Navigating women’s safety in public space: Amsterdam/Bangalore

During the fall 2013 semester, I coached a project that aimed to improve women’s safety in public spaces, commissioned by Cisco. This was a parallel project that was run simultaneously in Bangalore. Our partner there was Fields of View at IIIT-B University with whom we exchanged insights about the difference and similarities between the cities on this topic. The results of their project Convers(t)ation can be viewed here.

The Amsterdam team developed a necklace to explore relationships between scent, emotion and body posture. PosturAroma senses the angle of the back and uses scent as trigger, to remind the user to keep her head up, and straighten her back when stepping into the world, increasing her feeling of confidence to increase her feeling of safety.

Perception of safety

The design team of the Amsterdam part of this project consisted of a Dutch girl, and two boys from India and Japan. One of the first challenges of the team was to get a grip on defining ‘safety’ in a team that was culturally so diverse. It’s a complex subject matter that can be looked at from the angles of law enforcement, city-making and government policy, family responsibilities, cultural and socially defined roles, norms and values regarding women and many others. One of the defining moments was when the team decided that from some points of view Amsterdam is relatively safe place, without immediate risks for women. However, they also agreed that perception of safety (how safe people feel) doesn’t necessarily correlate with statistics on safety in certain areas.


Embodiment: posture and scent as emotional triggers

The projects main goal became to design a technological intervention to improve the feeling of safety. Focal points were embodiment (posture as expression as well as source of confidence, or lack thereof), scent as emotional trigger (explore to what extent certain scents can be coupled to trigger positive emotions), and experimental use of technologies and hacking. The design iterations were developed to explore and understand these ideas better and come to an integrated prototype.


Hacking, making, tinkering

The team made a lot of iterations in a really hands-on way. The collection of skills enabled tinkering with hardware (accelerometers and Arduinos) and hacking consumer electronics (electronic vaporators), and digital fabrication (lasercutting, 3D printing) to design a necklace with a futuristic feel to make a fashion statement for this iteration. A fashion designer was attracted to bring in the craft practices of knotting. What was great about this project was the profound focus on probing by design, really trying out things and testing out ideas by seeing and feeling what it would be like.



The research paper about PosturAroma was presented at the 9th International Conference on Design & Emotion themed “Colors of Care” in Bogota, Colombia, 2014. It won the Award for Best Design Case and was featured on Fast.Co,, PSFK,, Discovery Canada, and presented at the 2014 Rome Maker Faire.

Hout, van, M., Mul, L., Bogers, L. & Ito, S. (2014). PosturAroma – The Embodiment of Safety, in: Salamanca, J., Desmet, P., Burbano, A., Ludden, G., Maya, J. (Eds.). Proceedings of the Colors of Care: The 9th International Conference on Design & Emotion, Bogota, Colombia.

This collaboration with Cisco won the Best Collaboration award at the 2015 Computable Award.

Students: Laura Mul, Shinichiro Ito, Akarsh Sanghi.

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