City’s talking signs take internet by storm

Video featuring device that pronounces tongue-twister Copenhagen street names stuns the foreign design students who created it by going viral

Rådhusstræde? Møntergade? Rosenborggade? If these street names seem unpronounceable to you, fear no more. Two foreign design students have come up with a device that will make them speak themselves loud and clear.

In what was originally a short-deadline school project, Momo Miyazaki, 22, and Andrew Spitz, 30, of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, produced a video that has gone viral all over Copenhagen and abroad. The video shows the pair as they design and build a device that pronounces the complicated street names, making it easier for non-Danish speakers to grasp.

The devices, consisting of a speaker linked to a luminous panel placed above the street name, spells out the name syllable by syllable, as delighted bystanders stand in awe. As the sound is relayed to the speaker, the panel highlights the syllable which is being pronounced.

The video, branded ‘WTPh? – What the Phonics’ and available on Vimeo, has been watched no less than 24,000 times since it was first uploaded on Sunday. It was even mentioned in The Economist.

Both Miyazaki, an American, and Spitz, from France, were surprised by the success of their final product.

“We are still kind of dumbstruck by the success of the video,” Myazaki said.

“It’s surprising how a simple idea with such a simple execution can become popular so quickly”, said Spitz. “It shows that people are to keen to interact with their own city.”

The pair’s project called for them to “make an intervention to improve the quality of life in Copenhagen through design”, according to Miyazaki. The idea for the signs came about as they were brainstorming for their project at a café, recalled Spitz, when suddenly, they looked at a street name, and laughed at their inability to pronounce it.

“Since our studies are really intense,” Miyazaki explained, “we haven’t had time to learn Danish, so we get embarrassed to have to ask for things in English all the time.”

Since the video was shot, however, the pair have removed the devices from the three streets where they had placed them, all located in the area around the Strøget walking street, in central Copenhagen.

“It was only a five-day project”, explained Spitz, “we didn’t think of waterproofing [the devices], we didn’t think of the legal aspects, so we couldn’t make it permanent. But who knows? Maybe the city is interested.”

Many tourists might find it a precious tool when facing the arduous task of having to ask for directions.