problem: people are irrational. In a perfect world, we all cross the street at the designated places, and we never just randomly stop and turn around to walk the other way. In real life this obviously is not the case. Because of this, having the right software is only half the solution to people flow analysis. Getting the correct output also depends on the consultant having the experience to make the correct assumptions.

After a coffee break and a midday nap we were back in business, now sharper than ever. Look up, count, look down, click, look up, count, look down, click. Regroup, look at results, move on to the next junction. Look up, count, look down, click. Like little people flow robots we moved across the city, and soon found ourselves at a quaint café putting together hundreds of numbers into well-organised graphs.

Back at the office the next day it was time to visualise our findings. Gathering the right data is important, but it’s useless if it cannot be displayed in a good way. Turning endless numbers from smartphone clickers into something that we can examine and analyse takes knowledge and expertise, something that team Smart has spent years and years acquiring.

Finally we could kick back and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Not only were we able to bring some solid data to back our analysis, we also got to know a new city. Being forced to sit still and just examine all that is going on around you for hours is (believe it or not) not only a pretty great way to be a tourist, but also a very enlightening way to spend your day. In a time where everything is pushed to be faster and faster, maybe we should all take some time to just stay still and count people.

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