Protection Through Identity: Improving Cycling Through Design Informed by Biomimicry, Cognition, and Perception
The future success of American cities depends on the support and improvement of the urban cycling experience. Although cycle-commuting is healthy, sustainable, and fun, cycling in the city is dangerous and stressful, to a degree that limits the number of people willing to adopt the practice. Especially in older cities like Pittsburgh, where archaic infrastructure and narrow streets compound the communication issues between drivers and cyclists, being a cyclist requires a certain level of confidence and risk-taking that many people cannot afford. Improving the safety of this practice through better communication and heightened visibility would increase the quality of the experience and the number of participants. This thesis project explores the opportunities for improving the safety of urban cyclists through the study of time-tested communication strategies exhibited by other organisms and the translation of those strategies into human-specific solutions. Using the algorithmically-based visual strategies of poison dart frogs and the most common colors of the Pittsburgh road environment, I developed highly-dynamic reaction-diffusion patterns that dramatically increase the visibility of cyclists. Using the effective patterns, I prototyped wearables that take into account the inventive spirit of the urban cyclist—first as hand-drawn sketches, then as 3D textile prototypes that highlight the patterns through in silk-screened fabrics. Finally, I evaluated the placement of these wearables on the cyclist, paying close attention to its effects on the visual impact and communicative ability of the cyclist. The wearables proposed in this project will be refined and tested further with the goal of entering production with confidence to serve the Pittsburgh cycling community. Additionally, patterns and regionally-specific color palettes will be developed, ensuring that similar wearables that communicate effectively in specific environments enter other cities and markets, and ultimately save lives.