Design Thesis/Jacob DeGeal/2019

The Problem

Research has shown that 51% of Americans are interested in biking for transportation, but don’t because of fear of personal safety on the road. City leaders are looking to capture this audience to reduce car congestion and improve air quality. However, federal and state funding for city road infrastructure has been steadily declining over the past few decades, leading many cities to look towards local tax-based funding sources that require significant public participation and approval. As the transportation sector continues to innovate, cities need better ways of planning, designing, and building infrastructure with and for their residents.

The Project

My MFA Thesis in Design focused on investigating ways designers can help city leaders and planners build better infrastructure for the 51% of commuters mentioned above, as well as for emerging “micromobility” modes like dockless scooters and bikes. By combining tools used in transportation research, public life studies, and design thinking, I created ChalkTalk, a framework for planners, designers, and residents alike to rapidly research and test new transportation infrastructure.


  • Conducted multiple street studies over a two-year period to understand the influence the built environment has on movement patterns.
  • Interviewed working professionals on their commuting habits, assessed their level of knowledge in transportation infrastructure, and gained insight on the motivations and context that guide their commute decisions.
  • Interviewed city planners and design professionals on effective (and ineffective) public participation tactics.
  • Tested the framework through self-initiated projects.
chalktalk bookletc

The Solution

The framework is an augmented design thinking process tailored to designing and testing projects in the built environment: tools like pedestrian environment audits and public life studies provides methods of observing and measuring activity on city streets; participatory democracy allows designers, planners, and residents to ideate together; tactical urbanism becomes an approach to rapid prototyping. To put the framework into the hands of residents, I created a booklet that walks people through the process step-by-step, and encourages them to share their ideas with city staff.

Testing the ChalkTalk Framework

The ChalkTalk Booklet and Website

Download a printable version of the ChalkTalk booklet

The Results

During my collaborative MFA Design Exhibition, Work for Progress, I showcased the five projects above and distributed over 30 booklets to attendees. The booklet and framework became a valuable toolkit in generating projects ideas during a 10-month public artist residency in Salem, MA, which helped found my collaborative studio Creative Blocks. Additionally, the framework was useful in guiding Cambridge youth through a self-initiated park redesign during the 2021 Neighborhood Design Project, a program organized by Design Museum Foundation that teaches young adults how to tackle wicked problems in their community using Human Centered Design processes.

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