Future Cities Laboratory, Singapore-ETH Centre is a Swiss research think-tank that focuses on on urban design & smart cities. I worked on an iPad app that would showcase researchers' work to exhibition visitors. The research existed in a variety of formats: geospatial & urban visualization, 3D models, point cloud etc.

Designing an Interactive Exhibition App for Geospatial Visualization

About the Company

Future Cities Laboratory, Singapore-ETH Centre is a Swiss research institute's satellite company in Singapore. Their research focuses on urban design, technology and smart cities. I was part of the 'Ecosystem Services in Urban Landscapes' project, which aimed to quantify the benefits of natural ecosystems on human cities.

What I did

I designed the UI/UX for an iPad app to showcase the team's work for a research exhibition. ‍

*Note: selected content in this project has been reimagined or redacted to comply with copyright. Unless otherwise stated, the information presented is my own & does not necessarily represent the views of Singapore-ETH Centre.


UI/UX for iPad app
Video Presentation


Adobe Suite
Singapore Views
Unity/Vuforia AR SDK

Team members

Zuzana Drillet, Naika Meili, Song Xiao Ping
Angela Dissegna, Philipp Urech, Fung Tze Kuan, Rachel Leong, Ho Xin Ying (intern), Clifford Goh (intern)

Chi Zhang (iPad App)
Jan Perhac ('Singapore Views' tool, used to generate visualization images)


An Intuitive iPad Experience for Exhibition Visitors

About the Exhibition:

My research team 'Ecosystem Services In Urban Landscapes' was given a 3x3m exhibition space consisting of physical models of buildings & landscape, printed explainer panels, a TV screen playing a video.

Design Goals

FCL exhibition space, showing 'Ecosystem Services' research work (iPad, laser-engraved model, explainer panels etc.)

Precedent Studies

Due to the short duration I had to work on this project (<1 month, alongside other work responsibilities), my research was focused on precedent studies of existing geospatial tools.

Singapore Views

Singapore Views is proprietary geospatial visualization software developed in-house at FCL.

Because it was designed for experts by experts, the app functionality was more complex than needed for my purpose - an iPad exhibition app for laypeople.

Image: Singapore Views, Dense and Green Building Typologies.

ArcGIS CityEngine

CityEngine is a Geographic Information Systems tool that allows researchers to rapidly generate & view urban models in a 3D environment.

The many options intimidate & overwhelm the first-time user.

Image: Esri ArcGIS CityEngine

Visualizing Multiple Data Taxonomies

One of the challenges I faced was how to present the different types of research data visualizations. There were more than 10 datasets that were visualized in a wide range of formats, from 2D (vector, raster) to 3D (point cloud, building model...) to various media (image, video, text...)

A non-exhaustive list of datasets generated by the researchers:

Land Cover Map

Digital Terrain Model

Ecological Research Quadrats

Physical Landscape Design

Park Popularity & Visit Frequency

Recreational Value of Green Areas

Photo Density at Parks (Flickr)

3D Point Cloud Model

Surface Temperatures (DART) & Climate Data

3D / LoD3 Building Model

AR Vuforia Model


2D-3D-AR Model

I classified them into 6 general categories; which greatly simplified how I would present them in the UI.

By categorizing them this way, the user simply needs to switch between 2D, 3D & AR modes rather than navigate a convoluted list of datasets.


Designing an Intuitive Navigation System

Exhibition visitors have the following characteristics

  • Transient
    They come and go, have short attention spans,
    generally don't stay more than 5-10 minutes
  • Layperson
    Other than educators & researchers,
    I assumed the user possessed zero knowledge about tools like GIS
  • First Time User
    One can assume that all users are first time users given this is a one-time exhibition

The profile of an average exhibition visitor necessitates the development of an intuitive, user-friendly navigation system that users can pick up immediately.

Storyboard of how I envisioned the iPad app to fit into the exhibition flow

Visual Information-Seeking Mantra

“Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on- demand”

When I was conceptualizing the app navigation, I thought it made sense to reference Shneiderman's Visual Information-Seeking Mantra for designing visualization systems.

1. Overview First: 

2. Zoom and Filter

3. Details on Demand

Too granular for layperson

However, I realized that this might not be the most suitable ordering principle for my use case. For an app that users will use for 5 min at most, I wanted to eliminate any semblance of a learning curve.


I tried several versions of the UI, all of which centre around a few principles

  • Let the map vizualization take centre stage, viz takes precedence over all else
  • UI elements should not cover more than 30% of iPad
  • UI elements sufficiently large enough (140px) to be easy to press
  • As far as possible, let user show/hide UI but avoid complicated filter mechanisms

Create Signifiers, Emphasize Affordances

Given the profile of the exhibition visitor, I made sure users were handheld through every possible action

Guiding Texts & Instructions

User is treated like a complete beginner. All screens have large instructions & tutorial texts guiding the user exactly what to do.

Image: P. Urech [3D Point Cloud]

UI Design Principles


Kept to the existing visual identity of FCL; black/white solid colors

Visuals kept clean & simple, flat textures.

UI designed to be undistracting so that the visualizations stand out.

Icons & Glyphs Always Labelled

Nowadays, icon labels are rarely used as users are expected to learn & recognize what the icon does.

I made sure textual labels accompanied most icons or symbols

People understood Icons with Labels much better than those without

Limitations & Lessons Learnt

I was generally satisfied with the design of the app. Although it was meant to be 'simple', it was actually not that straightforward since I was used to complicated interfaces & had to unlearn my assumptions, think from a beginner's perspective

Unfortunately, due to the short timeline & other commitments, only a basic version with limited functionality was developed in the end.

People generally responded well. Ideally I would have liked to sit at the booth to observe and survey people.

Images: Singapore Masterplan 2014 [URA], DTM & Landcover [A Dissegna]

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