United Nations

Making cities happy together with the United Nations

Cities shouldn’t focus on technology, but on happiness

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘smart city’? Technology for citizens? A sustainable city? That’s definitely a possibility. But if you ask us, a city is only truly ‘smart’ when we look further then terms like technology and sustainability. A city must be able to offer everything needed to make residents happy. But what affects that happiness? And how do you change a city into a successful smart city? In collaboration with the United Nations and eighty representatives from different countries, Six Fingers focused on this issue in Barcelona. There we discovered that every city needs something different to improve the lives of its residents.

The results

Problems clearly revealed

Enthusiasm in a large group


Six Fingers contributed valuable knowledge and dynamism to the debate about cities that is raging worldwide.

The Six Fingers team focuses on the early stage of design thinking, in which empathic core problems within cities were identified. The great thing was the continual challenge to not jump into solutions at a surface level before the problem was fully understood. The workshops we very well received. Participants took a very active part in the analysis process, based on the cities they live in, from Lima to Vienna. The debate continued to be lively well after the sessions were over. Six Fingers contributed valuable knowledge and dynamism to the debate about cities that is raging worldwide.

Rosa Suriñach, Coordinator, Partnerships, Advocacy & Outreach Urban Resilience Programme, UN
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Barcelona Resilience Week: looking for greater resilience together

Six Fingers loves Barcelona: after all, the city is a pioneer on the area of social design. It is therefore not surprising that the United Nations chose Barcelona as host for its Resilience Week. During this meeting, the term resilience is a central theme: how can we help make cities and people more resilient, so they can act to pursue a greater degree of happiness? Together with eighty policy-makers, specially brought by the UN to Barcelona, we examined this issue. But we first had to study what makes people happy in a city. In short: how do make a city truly smart. As happiness is the key. Both for residents and for the city itself: with happy residents, a city is better able to compete with other cities.

Six Fingers Spain organised hands-on workshops, offering an original approach to building smart and resilient cities. Rob Adams and Boyd Cohen introduced their idea of applying design thinking to the creation of smart cities via their Happy Citizen Design hexagon (www.happycitizendesign.com). The varied and international group of participants worked in teams to apply insights from the hexagon. Continually from the perspective of citizens in order to take a different view of the challenges that urban dwellers across the world face, such as mobility, creating more green spaces and accommodation.

Design thinking in which the focus is on the pain of the resident

Six Fingers developed the Happy Citizen Hexagon to apply a new, pioneering way of design thinking to cities. Within this hexagon, you will find the factors that determine the level of happiness in a city. Together with the invited policy-makers, we examined which experiments we could initiate in each city to tackle the problems. After all, each city is different. In Lima, the factor public safety for is example is a greater problem than in The Hague, where traffic is for many residents a thorn in their eyes.

Thanks to the hexagon, we were able to study the different issues that cities face. Targeted projects can now be initiated to increase the degree of happiness and reduce unhappiness. The Resilience Week and our meeting taught us that policy-makers and city architects take too little account of the pain of people living in cities. Six Fingers therefore wants to spread this new way of design thinking. Cities must not come up with solutions from the perspective of the policy-makers, but from residents. After all, that’s where they have to find their happiness. And although that appears obvious, it’s still often neglected and cities don’t know how to actually develop from the human perspective.