IPC – Class 3 Observation of a piece of interactive technology in public

I wanted to share something I’ve casually observed this past summer.

The LinkNYC system of “structures” (as the city calls them).


A few observations:

  • I’ve seen very few people directly interacting with them so far. The handful I did see this summer were using them to charge their devices while sitting on the ground next to them.
  • But I do know for certain that one person is using them, and that is me. I use them for wifi. To do so, I don’t even have to touch the central tablet, which is a bit hidden between two larger screens. I log on from the screen of my smart phone. In addition, the structures also give you free phone calls, access to city services, and maps through the central tablet.
  • Unfortunately, the purpose of the structures seems to be primarily for selling advertisements. That’s the only message I can take away from how large the two side digital screens are.  More ads on the street?!  Ugh.
  • Ironically, it turns out the city says the structures’ primary purpose IS to provide free wifi!  They want these to replace pay phones with free wifi, across the city! I had no idea these were supposed to be pay phones of the 21st century. They say:  “LinkNYC is a first-of-its-kind communications network that will replace over 7,500 pay phones across the five boroughs with new structures called Links. “
  • A design challenge seems to be to make clear that these Links can help you with your 24/7 charging and calling needs.  I wonder how many other people even know you can use them for wifi?  There could be several solutions to this. For example, one design suggestion for the city would be to use the advertising space to promote the wifi service by tallying how many people have used the wifi that day.


  • Considered from Norman and Pullin’s perspectives, these are missing a few things:
    • Functionality in a stressful environment: New York City’s streets can lead to sensory overload. Few people have the time to slow down and peer at a small tablet between two very large digital advertisements. Norman would press a designer to consider the emotional context of the user. Why not make the tables bigger or somehow more apparent for a harried New Yorker?
    • Design for people with disabilities: Again, for someone with low vision, the main functionalities of the tablet are a little small to notice or navigate. While the tablet does have braille and talkback for touchscreen use, these adaptations seem too little for a major public utility service.