How Busy is Toon


  1. Project outputs
  2. Project timeline

This project, led by Newcastle City Council, used data to support a safe return to the high street. They have built a website to share data to help people make informed decisions about visiting their town centre, to help them feel safe and encourage economic renewal.

Working with Newcastle Urban Observatory, local authority partners and project delivery partner Hedgehog Labs, Newcastle City Council is delivering an 8-week long project. The project has recently started their second delivery stage that aims to:

  • increase uptake and promote the website across a wider geography in an efficient and effective way
  • deliver a better user experience with safe travel and transport data
  • produce a guide that allows other councils to create their own versions of this tool
The website homepage
An early iteration of the homepage

The project builds on previously completed work that aimed to:

  • understand user fears, motivations and opinions about visiting the city centre during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • produce an updated version of the website
  • understand how other councils could adopt this website

The project follows Agile delivery principles, incorporating user research and service design into its activities. Working in the open, the project hosts fortnightly show and tells to update on progress and share findings.

Watch the project present at Digital Leaders week 2021:

Project outputs

A tool to identify where parts of a city are overcrowded and disseminate information to citizens so they can make informed decisions about their movements:

Project timeline

August 2020

The How Busy Is Toon project receives £67,000 from the Local Digital C-19 Challenge.

The project procures Hedgehog Labs to be their delivery partners and sends out a survey asking residents about how they feel about life after lockdown and returning to the city centre.

September 2020

The project recruits users for their upcoming user research.

They host their 1st and 2nd show and tells, where they share user research insights and present newly prototyped wireframes for the next stage of iteration for the website.

The project also present at LocalGov Camp and Digital Leaders Week events.

October 2020

The project is doing a number of user research sessions to test the new look and feel. The feedback has been very positive with users saying, it ‘looks really clean and friendly’. They also publish a blogpost about insights into the challenges of monitoring and managing public spaces in a post-COVID-19 world and the technology available.

The project has their 3rd and final show and tell on 22 October. They finished user testing the updated version of the tool and share the findings.

The project has an end of project retrospective to reflect on how the project went and are finalising project outputs.

November 2020

The project presents at Local Digital Collaboration Unit’s C-19 project showcase and do a demo of their work.

The project is preparing to launch the new website at the beginning of December.

December 2020

New project page is launched. It contains information about safety measures, how to travel into the city centre safely and, of course, how busy the town centre is. The project also publishes their code on GitHub, and a final blog post.

The project prepares to apply for the next round of funding.

February 2021

The project receives £100,000 of follow-on funding from the Local Digital Fund to continue their work. The next stage of the project will explore how to improve the existing How Busy Is Toon application and effectively scale it for other local authorities. This will include looking at how they might:

  • increase uptake and promote across a wider geographical area, in an efficient and effective way
  • deliver a better user experience with safe travel and transport data
  • use citizen-focussed data sharing to support economic renewal through safe access to leisure and tourism opportunities

March 2021

The project has their first show and tell and are now busy with preparing for upcoming user research. In addition the team has a session to look through GOV.UK Design System in order to identify which styles, components or patterns could be reused to make more user friendly.

The project put together a user survey to capture resident preferences on using transport to commute into and from the city centre and sends it out.

April 2021

The project focussed on user research activities for the travel information workstream:

  • carried out user research with residents
  • analysed  survey responses and identified themes – COVID-19 safety, convenience, reliability and cost are being mentioned as driving factors people consider when deciding what transport to use
  • hosted their first UR synthesis session to the internal project team that showcased what users need most when deciding the transport options for coming into the city centre
  • held sessions about how to take the research forward. This included affinity mapping, identifying user personas, looking at available data to prove or disprove hypotheses arising from the survey and user research.

For the 2nd workstream, the team started drafting an onboarding guide, they changed the emojicon questions on the website and are tracking how user engagement changes as lockdown measures are eased. The project is also arranging a retrospective.

May 2021

The project prioritised user needs and identified what needs in relation to ‘easy access to information’ their identified user groups / personas have. They also held an ideation session where they explored a number of ways to meet user needs relating to accessing travel information. They are now contacting users via an eform to verify some of the potential solutions.

The project held a show and tell to give an update on travel information workstream, onboarding and others.

They project is also preparing to present at Digital Leaders Week 2021 in June.

June 2021

The project carried out desk research to understand the current usage and provision of traffic open data. Results suggest that no real time traffic information is currently available.

During their second show and tell they spoke about the next steps for HBIT, including finding a way to display useful travel information that meets users’ needs without duplicating existing solutions.

  • update the website incorporating better accessibility and GOV.UK Service Manual guidance
  • recruit users to test the new pages

July 2021

The project team are focussing on how users interact with the site, and have been using Google Analytics to gather data. They have learnt that the landing page is visited by 82% of users, with parking information being the next most popular page visited by 4.2% of people.

They are also designing new pages for travel information that will expose travel busyness to the user and have been considering accessibility needs such as users that rely on assistive technology. They’ve been exploring what real time information about travel busyness would be best suited to add to the website:

  • indicators of congestion (such as journey times, traffic camera counts)
  • traffic cameras
  • incidents

Finally, the project had a 3rd show & tell where they shared with the attendees how their designs for travel information evolved in the past few weeks, some insights from user research and gave an update on the progress with helping other councils adopt their versions of If you missed the show and tell, you can find the recording and slides here.

August 2021

The project was shortlisted for an LGC award in the ‘Future Places’ category after the judges examined almost 700 entries.

The team worked on the build of the new website, and lined up 6 people to take part in user testing and validation.

September 2021

The project team wrapped up this phase of the project by delivering an end of phase Show and Tell on Tuesday 14 September.

Have a read of their slides and find out the results of their user research and the projects next steps.

The new look website is now live!