Response: Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City

Annette Kim talks about how spatial ethnography, property rights of public space, and critical cartography are all essential elements to understanding sidewalk life in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The process of designing for a demographic relates to the Define stage of a design problem. The very first step is to conduct user research and observe how they interact with their environment.

“When people try to identify universal cognitive modes for social phenomenom, they only reveal their own socialized conigitive frames” 

She talks about a designer designing a neighbourhood that won awards but in reality, it did not benefit the people who were actually living in them. They have to understand the system of power and order. She brings up a good point that design is beyond aesthetics. There is a cultural impact of every design. It is impossible to completely understand how a city’s people function in their own space solely based on statistics and documentaries. One must immerse themselves into the veins of the city. Designers cannot enter an ethnographic study with their preconceived hypothesis and “conceptual blinder”. Who are the types of people interacting and claiming this space? 

Navigating Bugis Street Without a GPS


My friend and I attempted to go to Bugis Street to go shopping. The first step navigating was the easiest part: take the 199 bus to the Boon Lay MRT station. The difficult part was trying to figure out which MRT line would take us to Bugis Street. We located an MRT map and scanned for the word Bugis. We found Bugis Station and just hoped for the best that it was where Bugis Street would be. After a 40 minute commute on the MRT, arrived at the very confusing. We followed the loudest crowd out the MRT station and luckily were greeted with a giant sign reading “Bugis Junction” There were so many buildings with the “Bugis Junction” branding so we assumed we were on the right side of the street. We ended up in an air-conditioned mall.  

Bugis Street was across the street without clear signage. It was covered by a very extravagant Maplestory billboard ad. We decided to check it out since there was a bustling crowd there. The landmark that we used as a central navigation point was the large Bugis Food Street sign in the centre of the first floor. The only other signage that was semi-helpful were the “MORE STORES HERE →” signs pointing out escalators hidden corridors. My friend was looking to get her nails done and we couldn’t find any salons until we reached the last floor, the fourth floor.

There were more “CCTV Surveillance Area” and “STOP CRIME” signs than wayfinding signs. 

Navigating would have been easier if there was a general map indicating what shops each floor had to make our visit more efficient. However, without the signage, we ended up exploring Bugis Street in its entirety. It was surprisingly not as stressful navigating without a GPS—we didn’t have to worry about running out out of data and being those tourists who stop in the middle of a walkway to find our way.

Dialogue in the Dark Visit Reflection

  1. Briefly explain your experience going through Dialogue in the Dark. What were some of your feelings, thoughts, challenges and insights gained while role-playing as a blind person? 

I’ve had to rely on my glasses ever since second grade. My vision progressively gets worse every year and it is always a lingering fear that I will lose my vision all together. This experience was surreal. I felt so vulnerable that I could not rely on my sense of sight to navigate. The biggest challenge was trying to anticipate my surroundings— I was wrong every time. This experience made think about the purpose of handrails, textures, and sound in designing for blind people. Even though we were told the simulation was on flat ground, I was still scared to walk fast and fall. The boat and crosswalk simulation were the scariest. There were so many distracting sounds: traffic, waves, talking, it made it hard to focus on how to navigate and there was a fear of getting lost. 

  1. Drawing on your experience, can you think and list some specific benefits inherent in the design research technique of role playing? 

  • Designing beyond our own scope of experiences is essential to creating products that are inclusive of everyone. 
  • This emphasizes the importance of understanding your demographic and conducting extensive primary and secondary user research and testing. 
  1. Can you think of some contexts where role-playing can be useful to help discover and define design challenges or contribute to the development of deisgn solutions? 

Role-playing creates empathy. It gives the designer a different perspective on how their designs will be interacted with. When designing experiences, it must be human-centred. A design is deemed useless if it fails to work for its audience. This role-playing experience is a reminder that the first step to the design process is to discover the issues that need solutions. 


Design of Everyday Objects

The following objects centre around my residence. The first few days living here was a huge learning curve. 

Object #1: Water Taps

I use the water dispenser taps every day, multiple times a day. The water dispenser is located in the kitchen on every floor in my hall.

 Affordance and Signifiers

The colour of the taps afford temperature of water flow. A water tap is typically turn on with a turning or pushing mechanism.  The signifiers of temperature colour-coded taps: pink for hot and blue for cold. These colours are universally known as hot and cold respectively. The groove at the top of the handle indicates a space for the hand to use force to push against. However, there was a further step needed for a steady flow of hot water: I had applied the same motion I did with the cold water and we met with drops of hot water. My next thought was to turn the handle clockwise to increase the pressure; that did nothing. I started to figure out the difference between the two taps. The pink tap has an additional lock mechanism that needed to be lifted while the tap is being pushed down. Even though this lock mechanism is designed to keep the user safe, it requires more signifiers that it needs to be lifted simultaneously. 

Object #2: Exit Button 

I’m not used to having to press a button to exit a locked door from the inside. I remember shaking the gate trying to get it to open until someone told me that I had to press a button. The design of the button is clear: you have to press it for it to create an output but the output is unknown. The white button is situated right beside a box with a confusing message: It gives the message of “break glass to door release” but it is in a green lockbox. This is the only item that has clear signifiers of a door release to leave the building. Therefore, this exit button does not afford to unlock a gate. It requires signifiers to tell the user to press the button for 2 seconds in order to unlock the gate. The location of the button could also be moved to be closer to the gate. 

Task 1A: Exploring the What, Why, Who, and How

What are some current issues confronting our world today? Amongst them, what is of interest and a cause of concern to you?

An overarching theme in my topics of interest is Sustainability. I am most interested in Plastic Pollution.

  1. Single-Use Plastics— Plastic Pollution

Climate change has been a lurking dread that is looming over Earth. With the boom of globalization, products are cheaper and more accessible. However, there is a cost: increasing carbon emissions. According to the United Nations, we need  “… to cut emissions by half by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050”. Recycling is no longer an effective way of reducing waste: only 9% of plastic is recycled and the rest is incinerated or ends up in the ocean. The fight against single-use plastics can start from the consumer and slowly move its way up the supply chain. 


2. Deforestation and Palm Oil Industry 

Indonesia and Malaysia make up 90% of the world’s palm oil production. The rise in demand for this vegetable oil is due to its ability to substitute more expensive oils. Due to this rise in demand, over 9,600,000 million hectares of land were converted to industrial oil palm farms. Rapid deforestation leads to endangered native animals and increasing carbon emissions. With the loss of rainforests, this results in a loss of carbon sequestration. Local farmers become collateral as their livelihoods are put on the line if palm oil becomes banned.


3. Greenwashing: going zero waste

The zero-waste lifestyle has been taking social media by storm. Companies are starting to market packaging that is supposedly ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’. But, what is considered to be green and eco-friendly? Companies that claim to have sustainable practice but no evidence is found in their supply chain. They are profiting off a buzzword. Companies are creating cloth bags, stainless steel straws, bamboo utensils etc. But in reality, these products are very resource-intensive and are all part of the “perfect image” of being zero waste. Not all people can afford to go zero-waste: there is a clear economic barrier.

4. Fast Fashion

There is a lack of accountability in the fast fashion industry: supply chains use unethical labour and raw materials. This industry is the second largest user of water in the world and produces 20% of the world’s wastewater. Fast Fashions create over 1 billion garment items a year and a majority of them are thrown to landfills; leading to chemicals, and microplastics leaching into soil and water.

Why is the issue important? Who does it affect and how?


The topic of climate change and pollution has been talked about so much in the media, that people have become desensitized to it. It builds the mentality of “I’m only one person. I can’t make a difference”. Plastic pollution affects everyone. Although plastics provide convenience and livelihood to many, especially in developing countries where plastics are the cheapest resource to use, they take a big environmental toll. 

The rapid consumption of goods has a hidden cost to its convenience. Every-day functionalities heavily rely on single-use plastics. The United States throws away an estimated 100 billion plastic bags annually. Single-use plastic cutlery, single-use plastic plates, bags, and straws are all examples of everyday plastics. 91% of plastics are not recycled — that is 6.3 billion metric tons. Due to the size of straws and cutlery, recycling facilities cannot sort them and they end up in landfills or in the ocean. In our linear economy where everything is built to be discarded, the plastic we create comes back to haunt us through microplastics and harming marine life. The beginning of the solution is to ban single-use plastics, create economic incentives, and educating. Instead of reduce, reuse, recycle, think REFUSE, reduce, reuse, recycle. 


Who do you need to communicate to, and why?

The target audience of the issue of plastic pollution can be any part of the linear supply chain of goods.

Consumers can choose to refuse plastics in their daily routines and adopt reusable replacements for single-use plastics. A niche is the zero-waste/ low waste demographic: they are people who adopt a lifestyle where they do not purchase goods in packaging. Instead, they purchase their goods second hand and from bulk stores. This demographic needs resources to help market and educate others to understand their lifestyle and the benefits of living a low waste lifestyle.

“It might be true that single-use plastics might be cheaper than some renewable or compostable resources but it’s not really cheaper, because when you think about the environmental externality, that is attached to the cheapness there is no economic sense. “ Kifah Marin, UN Development Program

Companies can choose to adopt more sustainable practises and start to use renewable and compostable resources for their products. They would need economic incentives and sustainability professionals to provide consultations in order to improve their practises.

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef.

How has visual communication contributed to addressing the cause? 

Cover by Jorge Gamboa, National Geographic, Print, 2018

The National Geographic published this cover to bring light to the issue of plastic trash crisis. The message is very clear: it says that the plastic trash crisis is much more serious that we think. The plastic in the water may also imply that beyond large pieces of plastics, there are microplastics negatively affecting marine life wellbeing. The colour choice works well with conveying the cold hard truth climate change. It utilizes contrasat very well to guide the viewer’s eye. 

Try to digest it, Natalya Zhurakovskaya, Studio 100%ART , 2019

This magazine cover series brings attention to the epedmic of humans and marine life consuming microplastics. It juxtaposes clean and studio photos with jarring imagery of everyday food made with plastic. These covers are very engaging because of the use alarming imagery against a white background. The layout of the photography guides the viewer to see the main peice, plastic food and then the text surrounding it. 

Refill for Plastic Free Challenge,  Green Hat Studios, 2018,

This poster was used in a National tap water campagian called Refill in the UK. It promoted bringing your own bottles for water and to curb plastic bottle usage. It uses a soft pastel pallete to make it look inviting. It does a great job with pairing jarring facts about pollution with friendly graphics.