On our last day in Shanghai we met Sencity, a young global Start-up. They are an interdisciplinary 30-people design agency with a team of creatives, techies, and urban experts and are specialized in redesigning public infrastructure. Considering them being such a young company, they serve an international and very impressive customer landscape like the city councils of Sydney, Shanghai or New York City.

Sencity’s mission is to transform the mundane into the extraordinary which means that they are working on what they call dumb infrastructure: infrastructure and devices such as trash cans, park benches and bus shelters that for a very long time no one thought about in respect of design. They do this by applying a design thinking approach as they strongly believe (such as we do) that a purely technological approach leaves out too many scenarios as well as the user experience.

Their founder, Steven Bai, provided us with inspiring examples of what cities around the world do to foster – what he calls – public happiness. Examples designed by Sencity and other Start-ups:

Trash can – or the “smart kiosk”

The question behind the redesign of trash cans into, what for marketing reasons they now call “smart kiosk”, was how the perception of trash cans could be changed into an experience so that people would feel delighted and rewarded after the usage. Speaking more broadly, it thus explores how digital technologies can be used to motivate positive change in urban environments. Like many other innovations by Sencity it uses a gamified approach – making use of game mechanics and game thinking. Depositing of rubbish into a bin, which is normally seen as a passive act requiring minimum thought is given importance as the participants must drop their rubbish into the bin at the right moment to advance further in a computer game.


ActiWait is not just a simple traffic light button. Installed at pedestrian traffic lights with long red phases, it offers pedestrians the chance to convert boring waiting times into fun experiences. Through a touch screen, people can interact with each other across the street by playing Pong, the world’s oldest computer game, against each other. Not only is this entertaining, but this simple tool also reduces jay walking and thus the risk of accidents.

Soofa signs

Another example Steven showed us were the Soofa signs. Soofa signs are digital community bulletin boards. They provide community members the opportunity to share relevant local content, businesses of all sizes can engage with customers, artists can showcase their work. Many cities also use it to provide real-time updates about public transport.

“After the smartphone revolution, the next big thing will be ‘city apps’” Steven is sure. Google already invests heavily. A strong sign that Steven’s opinion will be realized.

In the end Steven quoted Jan Gehl, an influential Danish architect and city developer who once said, “A good city is like a good party, people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves.” Considering this, we are curious whether we will see the examples above soon also in Europe to turn our cities into more playful, citizen-friendly and colorful places.