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Kevin Ng

Designer with a fondness
for systems design,
typography, and pugs.

A bottom-up approach to education


Proposals for a more accessibility-friendly
and inclusive voting process

Elections Canada

Created with Sketch.

Can languages convey meaning without words?


Systems Design


Towards a bottom-up approach

At the turn of the 1900s, children in the Western world were targets of an expanding consumer culture and exploited as a source of cheap industrial labour. Even as educational theorists Pestalozzi and Froebel introduced concepts to integrate play into learning, the Industrial model that children were subjected to at factories still carried forth into educational models. Today, it is no better; even with more liberal, bottom-up approaches to learning with the Montessori or Reggio approaches, the majority of learning occurs in systematic, factory line processes. From Scantrons and stationery desk-based learning to the architecture and environments in which learning takes place in, it is evident that for learning to thrive, it must move away from the Industrial model; assessments, curriculums, environments, and the roles mediators and participants play need to be revamped.

Detention began as a project to explore play. Taking a cue from Buchanan, who states that “the history of design is a history of evolving problems”, it was imperative to look into the emergence of childhood play to see how it has became a factor in the design of schools, and what we can do better. That led to my realization that that are so many other factors to work out before play can thrive, of which I have aforementioned. Through design sketches resulting in Turrell-esque prototypes and mock timetables, I slowly moved towards melding my earlier fascination of how spaces influence our behaviours into my thesis. The resulting architectural model is an archetype that attempts to capture the more salient findings from my research. Aspects such as light, air quality, noise levels, the incorporation of nature, and wayfinding were considered. I also introduced earlier design sketches around mood, abstract play, and curriculum restructuring into areas of the model.

On the concepts of childhood and play

‘Childhood’ is a mercurial term, and its association with play is a relatively recent one. The delineation between childhood and adulthood was blurry until the latter part of the 20th century with children often put to work early on; even at the turn of the 1900s, they were targets of an expanding consumer culture and exploited as a source of cheap industrial labour. Looking back, G. Stanley Hall reflected that the changing definition of children is “analogous to the organic development of the modern city, community, and nation”. Carrying this comparison forward, it is important to question what does it mean to be a child today with traditional associations of childhood shifting with an earlier onset of internet usage and exposure to knowledge for “adults only”. Perhaps it is actually the reverse, and the “child inside us”, as we often say, has finally been allowed to let loose; does our childhood actually end?

Rennie Mackintosh, Marcel Breuer, Ernő Goldinger, Charles Eames, Ladislav Sutnar, Piet Zwart, Torres-Garcia, Jane Addams, Maria Montessori, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, and Friedl Dicker- Brandeis have all designed for play. Although their work in this field was never showcased as much as their work for adults, their efforts surfaced the importance of open-ended play as a strategy for learning and innovation. But where does play fit in?

Assemble and Simon Terrill, Brutalist Playground, 2015.

A recent exhibition in London by the studio Assemble and Simon Terrill titled “Brutalist Playground” questions exactly this role. The pair explored post-war designs for play by recreating the post-war playgrounds in the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico of 1956, and the Balfron Tower playground in Poplar designed by Ernö Goldinger. Originally built of concrete, the harsh Brutalist forms were softened, literally, by using colourful pastel construction foam instead. The materials help to remove the negative political associations Brutalist architecture has, and instead, provokes discussion by demonstrating a different criteria of play and public space before issues of liability and safety.

The post-war playgrounds were therefore successful from a design perspective not only through its ambiguous forms, but also since they didn’t inhibit children due to safety issues or danger. Risk should be thought about, rather than avoided entirely. Part of play is learning to navigate our world, which isn’t bubble wrapped and safety certified.

Looking forward

All this is not to say that the only way to move towards a better educational model is to revamp all the educational buildings in the world with this one; that would be grand, but it would be fruitless without starting from the bottom. It needs to start with the interactions between student and mediator. They are the 1:1 chats with a student, or making sure that the diversity of needs amongst learners are addressed, regardless if they are enrolling in the common teacher-based classroom setting, being home schooled, or using online services. Another major component is restructuring what classifications we use when assessing students; the exhausting tests as utilized by the U.S. is clearly not working, even with the “No Child Left Behind” policy, or the billions that go into funding education each year. I am looking into prototyping out a Github-esque model that uses an archive of a students entire body of work, from thoughts to artifacts, coupled with a mediator’s feedback to replace the current quantitive metrics.

Please visit my main piece to view the model and plans ☻

Service Design

Elections Canada

Opportunities for Improvement

The current voting process leaves much to be desired. Accessibility issues have even resulted in a man needing to slide down a stair rail to get to his polling station; these concerns, coupled with lower turn out rates, voting struggles for minorities, and long wait times piqued my interested to spend a semester looking into ways to improve the process.

I chose to steer away from online voting, which albeit quicker, introduces security worries and the need for paper backups. Instead, I looked to new technologies and ways to complement the existing structure. Proposals consist of: adding disability status profiles to income tax forms; funnelling the main tasks voters go to the website for into their own subdomains; optional account creation online; lowering age limits to register; leveraging Google Noto’s multilingual font, Facebook Messenger, and Apple’s Passbook; and a printed itinerary + guide.

Leveraging Government Touchpoints

Elections Canada already makes good use of DMV visits and income tax forms as entry points to updated elector information. Mapping the system revealed opportunities to increase accessibility awareness and correspondence for those in need. One early explorations included populating the income tax election form field with accessibility profiling; this is on the shelf in front of you.

Focused subdomains that surface common voting pain points

Voting often comes with common registration questions or polling information as elections near. By separating these into subdomains, information is available year-long, rather than the current way where the website changes depending on election season. One other benefit is a simpler site structure. Introducing optional account creation makes the process even easier by alerting you with changes to your account, quick updates to your account, and having polling locations and other parts of the experience already personalized to you.

Taking advantage of new technologies

Adding Google Noto, a multilingual font, to their current font family, Helvetica, allows for the opportunity to acknowledge the multicultural fabric of our nation. A welcome screen with the option to choose amongst these languages allows for considerate touches later on, such as surfacing phones lines that reach operators speaking their chosen language, instead of using a standard "call us" link.

Using messaging services, such as Facebook Messenger, allows for easier conversation compared to long wait times on the phone, or if an account is set up with Elections Canada, a bot could correspond with important updates or follow ups

Streamlining the Registration Process

Currently, there are many parallel streams one can traverse across when registering, or checking their registration. Separating the steps into one question per page work better across screens, and also benefits individuals using assistive devices by surfacing entry errors more intuitively.

Additional adjustments included: lowering the age limit to register, which honours motivated potential voters into the system, even with possibility of them not being able to vote by next election date; last steps to improve their future experience by allowing one to choose a language of correspondence and to include any physical or mental disabilities so electoral officials may follow up if necessary.

At the polls

Paper itineraries similar to Virgin America's boarding passes could show typical wait times at ones's polling station, a voter's template subtitled with their mother tongue if not English-speaking, or even a profile card to present to officials that surface accessibility needs or any assistance booked. The same could be translated to wallet apps in phones, such as Apple's Passbook.

Physical Computing


Language without words

There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today; 23 are a mother tongue for more than 50 million people. Can languages still convey their meaning when stripped of their phonetics?

Parametric builds upon technical aspects of an earlier project, which used Processing to visualize the sound signatures of environments. The results are three 3D printed music boxes that play “I love you” in English, French, and Chinese, which represent three of the larger language groups; this phrase was chosen due to its universal understanding. Notes heard are Arduino sensor readings mapped to a musical scale.

This concept could be expanded further to include inputs to capture your ambiance, the sound of emotions, or whatever one desires.