Personal expression to make public spaces inclusive and equitable


The Storywall is an expressive public installation that emphasises the experiences that people share despite possibly having different identities and life stories. It encourages people to share short personal anecdotes anonymously. These submissions are displayed on a public screen in the physical space they frequent. Users respond to a pre-defined set of questions. The goal is to foster the physical presence and interactions between strangers in public space, “so that you can relate to other people, but you’re not instantly exposed to them”.

The Storywall at the University of Sydney

The Storywall at the University of Sydney


Public spaces are important for fostering civic discourse and connections in communities, by providing the opportunity for people who may not otherwise interact, to meet. This ‘social friction’, that arises from the physical presence and interactions between strangers in public spaces is crucial to placemaking and the creation of inclusive and equitable spaces. 

The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity.
The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts... Most of it is ostensibly trivial but the sum is not trivial at all.
— Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Approach and Methodology

The Storywall as a hack

The Storywall has more in common with an interactive artwork to be displayed in public than a product to be designed and evaluated for use. The research project involved design, realization and evaluation in sufficiently realistic contexts of use. The metaphor of ‘hacking’ is relevant here, with an emphasis on learning by doing. The project was also a study of the role of digital media platforms in placemaking.

Rapid Iterative Approach

The prototype was developed in an iterative manner in phases - background research, literative review and precedent analysis, visioning and implementation. The Analysis-Synthesis bridge model was instructive to the development of the concept.

The Hackable City Research Manifesto (Ampatzidou et al., 2015)

The Hackable City Research Manifesto (Ampatzidou et al., 2015)

Analysis Synthesis Bridge Model (Dubberly and Evenson, 2008)

Analysis Synthesis Bridge Model (Dubberly and Evenson, 2008)


Preliminary Mockup

In the age of first­ generation feminism, gays coming out and so on, the other – the dominant order – was something to confront. But today, there’s a kind of isolation, a kind of siloing. You know the kind of thing – you’re like that, and I’m like this, and the you’re like that, and so on. So now there’s a kind of indifference to the other. It’s the construction of a neutral indifference.
— Richard Sennett

Telling Stories

Personal stories are at the heart of the Storywall. Over the course of the research and development, it became quickly apparent that stories work extremely well as relational artefacts that make us think of "the other".

Stories are relational

They contain perspectives of people we may never meet.

Stories are representative

They work at individual and collective scales.

Accessible & Varied

They provide room for personal style and expression.




Web-based. Easy to deploy anywhere.

The final prototype was a Node.js based application, backed by a MongoDB database. A simple API allows users to make new submissions and display existing stories.

A prototype of the application was deployed at the University of Sydney over a period of 3 weeks. Users and members of the community viewed the application positively, and reported that it provoked moments of contemplation and curiosity.

People can submit the stuff anonymously and I think that the anonymity of it actually makes it more personal than a lot of other forms where you have to have an identity.
— User Interview