From Archives) What XKCD Can Teach You About Planning

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By Nora Schwaller

XKCD is a beloved, online nerd comic that primarily involves esoteric jokes about physics and math with a healthy dose of snark. But that’s not all these humble stick figures provide. They can also offer valuable insight and lessons into some of the finer complications of planning: from big-picture issues, to niche problems. Therefore, through careful review and study, you can use XKCD comics to become a better planner. Here’s a quick tour of some of the top applications of XKCD to the planning field.

From the master planning perspective, XKCD can help you plan an execute a project from start to finish by realizing the importance of big-picture thinking:

XKCD: Planning

And providing helpful tips on time management and organization, such as the best ways to start a project:

XKCD: Making Progress

To budget your time:

XKCD: Time Estimating

And to make a schedule:

XKCD: Time Management

XKCD can also help you address niche problems that come up in core course class work, as well as harder issues that you address in topical classes. For example, XKCD provides ample advice on how to create and present helpful maps.

It can help you set up your GIS project:

XKCD: Map Projections

And teach you how to add that all important design flair:

XKCD: State Borders

So that you can present your work in a convincing way:

XKCD: Heatmap

XKCD has advice for planning specializations as well. Particularly, it has a lot of information on transit problems.

Such as, how to set up roads for everyone’s use:

XKCD: Highway Engineer Pranks

And prepare for the advances of the future:

XKCD: Driving

XKCD can also assist with your studies by translating abstract concepts to ‘real-world’ situations, like supply and demand and the tragedy of the commons:

XKCD: Hotels

Or the real reasons for considering the best years for Census data:

XKCD: Suckville

And, finally, it can help you connect with the public. Whether that is explaining your most recent research project:

XKCD: Like I’m Five

Or the most recent disaster:

XKCD: Worst Case Scenario

About the Author: Nora Schwaller was a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of City and Regional Planning, where she focuses on disaster recovery. Prior to UNC, she worked for an architecture firm in San Francisco. Outside of class, Nora enjoys long bike rides and short walks, delicious food with good people, and casually perusing information on the design history of contemporary video games and systems.