Readings Beh/Exp W6

Readings Week 6
Design for Behavior & Experience
Patrick J. O’Donnel

Verbeek, Peter-Paul. “COVER STORY Beyond interaction: a short introduction to mediation theory.” interactions 22.3 (2015): 26-31.


    1. There are three approaches (or philosophies) to considering the human-technology duality: technology as extension, technology as dialectic, technology as hybridization.
    2. Don Ihde categorizes human-technology relationships as embodiment, hermeneutic, alterity, and background relations;  Verbeek proposes the existence of a three additional categories for relationship: cyborg and (embedded) interaction context and augmentation.
    3. If designing technologies is designing the mediation of the human-technology-world triad, then designing must be understood through an ethical lens. Verbeek recommends that designers should anticipate mediations and adopt libertarian paternalism philosophies while creating. Shying away from mediations won’t benefit society; literacy and responsibility of mediations is the only path forward.


    • “Still, interaction might not always be the most helpful concept for understanding the relations between humans and products, or for understanding technological artifacts in general. Recent insights from the philosophy of technology, specifically from the approach of ‘technological mediation,’ lead us to rethink the relations between humans and things, shedding new light on the field of interaction design.”
    • “[H]umans and technologies should not be seen as two ‘poles’ between which there is an interaction; rather, they are the result of this interaction.”
    • “Designing technology is designing human beings: robots, vacuum cleaners, smart watches—any technology creates specific relations between its users and their world, resulting in specific experiences and practices.”
    • “(Some) technologies do much more than merely function—they help to shape human existence.”
    • “Seeing technologies as more than neutral opens the door to arguments like “the machine made me do it” (Joe Pitt).
    • “Cognition, they claim, cannot be limited to the human mind, but rather is extended to the material artifacts people use, such as agendas, computers, and even brain implants: They help us to think, remember, and have experiences” (Andy Clark & David Chalmers).
    • “In Ernst Kapp’s philosophical-anthropological approach to technology, for instance, technologies are seen as projections of human organs. A hammer is a projection of the fist, a saw of teeth, and the telegraph network—the high-tech of his day—of the human nervous system.”
    • “Technologies and human beings help to shape each other. Technologies are an element of human nature: They are part of us.”
    • “(Adoption of the hybridization philosophy of human and technology relations) implies that designers, in fact, do not merely design products, but human practices and experiences as well. Products do not only have functional, interactive, and aesthetic qualities, but are in fact also mediators in the lives of human beings. Designing things is designing human existence.”
    • “In embodiment relations, technologies form a unity with a human being, and this unity is directed at the world: We speak with other people through the phone, rather than speaking to the phone itself, and we look through a microscope rather than at it. […] (human – technology) —> world.”
    • Hermeneutic relations, as Ihde calls them, are relations in which human beings read how technologies represent the world, such as an MRI scan that represents brain activity or the beeping of a metal detector that represents the presence of metal. Here, technologies form a unity with the world, rather than with the human being using them. […] human —> (technology-world).”
    • “In a third type of human-technology-world relations, which Ihde calls the alterity relation, human beings interact with technologies with the world in the background of this interaction. […] human —> technology (world).”
    • “Ihde distinguishes the background relation, in which technologies are the context for human experiences and actions. The sounds of air conditioners and fridges, the warm air from heating installations, the notification sounds from cellphones during a conversation—in all of these examples, technologies are a context for human existence, rather than being experienced themselves. […] human (technology/world).”
    • “A brain implant, for instance, that is used for deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s disease or psychiatric disorders, is not merely embodied; rather, it merges with the human body into a new, hybrid being. I have proposed to call this a cyborg relation: human/technology —> world.”
    • “Other technologies merge with our environment, into ‘smart environments’ with ‘ambient intelligence’ and sometimes even ‘persuasive technologies’. Here, technologies are not just a background for our existence, but rather an interactive context: They detect if people are present or not, recognize faces, give feedback on behavior. […] human <—> technology/world.”
    • “Wearable technologies such as Google Glass give yet another human technology configuration. They result in a bifurcation of the human-world relation: On the one hand, smart glasses can be embodied to give an experience of the world, while, on the other hand, they give a representation of the world in a parallel screen. This relation could be called augmentation, combining an embodiment relation and a hermeneutic relation: (human – technology) —> world + human —> (technology – world).”
    • “Steven Dorrestijn has developed a framework to categorize these contact points, using the human body as a reference [13]. He distinguishes four types of contact, corresponding to four zones around the human body: ‘to the hand,’ ‘before the eye,’ ‘behind the back,’ and ‘above the head.’”
    • “Nynke Tromp et al. have distinguished two dimensions in the influence of technologies on human beings: its visibility and its force. The impact of technologies can be located somewhere on the continuum between ‘hidden’ and ‘apparent,’ on the one hand, and between ‘weak’ and ‘strong,’ on the other [14].”
    • “Strong, apparent influences can be called coercive: turnstiles that force you to buy a ticket before entering the subway, or cars that won’t start when you don’t wear a safety belt. Weak, apparent influences are persuasive. Technologies show their influence, without being overpowering: smart energy meters that give feedback on your energy consumption or e-coaching apps that help you lose weight.
      “The hidden types of influence are often seen as a little more creepy, but in fact they are very common. Hidden, weak influences can be called seductive. Their impact is non-cognitive and mild: placing a coffee machine in the hall of a company to stimulate social interaction, using material that ages beautifully to prevent people from discarding a product prematurely [10,15]. The final type of influence is both strong and hidden; it can be called decisive or implicative because it exerts influence without this influence being noticed. An example is an apartment building without an elevator, implicitly forcing people to use the stairs.”
    • “Technological mediation is part of the human condition—we cannot be human without technologies. This makes the design of technologies a highly responsible activity. Designing technology is designing humanity, in a sense.”
    • “Therefore, along with functionality, interaction, and aesthetics, mediation deserves a central place in the conceptual framework that implicitly and explicitly guides design activities.”
    • “Explicitly influencing people via design is a contested thing to do, though. It puts something at stake that has become one of the most sacred things in contemporary Western culture: human autonomy. For that reason, for instance, Thaler and Sunstein explicitly call their approach a form of ‘libertarian paternalism.’ It is inevitably paternalistic, in the sense that it exerts influence on human beings, but at the same time it explicitly aims to be libertarian, in the sense that it always gives people the possibility to opt out. Nudges should never be given invisibly or without the possibility of avoiding them.”
    • “Human freedom cannot be saved by shying away from technological mediations, but only by developing free relations to them, dealing in a responsible way with the inevitable mediating roles of technologies in our lives.”


Dourish, Paul. “Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing.” Human–Computer Interaction 16.2-4 (2001): 229-241.


    1. Wiesel proposed a vision of ubiquitous computing, where embedded processors are cheap enough to manufacture for specific contexts; Ishii & Ullmer suggested a program of Tangible Bits, that connects the materiality of the physical world (atoms) to the materiality digital world (“bits”) by utilizing physical controls of digital information. Both configurations attempt to tie the physical world to the digital world, as well as reduce the barrier between interface and action. Schuman’s “situated action perspective” suggests that humans, as improvisational actors, determine meaning from interaction based on context—cultural, organizational, physical, and temporal.
    2. Phenomenology, the study of phenomena, equates to the study of embodiment. Husserl sought to reconnect science to the real world by explicating a ‘natural attitude’ that makes sense of contexts with meaning. His student, Heidegger, furthered the radical idea that the world was filled with meaning inherently, and as explorers, our actions reveal the meanings already in place. Another student, Schutz, connected phenomenology to intersubjectivity with a common life-world, inside of which, two subjects gain access to a background that permits actions understood as rational.
    3. Embodiment of interactions places interactions inside of meaning; Meaning comes from actions and interactions, and therefore can only be suggested and not directly designed.


      • Why has context-aware technology developed? “ One spur to the emergence of context-aware computing has been the novel technical opportunities afforded by falling costs, sizes, and power requirements for a range of computational devices and associated advances in sensor technology, which jointly allow us to develop new forms of embedded interaction, augmenting physical environments with computation that can be responsive to the needs and activities of the people that occupy them. A second is the recognition of the mutual influence of the physical environment and the human activities that unfold within it, so that aspects of the setting can be used both to disambiguate and to provide specialized computational support for likely action. A third is an increasing understanding on the part of system developers that human activities, including those that we conduct with and through computation, are enmeshed in a variety of practices and relations that make them meaningful by setting a context within which they can be understood and evaluated. A fourth is the influence of design that draws attention to the symbolic as well as the instrumental use of technologies and the roles that each conception of technology need to play in their design and deployment.”
      • “ the idea of computation embedded into the everyday environment opened up the possibility of computer technology receding into the environment and became useful to us (the population) in completely new ways.”
      • “ Ishii and Ullmer observed that we operate in two different worlds— the world of computation (‘bits’) and the world of physical reality (‘atoms’). However, although the world of physical reality is one with which we are deeply and intimately familiar and one in which we are, as organisms, evolved to operate, most interactive systems make very little use of these natural skills and abilities in supporting interaction.”
      • Tangible Bits and UbiComp are similar in a few ways. “First, they both attempt to exploit our natural familiarity with the everyday environment and our highly developed spatial and physical skills to specialize and control how computation can be used in concert with naturalistic activities. Second, they both use spatial and temporal configurations of elements and activities in the real world to disambiguate actions and so make computational responses a better fit for the actions in which users are engaged. Third, they both look for opportunities to tie computational and physical activities together in such a way that the computer ‘withdraws’ into the activity, so that users engage directly with the tasks at hand and the distinction between ‘interface’ and ‘action’ is reduced.”
      • “ Critically, this means that, for ethnomethodology, social conduct is an improvised affair, carried on in real-time in the course of everyday activity. Social conduct is orderly not because it is governed by some overarching theoretical construction but because people make it orderly. Ethnomethodologists argue that people find, within the conduct of everyday affairs, the resources by which those affairs can be found to be meaningful and rational; so in turn, they recommend that the investigation of social order should not take the form of a search for theoretical principles, but rather should involve the careful examination of specific instances of organized action so as to be able to uncover the means by which people produced  the rationality that they exhibit.”
      • “This perspective, in which the sequential organization of conduct arises in response to the immediate circumstances in which it arises, Suchman termed the situated action  perspective, and it stands in contrast to the traditional planning model in which the sequential organization of action is predetermined by an algorithmic exploration of the ‘search space’ of goals and actions. Suchman did not reject the notion of ‘plans’; instead, she observed that plans, as prespecified formulations of future action, are merely one of a number of possible resources that people draw upon in answering the question, ‘what do I do next?’”
      • “ Context— the organizational and cultural context as much as the physical context— plays a critical role in shaping action, and also in providing people with the means to interpret and understand action. Similarly, because the meaning of action is interactionally determined, temporal context is also involved, as actions and utterances gain their meaning and intelligibility from the way in which they figure as part of a larger pattern of activity.”
      • “ Beyond this, we also need to take account of social, cultural, organizational, and interactional context, which are equally telling for the ways in which action will emerge.”
      • “[…] By embodiment I mean a presence and participation in the world, real-time and real-space, here and now. Embodiment denotes a participative status, the presence and occurrence of a phenomenon in the world.”
      • “[P]henomenology, which, loosely, is the philosophy of the phenomena of experience.”
      • Edmund Husserl, the earliest writer on phenomenology, sought to “reconnect science with the real world, and the means by which this was to be done was to develop the philosophy of human experience on a rigorous scientific footing. This philosophy of the phenomena of experience was phenomenology. Phenomenology set out to explore how people experience the world— how we progress from sense-impressions of the world to understandings and meanings. Fundamentally, it put primary emphasis on the everyday experience of people living and acting in the world, and the ‘natural attitude’ toward the world that lets them easily and unnoticeably make sense of their experience.”
      • “Heidegger rejected this idea. He argued that rather than assigning meaning to the world as we perceive it, we act in a world that is already filled with meaning. The world has meaning in how it is physically organized in relation to our physical abilities and in how it reflects a history of social practice. For Heidegger, the primary question is not ‘How do we assign meaning to our perceptions of the world?’ but rather, ‘How does the meaning of the world reveal itself to us through our actions within it?’”
      • “ [M]eaning, for us (humans), arises from the ways in which we engage with and act within the world. I believe that this is of central importance in trying to understand the notion of embodied interaction that lies at the heart of the two aspects of context-based computation discussed earlier and elsewhere in this issue.”
      • Alfred Schutz “proposed an approach to intersubjectivity rooted in our common experience of the world and on the way in which we can interpret and understand the actions and motivations of others by appeal to the assumption of a shared life-world (or lebenswelt) that, first, grounds our common experience and, second, gives me the necessary background to understand your actions as being rational.”
      • “ The design concern is not simply what kinds of physical skills, say, we might be able to capitalize upon in a tangible interface, or what sorts of contextual factors we can detect and encode into a UbiComp model. Instead, we need to be able to consider how those skills or factors contribute to the meaningfulness of actions.”
      • “Most important, the designer does not have absolute control, only influence. In turn, this suggests that if the meaning of the use of the technology is, first, in flux and, second, something that is worked out again and again in each setting, then the technology needs to be able to support this sort of repurposing, and needs to be able to support the communication of meaning through it, within a community of practice.”

Behavior/Experience Readings W1

Readings Week 1
Design for Behavior & Experience

“Chapter 7 Hurried Ethnography for the Harried Ethnographer” Ethnography: A way of Seeing. Wolcott, 2008.

  • What is the minimum or maximum time needed to be spent in the field to claim ethnographic validity? The researcher’s belief that enough time will produce guaranteed outcomes is at odd with the realist’s understanding that it’s impossible to exhaust any topic of inquiry.
  • “Ethnographic accommodation” is a researcher’s limitations of time that are put upon an study that employs ethnographic means.
  • How should a researcher handle time? As a scarce resource. Plan out time and set limits to fieldwork that take into account the other parts of the project.
    • When field work is not yielding any new or novel insights, it may be time to start writing.
    • Writing while still having time set aside for field work permits an initial analysis that a researcher can use to focus the remaining observation time.
    • Begin writing as soon as you think you might not be able to get it all. Do not put off writing by waiting to be a more astute observer.
    • Once you begin to review collected data in your head, start writing. Begin with the comfortable or well-synthesized ideas, and the writing should guide the remaining time you set aside for field work.
    • Start writing if half of your total time is remaining. Writing and organizing data often takes more time than observations themselves.
    • “People do writing this fashion [fieldwork first, then writing last] but this is one reason why so many monographs are uninspired.” Rosalie Wax
  • Writing about your thoughts before fieldwork can help to focus your observations on its ultimate purpose, and to organize your final account.
  • In subfields of anthropology, rapid fieldwork has become common but should not be dismissed. Common surveys, questionnaires, targeted interventions are not rushed as much as they are repetitive and formalized. Ethnographers are then considered data sources for teams conducting anthropological appraisals.
  • Anthropological appraisals may use common interviewing techniques, or even group interviews (focus groups), where an ethnographer would partake in a less structures interview/conversation and potentially identify a key informant.

“[…] Much stands to be gained for any researcher who pauses long enough to have a look around, with the intention of putting an inquiry into some broader perspective.”

Ethnographic Reconnaissance

  • –an ethnography precursor, permitting an initial survey or examination which is followed by a more detailed inquiry.
  • A windshield survey–or a survey of a community from a drive around town–is a rapid appraisal technique that can lead to valuable observations for further examination.
  • Ethnographic reconnaissance does not carry the notion that it must be done quickly, only that time must be set aside for getting one’s bearings in a new situation.
  • Do not disregard intuitive feelings about what is going on in a project, even if you’re part of a team performing pre-selected rapid assessments. Reconnaissance and getting one’s bearings should aware remain forefront while doing fieldwork.
  • Advice for initiating fieldwork to realize maximum return on ethnographic reconnaissance:
    • ethnographic reconnaissance develops organized common sense, free from inappropriate professionalism. don’t stick to overly scientific methods for observing the nuance complexity of human activity.
    • a researcher conducting ethnographic reconnaissance should try not assume a tourist or poll-taker or professional researcher identity, rather an interested human being. All of those identities could hinder natural conversation.
    • do not feel pressured to “sample” the population in any certain way. There will always be “gate keepers” of the community and they are worth your time as well.
    • write up notes quickly thereafter a reconnaissance effort. Initial opinions, anticipated problems, observations that go against your conceived notions are often fleeting once removed from the field.
    • keep in mind you are there to learn how those in this setting make sense of their world; if they can’t answer a question, it’s not part of their world. an idealistic goal for interviewing is to get them to talk with the fewest direct questions. ask questions as they come to you.
    • know what information is already out there (community history, maps) and do not feel obligated to reproduce it, but consider its biases and affordances carefully before inclusion in your reconnaissance or ethnography.

Systematic Research

  • Systematic research doesn’t always describe the existence of a community in ethnography. Care should be taken to understand when and how to count what needs to be counted, and measure what needs to be measured.
  • Problems and questions that are defined or redefined in terms of computational capabilities shift the researcher further away from orienting traditions of ethnography.
  • Photography, videography, and systematic research should not become ethnography–they are tools, not philosophies.
  • Stepwise research should not go against timing, but instead inform it. Dedicate chunks of times to different topics over the course of the fieldwork, and observe what changes and what doesn’t.
  • long-term fieldwork by ethnographers can provide “finer distinctions between change efforts and changed results, or between change and rhetoric of change.”


The Interpretation of Cultures “Chapter 1 Thick Description: Toward an Interprettive Theory of Culture” C. Geertz, 1973.

“To try to find the figure in the carpet of one’s writings can be as chilling as trying to find it in one’s life; to weave, post facto, a figure in —”this is what I meant to say”—is an intense temptation.

  • New ideas take hold of the intellectual community with vigor. It is applied to many problems and many situations. The community applied is where it is applicable and desists where it cannot be extended. What is does explain is now brought into focus, and the pseudoscience falls away.

“The concept of culture I espouse […] is essentially a semiotic one. [M]an is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”

  • If you want to understand science, look at what practicing scientists do. If you want to understand anthropology, look at ethnography.
  • Ethnography is more than just establishing rapport, selecting informations, transcribing texts, etc. It is an intellectual effort called “thick description” by Gilbert Ryle.
    • “Thick Description” is both thinking and reflecting, as well as thinking of thoughts.
    • A “thin” description of events merely records actions or direct observations, but a “thick” description finds a hierarchy of meaningful structures that leads to the actions. Where was this action learned? What was the intention behind the action? What is the context of the action? What is the action codifying?
  • Ethnography is a collection of data that is really a “construction of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to. [I]t does lead to a view of anthropological research as rather more of a observational and rather less of an interpretive activity that it really is.” Analysis is sorting out the structures of signification.

“What the ethnographer is in fact faced with […] is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render.”

  • Human behavior as symbolic action has a significance. The communication by an action’s agency is of significance. With this componential analysis of culture, “culture is composed of psychological structures by means of which individuals or groups of individuals guide their behavior.”

“The cognitive fallacy—that culture consists of ‘mental phenomena which can [should] be analyzed by formal methods similar to those of mathematics and logic’—is as destructive of an effective use of the concept as are the behaviorist and idealist fallacies to which it is a misdrawn correction.”

  • Ethnographers seek to speak to and with individuals, not for them.

“Culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly—that is, thickly—described.”

  • Behaviors are the vehicle for culture. Behaviors’ relationships to each other is intrinsic, but it’s their role in patterns of life that give them meaning.
  • Inspecting events his how we interpret symbols and symbol systems, not by setting them up and organizing them into our own patterns.
  • Searching for sound, overarching order in cultural proceedings discredits analysis; do not divorce interpretations of events from the events themselves.

“If anthropological interpretation is constructing a reading of what happens, then to divorce it from what happens—from what, in this time or that place, specific people say, what they do, what is done to them, from the whole vast business of the world—is to divorce it from its applications and render it vacant. A good interpretation of anything—a poem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a society—takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. When it does not do that, but leads us instead somewhere else—into an admiration of its own elegance, of its author’s cleverness, or of the beauties of Euclidean order—it may have its intrinsic charms; but it is something else than what the task at hand—figuring out what all that rigamarole with the sheep is about—calls for.”

  • There is a distinction being speaking and writing. An informant speaks; speaking is the event.  An ethnographer writes (inscribes); writing is the thought of speaking… or the meaning of the speaking.
  • Cultural analysis is guessing at meanings and assessments of such guesses; it is not all-encompassing or robust, rather its nuanced and situational.
  • Ethnographic descriptions are…
    1. …interpretive.
    2. …interpretive of the flow of social discourse.
    3. …attempts to rescue the “said” of discourse from ephemerality.
    4. …microscopic by nature.
  • Any larger, broader implications or abstractions of culture are often from extended acquaintances with extremely small matters, not a wide variety.
  • “To regard [ethnographic findings] as anything more (or anything less) than [particular] distorts both them and their implications, which are far profounder than mere primitivity, for social theory.”
  • This methodological critique of the microscopic nature of ethnography is valid, yet not to be resolved by considering the events as an actual microcosm, but resolved by “realizing social actions are comments” on society, with no bounds nor guarantee where the interpretation can go.
  • Generality of cultural theory grows from the “delicacy of its distinctions, not the sweep of its abstractions.”
  • Cultural analysis does not build on other analysis; it “plunges deeper into the same things” and enriches the understanding of both analyses.
  • Cultural theory is not predictive. It guides the lens to which we can view past events, and potentially anticipate future occurrences of the event.

“In ethnography, the office of theory is to provide a vocabulary in which what symbolic action has to say about itself—that is, about the role of culture in human life—can be expressed.”

  • Cultural analysis is, by definition, incomplete. They are sustained by continued debate and discussion. Yet, the more narrow the details, the less complete they become.

“The danger that cultural analysis, in search of all-too-deep-lying turtles*, will lose touch with the hard surfaces of life-with the political, economic, stratificatory realities within which men are everywhere contained-and with the biological and physical necessities on which those surfaces rest, is an ever-present one. The only defense against it, and against, thus, turning cultural analysis into a kind of sociological aestheticism, is to train such analysis on such realities and such necessities in the first place.”

*An old Indian story goes: The world rests upon a platter that is on the back of an elephant and that elephant stands on the shell of a turtle. Each turtle, in turn, rests on another turtle.

“Ethnography” in The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. D. Randall and M. Rouncefield.

What is Ethnography?

  • “Ethnography is a qualitative orientation to research that emphasizes the detailed observation of people in naturally occurring settings.”

Why use Ethnography?

  • “Perhaps the main virtue of ethnography is its ability to make visible the ‘real world’ sociality of a setting through detailed descriptions of the ‘workaday’ activities of social actors within specific contexts.”
  • Ethnography seeks to observe and record activies as social actions embedded in a socially organized domain.

Doing Ethnography – Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

  • The social world ethnographers plunge into is often not organized in the way researchers expect to find it.
  • Recording the richness of everyday activities is often difficult because of its commonplaceness.
  • Ethnography does not take immense amounts of training, nor is its goal to search for hard-to-find things; nor is it simply hanging around or experiencing another community. It is listening and watching to the guiding principles that structure others’ activities.

What does an Ethnographer do?

  • An ethnographer does not need to go look for data; they look for communities and actions within these contexts to observe, the data is then presented to them in that context.

“The point of fieldwork is to understand the social organization of activities within the setting.”

Collecting Data

  • “In terms of what the fieldworker collects by way of data, […] it will be dictated not by strategic methodological considerations, but by the flow of activity within the social setting.”
  • Everything an ethnographer experiences or witnesses or observes is data. There is no sense in having all the data, but nevertheless your record of it should far exceed your use of it.
  • Ethnography is “the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the investigator is aware of at the time of collection” (quoted in Dourish (n.d.: 2). Mass amounts of data collection tends to happen as a consequence of the ethnographer’s immersion in a setting. Recording things often comes naturally as a foreigner in a new country wants to document everything they don’t understand.

Perspective Mapping: South Station

Tasked with returning to South Station, the following observations were made in light of an essay by urban media designer, Martijn de Waal (of The Mobile City) entitled The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City.

In the essay, de Waal specifies some public space as part of the “urban public sphere,” namely any accessible place where people of various background can potentially meet. In certain aspects, successful public spaces are designed around the identities that weave though the space on a daily basis. A modern urban public are the inhabitants of this public sphere which share a common goal or action (such as transportation in a train station). American sociologist Lyn Lofland introduced a third classification of space (besides public and private): that of the “parochial” domain. A parochial sphere consists of a common group of people that share a sense of commonality despite having a publicly accessible location. Examples include a Turkish hooka bar in a Dutch neighborhood, a gay bar, a bench in a public park where teenagers commonly gather. The ubiquitous nature of personal cellular-run interfaces (phones, laptops, tablets) permits an interlocked analysis of public, parochial and private spaces. These observations try to take in consideration of these three classifications.

Patrons were observed in different zones of the South Station atrium/food court. For the course of three minutes, actions despite walking, were tallied. Included were (phone activity, talking, looking up at ads and way-finding, using the restroom, eating, etc). Actions were then classified into adding to the public domain or participating in a parochial/private domain (since often times it’s difficult to classify which one an individual is participating in).


These are the tallies/raw data from my 3 minute observations about the Atrium:


The concentric circle diagrams are the first steps in my algorithm to determine a network diagram at the perspective of an individual in South Station. My assumption: A patron of South Station will be drawn to areas in which other people are behaving similarly (headphones on, or looking for way-finding, or eating, etc.). My network diagram takes into account which zones are physically accessible to each other (clear pathways) and how much sonic or visual activity is perceivable from his/her vantage point.

The top image is the network diagram with the centers of each zone at their physical distances from each other. The circular chart on the left describes the journey of one individual through South Station in terms of talking on a mobile, looking up at way-finding, and having headphones on. The blue wedge and outlined zone #7 shows where in time and space (respetively) the individual’s perspective is currently. The size of the node represents how many people inhabit that zone on average. The saturation of the node represents how many people are conducting similar actions as the current user’s perspective. The length of the connection represents the potential of the user perceiving ambient information (sonic and visual) in his current perspective.


In this way, space is not a simple function of x-, y- and z-displacement; it is a dynamic system of goal-seeking, resource-exhausting, information-filtering agents which happen to be navigating four dimensions. And when these motivations act on a subject, it is not accurate to plot navigation of a public space in two dimensions.

3 Trips Assignment: Ideas + Sketches

For the 3 Trips Assignment, we must design a map/diagram which documents the route of three trips: (1) from our local living space to Northeastern, (2) from our childhood home to our local living space, and (3) from Boston to an overseas destination. Each of these trips must be shown simultaneously (one document or pamphlet) and descriptions should not be favored over visual representation.

For this assignment I labeled the trips: Local, Continental, International (respectively). These trips are from specific address to specific address, including the transportation methods employed as if the trip was happening today. My local trip uses the subway from apartment to studio space in Boston, a commute. My continental trip uses car (both personal and über services) and airplane from Dayton, Ohio to Boston. My international trip uses a combination of walking, bus, subway and airplane (including layover in Paris) to go from Boston to the Franz Kafka Monument in Prague, Czech Republic.

Statue de Kafka par Jaroslav Rona, Prague, Republique techeque
Statue de Kafka  Jaroslav Rona, Prague

Idea 1:

Idea 1

Modeled after ØString’s “Roadtrip 2009”
Circular element representing time overlays a geographical route. Icons surround the circular element to represent landmarks. The routes in proportion to each other’s time arranged for comparison on bottom.

Idea 2:

Idea 2

Modeled after Boyack + Klavans + Paley’s “Relationships Among Scientific Paradigms”
A non-euclidean, spherical map of the northern hemisphere shows all three routes in their entirety; callouts zoom in on the parts of the map that aren’t flight related (Dayton, Boston, Prague). Lines connect various parts of the map and routes: connects can form from a multitude of realms, such as emotional, geographical, historical, environmental, social, etc. Along the outside of the globe, time/distance are measured in proportional radians. Callouts help describe historical, natural, or environmental landmarks.

Idea 3:

Idea 3
Idea 3
Idea 3
Idea 3
Idea 3 - Mechanics
Idea 3 – Mechanics

Based of Felton’s “Feltron Atlas 2008”
Each route will exist on a series of foldable equilateral triangles that allow viewers to see each trip in an “overview” mode (where the entire route is visible) or in “detail” mode (where the beginning and ends of route are detailed/zoomed in on). The colored in flaps in the third picure show where the extra variables will be (historical context, temperature, total time, etc). The mechanics are only worked out for the first two routes.

Mapping Public Space: South Station

ARTG 6330: Mapping Strategies
joint studio with NU Architecture

Assigment 1: Mapping Public Spaces at South Station

For the first assignment, groups will need to identify a phenomena that structures space in South Station in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. Once the phenomena is identified, collect data to map the space and visual techniques to clarify the space. Thought and materials to collect the data should be considered, as if a team of researchers would be collecting data for you.

In the main Atrium of South Station, our group observed patrons of the MBTA and their social habits (or lack thereof). My first sketch focuses on the area in front of the overhead electronic arrival/departure timetable. The space in front of it was void of obstacles and measured ~80ft by ~20ft, with the electronic boar above the short edge. While this space is free of obstacles, observations quickly found this space to fluctuate population and usage rapidly.

First attempt at mapping South Station in front of electronic arrival/departure board
First attempt at mapping South Station in front of electronic arrival/departure board

In this diagram, I grid the space in front of the electronic board. Places where patrons had a “social event” or stopped I marked with an X, and the subscript describes # in their party as well as gender. The lines connecting events show pathways to and from the event.

Immediately, some issues became obvious:

  1. Any biographical information that does not change from entrance to exit of South Station (gender, # in party) should be coded w/o labels to avoid confusion.
  2. Layering multiple pathways becomes difficult to record/follow a singular experience in the station.
  3. Pathways are a vector, they should denote direction
  4. Location of social events is may not prove as interesting as comparing location and type of social event (checking phone, greeting someone, reading newspaper).
A physical map/plan view of the Atrium, and some ideas about how to visually code different types of events and people
Descriptions of the Center of the Atrium; Observations from standing in the center of the Atrium; sketch detailing the proportions of the area in front of the electronic arrival/departure board
Defining the phenomena; Attack Plan for Starting Research, including suggested variables to have researchers collect

This is a link to the first-draft of my  Research_Form_South_Station. This is what an Observer would take to South Station and fill out. The goal of this form is to get the independent researcher to understand the study, how to avoid mistakes (often miscommunication), and collect data in a consistent manner.

This project continues with collecting some sample data and creating a sample of the visual language necessary to define the space.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces: Intro + Chapter 1

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
William H. Whyte

This video, made by Whyte, follows along with the accompanying book.

Reflection: It is amazing to see how far we’ve come in the scientific process across all disciplines: design, psychology, architecture. In Whyte’s Street Life Project, the research team lead by Whyte innovates (for the 1970s) data collection practices with the use of cameras. While Whyte speaks about some psychological phenomena that is beyond his scope of academia (how construction workers and women-watchers will catcall but have never been recorded successfully approaching a woman), he does so with in jest. These are merely observations of people’s behavior. This text is an interesting precursor to user-centered design and how cognitive walk-throughs can aid usefulness and usability of space.


Foreward, Preface + Introduction

  • Amidst an urban crisis, Whyte observes people in small urban spaces and recognizes similarities and patterns, among them: smiles. When we think of cities, we often criticize instead of remember there are places people enjoy in cities.
  • It should be conservationists goal to conserve both city and country. If a city is deemed uninhabitable, people will move out of them. It is small urban spaces that help foster ideas of habitancy.
  • Findings from the Street Life Project in 1971. The book focuses on spaces that do work, don’t work, and reasons why.
    • Street Life Project focuses on studying city spaces by means of observation. Many observations at the time never dealt directly with American cities experiencing overcrowding; most studies used student populations, animal populations or over-seas city populations.
    • First iteration of the project studied playgrounds, parks and informal areas of recreation.
    • Study found that many parks, even those in densely populated areas, were not crowded—many were even bare. Ample space is not a factor in effectiveness.
    • Assumptions at the time were that many children played in streets because lacking playground space.
  • As the project expanded its observation locations, open plazas in NYC revealed a similar imbalance of space usage.
    • While the percentage of open plazas in downtown NYC is minimal, they are used frequently enough to color the perception of the entire downtown.
    • Open plazas increased in downtown NYC as part of a 1961 city planning incentive. The city awarded permits to build an additional 10 sq. ft of office space above zoning permits, for every 1 sq. ft. of plaza.
    • While some plazas flourished at lunch time, others were left bare. The discrepancies were studied and then presented to the City Planning Commission to create new zoning laws for plazas in NYC.

1  The Life of Plazas

  • The study of plazas was observational. At first, researchers just watched what people did in the space. Some interviewing was also completed.
    • Commuter distance from plaza was relatively short; fewer people from the actual building used the plaza directly in front of their offices.
  • The best-used plazas often have a social air.
    • There are a higher proportion of couples and groups in more-often-used plazas than less-often-used plazas; same with the number of women.
    • Couples or groups choose places to rendez-vous or meet up.
    • Urban plazas were rarely observed to be used for mingling or meeting new people.
    • Men are found in higher proportions on the edges of plazas; women are found in higher proportions on interiors spaces of plazas.
  • Some of the most useful observations came from off-peak hours of plaza use. During peak crowdedness, people choose available options. Less congested hours at the plazas allow people to make conscious choices.


Example of Self-Congestion

“What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.”

  • People are unreliable on questionnaires; their ideals can be opposite of the actions.
  • Plotting locations on the plaza where conversations of > 1 minute, observations show more times than not conversations in the middle of the crowds, and not off to the side.
    • While conversations are expected to originate within the flow of transportation/walking, conventional thought perceives conversations to drift out of the way. This is rarely the case.
    • People also choose conversation locations at well-defined areas, near objects or landmarks (steps, fountains, wall) which can be near pedestrian flow, but rarely choose wide open spaces.
  • These observations remain true for other cities with a similarly high population density. Suburban areas will lower densities follow slightly different tendencies. Suburban spaces have similar traffic flow, but pace and socialization is reduced greatly.
Sighting Map example Whyte gave to his research fellows to fill out while at on-sight observations