Triangulation: A Thesis Recap + Pokemon Go

By Luc Bagneres

Embarking on my honours thesis under Meg Holden for my undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University my goal was to explore the process of triangulation. To recall, I had a previous blog post as an introduction to triangulation.

To briefly recapitulate, triangulation can be defined as “any temporary disruption of civil inattention. It is a process by which some external stimulus creates an opportunity for social interaction that prompts strangers to talk to each other.” 1

As illustrated in Figure 1, the external stimulus (such as a public entertainer or an art  sculpture) has created an ice-break, or a reference point for conversation between two individuals.


William Whyte, pioneer of urban space design, coined this term triangulation as one of his 7 conditions for Social life in Small Urban Places. Whyte’s examples of external stimulus that can cause triangulation include ‘Public Acts’, ‘Musical performances’, and ‘Public Art’ installations. These triangulating stimulus play the role of clustering people, bringing their distance between one another and creating proper ‘conditions’ for triangulation to occur (Figure 2).

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 9.08.48 AM
Figure 2:  Spaces and Proximity

My goal with the thesis was to explore the concept of triangulation, its importance, and its potential. Although there is much to talk about, I will try to keep this blog focused on a few key points from the thesis before tying in Pokemon Go.

While embarking into the research topic of triangulation seemed clear at first, the more I dove into it, the more ambiguous it all became. To illustrate this ambiguity, let’s recall the public piano in my first blog post. While the piano itself was potentially playing as an external stimulus for strangers to talk to each other, it also added this notion of interactivity.

Indeed, the piano was public where any citizen could try their hands on the piano keys themselves. The repercussions (no pun intended) of this seemed to add a new element to the diagram of triangulation shown above. As we can see from Figure 3, interaction also occurs between the individual and the external stimulus, that being, a person can play the public piano as well as talk to a stranger about it (who knew?).

Figure 3:  Interactive Triangulation

The question I asked myself here was – how does this complicate the notion of triangulation? Here, the individual moves from being passively involved in the process, to an active maker of that process – playing part in the co-creation of the ‘external stimulus’.

Looking back onto Whyte’s original definition of triangulation, what we can see is that the definition of triangulation is aimed towards this social interaction between two strangers. What I asked myself was – what if interaction between strangers was not solely accomplished through conversation, but through other forms as well?

To illustrate such other forms let’s look at an example used in my thesis, AARHUS by Light in 2008:

As we can see from the video, a 180m2 LED screen was put onto the facade of the Aarhus Concert Hall in Denmark. Interacting with the screen were three sensory mats, strategically placed in pedestrian traffic zones. Not only could citizens be thrown into spontaneous interaction with the monsters, but other strangers on the mats as well. As said by their research team, Brynskov, Dalsgaard, and Halskov, “this had the effect that no excuse was needed to ‘break the ice’ and overcoming your shyness to see your silhouette, thus prompting participation”. 2

 Indeed, through their silhouettes, users of AARHUS by Light could engage with each other through the external stimulus itself. This created a space with looser forms of interaction through ‘gamified’ silhouettes, where anonymity was preserved. Such gave citizens opportunity to express themselves onto the LED screen, playing part in the creation of the external stimulus.

Such virtual interaction seemed to blur the triangle model (Figure 3) even more.  Indeed, the installation AARHUS by Light allowed for the external stimulus of the LED screen and the interaction between two strangers to all unfold within one work.

What I concluded here when writing my thesis was that there could be two types of triangulation unfolding within public space; static and dynamic. Indeed, the whole AARHUS by Light installation could be a topic of conversation for two strangers watching the exhibit (static), as well as create a virtual form of interaction between two strangers who play into the exhibit as well (dynamic).

Dynamic and static forms of triangulation can also be seen in the recent emergence of Pokemon Go, something that I could not help but talk about for this blog post.

This revolutionary new video game uses the geographical environment as its game map with GPS, where users catch Pokemon in an ‘augmented’ reality space, mixing the virtual sphere with the public sphere. The game has exploded in popularity, and thus pushed people into the public spaces of many urban locations. The game’s Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms are assigned to impressive buildings, street murals, and historic landmarks. Such has not only served players to rediscover their very own public space but to potentially rediscover their fellow citizens in a whole new way.

The developers of Pokemon (based on the original game framework of Ingress) are quite innovative here in some of the game’s features, which play as large factors for creating triangulation.

First off, players can spawn ‘lures’ onto Pokespots which then attract Pokemon to a given location for 30 minutes. The crucial point here is that other players can also benefit from the lure’s effects. Just like a public performance, the external stimulus of Pokemon Go is providing the same ‘clustering’ effect, bringing people together where conditions for triangulation are ripe.3

With the new update coming soon, Pokemon Go players will have the ability to trade with other players. This is precisely the catalyst point for when Pokemon Go could become a dynamic form of triangulation like AARHUS by Light as well.  To recall, dynamic triangulation is when two strangers use the external stimulus as a way to interact in a new way, rather than simply refer to it as an ‘ice-break’ like in static triangulation. For Pokemon Go, this dynamic triangulation would simply arise when two strangers ‘trade’ Pokemon.

Adding this trading to the clustering effects of Pokemon Go (created by Lures), we might be seeing the rise of a whole new virtual social sphere in public space.

As London resident puts it, “the game isn’t a substitute for real life: it’s a revolutionary new way we can engage with one another, at a time where human interaction is becoming ever more scarce.” 5

Whether its effects on our society are good or bad, it is something that cannot be ignored for urban planners and designers. The game is redefining use of public space and subsequently the public realm, providing an effective reason for making places more walkable. 6

Although I could spend another full blog post writing about the repercussions of such a game, the main point here is that triangulation is arising in much greater occurrences thanks to Pokemon Go, and evidence of such has been shown across the web:

For example:  Figure 4, a photo posted on, was titled with the caption “The [Pokemon] lure was supposed to bring more Pokemon. Instead it brought together people who would’ve never met otherwise”.

figure 4
Figure 4:  Group of Pokemon Go Players

“This happened to me just tonight and gosh, THIS is what the game is really about. After a person dropped two lures at two very close proximity pokestops a group of almost 20 people (including me) showed up to them. We all talked about what Pokemon we caught and where we got them. It was such a cool experience. I met a bunch of yellow team players, we exchanged numbers and we’re all gonna get together tomorrow to go around a few towns capping gyms [sic] and collecting Pokemon! As a very shy, introverted person it’s amazing that this game can bring together people. I’m very excited about the future of this app for this exact reason.” 7

Pokemon Go is indeed showing potential in re-establishing our public spaces as a meeting grounds. As Project for Public Spaces writes: “whatever the motivation for playing, it is clear that folks are outside, using public spaces, meeting strangers, and quite simply, just having fun. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of our public spaces?” 5

And William Whyte would seem to agree. As he stated in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces in his original intentions for triangulation :  “What I’m suggesting simply, is that we make places friendlier. We know how. In both the design and management of spaces, there are many ways to make it  much easier for people to mingle and meet. It would be no bad idea to move more in this direction.” 1

As I concluded in my thesis post, the study of triangulation would allow us to better understand how our public spaces can meet important human needs such love & belonging (Figure 5).  Indeed, as a Vancouver Sun article writes, “Pokemon Go is inspiring love connections, building community in Vancouver”. 7

figure 5
Figure 5:  Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

Amori Mikami, a clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, also reported “by motivating players to get out and about, Pokémon Go works as a positive catalyst for people suffering from depression. People with depression want to […] engage with the world but it’s such a heavy barrier. It can be really hard to overcome.” 8

It is indeed this ‘social barrier’, that requires an ice-break, an external stimulus for interaction:

“You playing Pokémon?” I ask.

“Yeah!” one says.”

“You get anything good from this stop?”

“Just Pokéballs and Rattatas” I say with a shrug. “But it’s kind of a neat building.”

“Yeah, all I see are Rattatas,” they respond, continuing their walk to the historic Pokéstop. I’m hopeful they’ll look up when they get there. 9

Light interactions as basic as this one above indicate how easily an external stimulus works in opening up two strangers, providing the opportunity for ‘trust-building’ experience and developing empathy.

As Mikami continues,“people sometimes have the mistaken assumption that the only positive social interactions are deep interactions, but there is evidence that there are benefits for mood from light interactions as well.”

And Charles Montgomery, Author of Happy Cities writes: “every time we have a trust building encounter, with friends or with strangers, it triggers feelings and actions that are more altruistic. We have a mountain of evidence, that the way we design our cities, their systems, and their places and spaces has a strong effect on how we regard and treat other people10

While Pokemon Go might not be the most ideal form of triangulation, it sure is the one generating the most of it. While I’ve shown examples of how augmented reality design can contribute to triangulation, the range of where it can originate from seem quite limitless. I believe urban planning and design could greatly benefit from such a field of study in hopes to better understand how urban public spaces can be re-established as meeting grounds, contributing to the vitality of our cities.

For more on Triangulation and Pokemon Go check out this great article by Project for Public Spaces:



  1. Whyte, William.  1980. “The Social life of Small Urban Spaces
  2. Brynskov, M., Dalsgaard, P., Halskov, K. (2015) Engaging Urban Experiences in Public Space.” The Uses of Art in Public Space. Routledge.
  3. Elizabeth Ballou  “How to Use Lure Modules in Pokemon GO” Bustle
  4. Frank, A.  “Pokémon Go will get trading, other features in updates” , Polygon
  5. “The social life of Virtual public spaces” – Projects for Public Space
  6. Kate Abbey-Lambertz, K.  “We’ve been trying to make cities walkable for years, Pokemon Go does it over night”,
  7. Reddit post in question
  8. “UBC psychologist touts benefits of Pokémon Go”, Rumana D’Souza – Vancouver Courrier
  9. “Pokémon Go” Is Quietly Helping People Fall In Love With Their Cities”, Mark Wilson – Fast CoDesign
  10. Montgomery – Anecdote. Speech made in person at Museum of Vancouver during “Happy Hours: Happy City” Event.  9th July 2015.

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