< R E T U R N

How can DESIGN be used to foster civic ownership?



participation of the popular initiative casa amarela saudável e sustentável.

10 weeks

Created as Degree Project at the UFPE BA in Design, Unicidade is a collaborative project/experiment, proposed to investigate how to stimulate the feeling of protection and familiarity on a community, fostering ownership and civic empowerment. 

Focusing on how to stimulate the engagement of residents through the initiative Casa Amarela Saudável e Sustentável, techniques of Participatory Design were used for research, ideation and project development.

Casa Amarela is located in the Northern district of Recife. As one of the oldest and largest communities, has a great political and historical importance. Today Casa Amarela calls attention to the disparity amongst different areas of the neighbourhood. According to the IBGE* study in 2011, the central area has HDI similar to countries such as New Zealand, while hill regions resemble regions such Tajikistan.

*Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.


Unicidade: giving voice to a community.

Unicidade is a platform designed to assure the expression of members of a community. Popular initiatives can disseminate actions and connect with non-engaged residents, encouraging them. The project name refers to the messaging process that depends on members agreeing to broadcast a message.

Unicidade allows the community to write and choose the most relevant messages to be broadcasted on a public space and website. Popular initiatives are included to stimulate discussion and spread the most recent activities.

The project is divided on a virtual and physical part.


the city sense

 Casa Amarela's public market

Casa Amarela's public market

The installation, named City Sense, allow the most voted messages to be viewed by everyone. The public space is transformed into a support for messages from community members.


Casa Amarela's public market was appointed by the research as a the favourite place of residents and chosen for demonstration. Since the market is quite busy, interaction through an application was chosen to not disrupt the main tasks of passers by on site.


 Mobile and web platform

Mobile and web platform

The popular initiative would be responsible for approving subsequent members. It's up to the initiative to write messages related to community interests and be available to face-to-face interactions.

The installation can receive messages from residents and visitors of Casa Amarela. Residents can send messages anonymously, connected to the application. Visitors can use the website and leave messages only when around the facility.




 View from Alto Santa Terezinha, hill area of Casa Amarela.

View from Alto Santa Terezinha, hill area of Casa Amarela.


 Casa Amarela Saudável e Sustentável initiative.

Casa Amarela Saudável e Sustentável initiative.

Building and testing

 Handmade wireframes for the digital part.

Handmade wireframes for the digital part.

To analyse the relationship of the general public with the neighbourhood, the interviews were divided into three types: a) sorting - identifying participants who lived or frequently visited the neighbourhood; b) daily interactions - identifying the use of areas and shared issues and c) emotion and history - longer interviews with a long time resident or visitor about emotional memory.

Four workshops were held to create a boundary object, a common element where practices of different social worlds meet and are coordinated. Adapted from Collective Action (by Frog) the work generated a Mind map of Impact, defining importante local actors and Problem Cards, raising immediate neighbourhood problems.

Communication was pointed as main issue and brainstorming sessions around this subject were held.

A lo-fi prototype was tested using role-playing and after refinements, turned into a video.

The focus on a project was extremely useful to make different actors agree and work together, turning design into a common language. Further developments are expected to turn the concept into a working installation for longer time. The project report can be downloaded here (currently in Brazilian Portuguese, English version soon).