Yellow Design

How do you make Smart Cities smarter? That’s the question for cities around the world as we increasingly look to technology to help us use our resources better, integrate and green our environments, create greater efficiency in areas like transport and tell our stories to visitors.

For Belfast design company Yellow Design, it’s no idle question. They’re right at the heart of the action, working around the world to enhance city life.

For Creative Director and founder of Yellow Design Michael McGlade, the company is now seeing the benefit of years of research, such as their innovative work using User Interface and User Experience System Architecture to enhance the digital presence of their clients.

“Basically, we had become experts in visual communication even before we became involved in the Smart City concept,” Michael says, “so when the concept took off, we were in the right place at the right time.”

Being ahead of the game was a huge help when it came to helping deliver a service architecture that put people at the heart of the experience. “We were listening to clients,” Michael says, “researching and developing the technology, and saw the way things were going. What no one saw was the acceleration in the development of the concept that was created by the need for Covid recovery. That brought our work into sharper focus, as has the impetus on cities becoming more sustainable and resilient.”

Although they now work around the world, Yellow Design began their Smart City work at home. Back in 2018, Belfast decided to set a challenge to become a Smart City, exploring how innovative technology could help enhance areas like infrastructure, health, the environment, economic growth and tourism.

For Yellow Design, becoming a member of the Future Screens Northern Ireland (FSNI) creative cluster was a vital step. FSNI, which includes Queen’s University and Ulster University and stakeholders such as Belfast City Council, the BBC, Tourism NI and Invest NI, supports our creative industries in many ways, not least in developing the use of virtual reality in sectors like health and tourism.

With funding and support from FSNI, including a fellowship for Michael, Yellow Design have developed an Augmented Reality digital experience platform called Rovar which visitors can now access on their smart phone when visiting Belfast and other cities.

Yellow Design also work with councils to create in-app experiences, whether creating immersive interactive experiences to boost the tourism offering or using offers to encourage visitors to go to underexplored parts of the city.

Councils can also use the platform data to better understand tourist movement and visitor trends. The app also has practical applications, like telling you when the next bus is due.

Michael points out that enabling Smart Cities does not need vast investment. “It’s about enhancing what is already there, so there is no need for investment in dazzling new infrastructure. It’s about more efficient and greener use of transport and open spaces and making the best use of what the city already has in place.”

Perhaps the most dramatic impact of the new technology has been in tourism. “It’s a seamless visitor experience,” Michael says. “That’s why we created a full-scale Augmented Reality (AR) version of the entire Titanic at the Titanic Dock. That’s where our creative backgrounds help. It’s something we might never have thought possible if we had come at the idea from a purely technical point of view.”

Other vividly theatrical AR experiences are already on offer to the Belfast visitor. They can design and race their own virtual DeLorean car and, at the iconic Peace Walls, use the app to walk along a virtual, interactive timeline to learn more about the city’s history and the Good Friday Agreement. Michael and Yellow Design have also collaborated with the Game of Thrones team to create stunning AR experiences.

Recently they have taken their expertise and vision to cities like Dubai and London, where they have worked with BT to create AR experiences in Oxford Street.

But this is just the start of an exciting new era as the potential of AR to transform our cities begins to be realised. Yellow Design is stepping up its work in Belfast, embarking on a project supported by Belfast Harbour. And, while they are currently working with the 4G network, Michael is excited by the opportunities for the future created by 5G.

As the vision of AR broadens and expands, so will Yellow Design’s areas of expertise. They are already looking towards helping create solutions for some of the challenges of the future, such as the need for countries to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

For Northern Ireland tourism, the immersive experience created by Rovar is a fantastic boost as we seek to recover from Covid.

“We have such amazing stories here’, Michael says, “and AR enables us to tell them as never before.”