Look Up – an app designed to stop New Yorkers staring at the mobile phones

Socially-focussed artist, designer and 2017 Design Indaba speaker, Ekene Ijeoma, has found a way to humanise intangible data to trigger empathy and compassion.

A new digital participatory art project conceptualised by interdisciplinary artist and NYFA and New Lab Fellow, Ekene Ijeoma, has been designed to get New Yorkers off their cell phones and in tune with each other and the city they live in. Ijeoma, who presented his work at this year's Design Indaba Conference, has been featured in GDUSA’s People to Watch specifically in the category of ‘those who embody the spirit of the creative community’, as well as Adweek’s Creative 100 ‘visual artists whose imagination and intellect will inspire you'. 

Ijeoma diligently explores the intersections of social issues, data studies and life experiences and uses these yardsticks to raise awareness around social issues through the creation of websites, objects, installations, apps and performances that successfully translate often overlooked facts into informed feelings. By utilising these multisensory experiences he dreams of expanding people’s thoughts with a view to helping along the path of change.

Look Up was commissioned by Google Creative Lab for Android Experiments and has since enjoyed numerous accolades including being named a finalist in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards and featured in some of the world’s most revered publications. Ijeoma’s work Ekene's work has been exhibited at galleries and museums including Annenberg Center for Photography, Neuberger Museum of Art, Storefront for Art and Architecture, Istanbul Design Biennial and Design Museum respectively.

App uniqueness

This intuitive app gets you in tune with yourself and your city’s rhythms as you move through it from block-to-block by keeping you from being absorbed in a vortex of messaging, posting and surfing the web. The app is a public participatory art project that is accessed through a Smartphone – asking the people of the Big Apple to refocus their eyes on to the streets around them instead of on the screen in front of them.

Look Up uses NYC DOT Vision Zero data on accident injuries and fatalities and calculates an ‘energy score’ for every intersection in the city. A higher score means that more accidents have occurred at that intersection and that the user should, as a result, pay increased attention when crossing the road. 

Currently Look Up is only available as a Live Wallpaper for Android users. The app can be run in the background concurrently with other apps. Users have a set of preferences that allows them to activate the app at any intersection, randomly or at set intervals if they so prefer. If New Yorkers are travelling by way of a faster car or on a motorbike, there are settings that accommodate these modes of travel as well.

Tearing down digital walls

The objective of the project is to foster engagement with other fellow city users. Ijeoma’s humanistic treatment of data has been lauded by the New York Foundation for the Arts in the category of design and urban environments. “Look Up is an art first and an app second," says Ijeoma. "The project subverts the divide between digital and physical by affording users the chance to be more ‘present’ in the physical space they occupy.”