I was privileged to present a paper – “Digital Cities: Urban community development through information design” – at the annual conference of the National Communication Association in Orlando, Florida.
The paper is an extension of my work on space, technology, and user-experience. The theoretical argument sits at the intersection of information design, city planning, and placemaking. The presentation slides and examples of case studies are included below:
To kick off the panel, Darlene Hadrika presented a beautiful animated short film created by students at the University of Central Florida that showcases nonverbal communication in eye contact, body posture, and music.
Lon Smart, a head character artist at Walt Disney Parks, showcased some of his work (which includes the Lion King’s hyenas and Mulan’s MuShu.
Smart explained a few features of facial animation. first, he explained that Disney characters have such large eyes to exaggerate the expressions and uses the body movement to over emphasize action. Anime and Japanese animations teach us that size and shape of eyes indicates heroes and villains.
During Smart’s time working on the hyenas on Lion King he encountered a particular challenge: how to portray a villain who is mean yet funny. Moving the hyenas from happy to shocked takes a series of designs that exaggerates the head from (1) smiling to (2) small to (3) large, stetched, and overly shocked to (4) settling into the expression.
And the expression can give a lot of information. According to Smart, in many Disney animations, if the character is thinking about something new or deciding what to do (or lying), the character looks up and to his left, if he’s remembering, he looks up and to his right.
In a nonverbal animation, animators must be able to tell a story in a quick sketch. Portray a story in 3-4 lines. “Think with a pencil,” by communicating expression and story first, then embellish and appreciate.
For example, over a lunch break, Smart created a MuShu scene that is totally nonverbal. An explosion happens and MuShu casts false blame by pointing to the cricket. No dialogue. When Smart saw this in the theater, everyone laughed at this nonverbal humor. Someone in the theater exclaimed, “That Eddie Murphy is so funny,” attributing the humor to the voice actor rather than the animator. Smart just laughed and shrugged.
Kim Johnson, a costume production designer, discussed transitioning the characters from film to the stage in the Lion King – animals as a “people performed live expression.” She used the gazelles to demonstrate how to blend costumes with color and pattern into the puppets.
Timon is an example of difference. The character in a park can’t change facial expressions, so the body posture and gesture have to change dramatically to welcome kids. In the Broadway show, the puppet and the actor merge. The puppet doesn’t change expression, but the actor does.
Rafiki transforms into a person in makeup. Rafiki brings Africa with sound. The music drives the experience of Africa, not through a mimicked costume, but through the same feeling.
The actors portraying Scar, must instead lose the person in the character. The costume helps, but the nonverbal body positioning really sells Scar’s disdain.
Smart and johnson point out that when characters of any sort leave the movie and enter the parks, they lose the ability to change facial expression, but *teaser* that will soon be changing. Technology will be invading the characters in the park to allow them to change facial expressions.
Finally, Louise Mares of the University of Wisconsin shared her research. She observed that children receive lots of a movie’s ideas through nonverbal communication, but they often missed the verbal message of the plot. She compared first time viewers of Sword and the Stone with those who had seen it before.
Asking the question, what happens when a character undergoes a physical transformation, Mares found differences in cognitive understanding. The older kids called “conservers” understand the character transition without issue, but younger non-conservers did better only with repeated exposure.
She asked children to retell the story, then asked them about the prevailing feelings. Her learning indicates that kids do not understand sarcasm. They have poor understanding of moral lessons, negative emotion was hard to eradicate with happy endings, and ironic cues are often misunderstood. But they appreciate the beauty and action of the scenes while learning about narrative structure.
As a child in the American south in the 1980′s, secondhand smoke was part of growing up. It was in the house, the car, on school playgrounds, at every restaurant and shopping mall. On trips, my brothers and I observed miles of tobacco fields from the car windows.
I’ve never smoked a day in my life, but my nose can still tell the difference between a Virginia Slim, a Marlboro Red, a Black and Mild, and a cheap carton cigarette. But I am less accustomed to their presence than ever before.
Over the past two decades, corporations, cities, towns, and venues have limited cigarette smoking in specified areas for a variety of health, safety, and user-experience reasons. The Greenville (SC) ordinance cites some of these:
The presence of secondhand smoke in enclosed spaces or in outside areas where there is a public gathering with people being in close proximity in places open to the public inevitably results in persons who do not smoke being forced to bear unwarranted health risks and sustaining inappropriate deprivation of peaceful enjoyment of the premises to which they have been invited or permitted to enter, even when steps have been taken to separate “smoking” and “nonsmoking” areas within the confined space.
The [Greenville City] council recognizes that smoke creates a danger to the health and safety of the public at large and that, in order to protect the health and welfare of the public, it is necessary to restrict smoking in the manner provided for in this article [the full ordinance found here].
This is fundamentally an issue of the negotiation of space (proxemics) and the spatial relationships between people. We exist in space and we negotiate that space with the others around us. This can become tricky, especially when we are in a publicly shared space (like on a city sidewalk or in a city park).
The ordinances stipulate this exact issue, defining the open air spaces that are regulated under the city ordinance:
Smoking shall also be prohibited in certain outdoor areas when the use involves a gathering of the public, regardless of the number actually assembled for the event, performance, or competition. This prohibition shall apply to:
(b) Ball parks and stadiums when in use for athletic competitions or public performances.
(c) Parades and special events on public streets and city property.
(d) Dining areas in encroachment areas on public sidewalks, plazas, and parks.
(e) Decks, balconies, and patios of restaurants and bars when in use for entertainment or when in use for the consumption of food or beverages, or both.
The penalties are not severe, but they are an attempt to enforce the ban:
A person who smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited by the provisions of this article shall be guilty of an infraction, punishable by a fine of not less than $10.00 nor more than $25.00.
A person who owns, manages, operates, or otherwise controls a public place or place of employment and who fails to comply with the provisions of this article shall be guilty of an infraction, punishable by a fine of not less than $10.00 nor more than $25.00.
But whose job is it to enforce a ban like this one? The ordinance gives power and authority to its city officers, business managers,owners, and employees, and regular citizens to file grievances.
Given all of this, when I walk around downtown Greenville, I don’t expect smoke to be present, and especially not at a table outside a restaurant where people are dining. So, while enjoying an outdoor table at a restaurant in the city with my family this week, I was surprised to be sitting next to a couple who were both smoking.
After we kindly asked them to comply with the ordinance to no avail, we enlisted the help of one of the restaurant’s employee. The conversation went something like this:
Restaurant employee: “Perhaps you were not aware, but there is a city ordinance banning smoking at restaurants. I’d appreciate it if you’d put out your cigarettes.”
Smoker 1: “We are outside and we’ll be finished soon.”
Employee: “And yet, we do not allow smoking. You can move away from the restaurant if you’d like to continue smoking (points to a smoking area).”
Smoker 1: “Well, we won’t come back downtown. It’s gotten too yuppie.”
Smoker 2: “Yeah, we liked it much better when it was skid row out here.“
Employee: “You’re the only ones.”
In this conversation, I was struck by the fact that even public space becomes personal. This public city street became personal to my family and those seated at tables around us who were recipients of secondhand smoke. It was personal to the smokers who were also enjoying their table. And, it was personal to the restaurant’s employees who are trying to create a particular atmosphere for their patrons.
And yet, it was a public space.
Bolstered by the city ordinance, the non-smokers in this public space won the debate. And it leaves me wondering about how we each negotiate proxemics in public places. How are those places governed? What happens when they are not governed? How do we operate in public spaces as good neighbors, and to what end?
Students in my communication seminar on proxemics in the Knight School conducted a wheelchair accessibility audit of campus. The audit helped students to better understand how people different from themselves understand and use built space.
The following story was featured on the Queens University of Charlotte website about the project:
Navigating the campus with new eyes
Students in a senior seminar in the Knight School of Communication are studying the field of proxemics and how it can improve the way people interact with the space around them.
As a part of the seminar, students recently devoted a sunny, fall afternoon to conducting a handicapped accessibility audit of their campus. Their goal was to simulate for themselves how people in wheelchairs experience the environment. The class borrowed wheelchairs, divided into two teams, explored the campus and recorded their experiences.
“My interest in proxemics is in how to design spaces so they can be best used by the people who inhabit them,” says Dr. John McArthur, assistant professor of communication and Director of Undergraduate Programs, who leads the seminar.
Raulston Boger, a student in the seminar, says the exercise opened her eyes to the challenges of individuals with disabilities. “We’re having to go out of our way to get into a specific building because there’s only one on-ramp – just the little stuff we take advantage of everyday.”
An accessibility audit reveals how individuals with different needs negotiate their way through a particular environment, McArthur says, and identifies a location’s strengths and weaknesses. Often, an audit reveals simple solutions that make a big impact on a user experience – such as moving a potted plant away from a narrow entrance.
When was the last time you got lost?
Self-proclaimed “indoor map nerd” Nick Such wants to come to the rescue. “People getting lost in buildings is a problem we can solve,” says Such, CEO of BuildingLayer and founder of Awesome Inc. As CEO of BuildingLayer, much of his current work focuses on indoor mapping of built spaces.
Maps are typically created through either surveying, GPS, and imagery (or a combination of the three). None of these things work for mapping interior spaces of building. To make indoor maps, CAD drawings are used and then geo-located (on a satellite or GPS map) to position the building on the site (see an overview of available indoor mapping and positioning tools).
But indoor maps can be used for much more than providing directions. In a healthcare scenario, an indoor map could geolocate services and service providers, tracking treatment by patient and room. For first responders, indoor mapping could give firefighters and rescue personnel navigating built environments.
Indoor maps will not be something we look at, but rather something we experience. The development of crowdsourced indoor maps will allow us to complete a complete digital replica of our physical world.
Everytime I write an paper about user-experience design, I try to illuminate the main concept by comparing Ikea and Walmart.
So, it made sense to me that instead of talking about this comparison in my graduate course in “Space, Technology & User Experience,” I would utilize the actual spaces to make the comparison for me.
My students and I met at the Charlotte Ikea for our Monday evening class and then processed across the parking lot to Walmart to make the comparison.
Cooley (2000) discusses nine principles of human-centered systems:
These principles suggest key ideas that designers of human-centered systems can implement to ensure a quality user experience. I’ve been using this framework in my own writing to make the case that architects and designers of built spaces could consider these 9 principles as they develop spaces for a variety of purposes (see McArthur, 2011).
To compare Walmart and Ikea, I asked students to choose one of the 9 elements of human-centered systems. Then, as they observed the 2 spaces, to make notes about the application of the concept to the space.
All the students were quick to notice that Ikea controls the shopper’s path, while Walmart allows shoppers to move through mutliple routes. Others noted that Ikea’s displays invite shoppers to experiment with the products on display, while many of the items in Walmart remain in their original packaging.
Some noted Walmart’s emphasis on making the prices of items highly visible compared to Ikea’s subtle tagging of items.
Still others considered the shopper’s experience based on wayfinding displays. Ikea had maps and directional arrows whereas walmart employed aisle markers and section signs.
Both of these spaces are similar in their architecture, but different in the experience they create for shoppers. Our next challenge will be figuring out how digital technology can play a role in making those experiences even better.
Our Community 2.0 project is starting to generate some attention, and I was honored to be invited to share my work in the Digital Speaker Series hosted by American City Business Journals in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week. Here is the slide deck from the presentation, which focused on applying design thinking to the issues of our professional work:
As our society becomes more saturated with digital technologies, members in and leaders of all types of communities will be challenged to incorporate, assess, and even design digital and media tools and experiences for their communities.
Community 2.0 – at the intersection of digital media and information design – aims to integrate information design squarely into that discussion as a tool and framework for building experiences that can create and shape the communities we serve.
The e-book, which is also available in a print version directly from the publisher, is a product of a seminar in digital communication in the graduate program in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. It was edited and produced by Dr. John A. McArthur, assistant professor of communication.
Contributing authors include marketing executives Kristen Bostedo-Conway and Sandra Saburn, community organizer Jennifer Hull, news producer Davida Jackson, athletics coach Emily Carrara, and non-profit administrator Kenyon Stanley,
Chapters in Community 2.0 address information design issues and solutions surrounding:
- Developing credibility online
- Hyperlocal community engagement
- Communities of social support in healthcare
- Business-to-consumer communities
- Socio-economic divides in technology use
- Generational gaps in technology adoption
Social media allows people to share their stories. For example, Twitter users are 4x more likely to share information on any social site than non-Twitter users. The platform enables distribution. Big media finds it, filters it, and curates it.
Michael Manness, Vice President for Journalism and Media Initiatives at Knight Foundation, suggests that design thinking will make these social platforms more robust and human centered.
Good design adds credibility to online activity. Infographics are 30 times more likely to be shared than traditional text. Multimedia components of press releases create longer sustained engagement than text-only versions. Data visualization connects text and visual representation.
Given these trends, the implementation of design thinking can help us address issues of humanity:
- Design thinking requires that designers pay attention to humans. For example, we can often find unmet needs and compensating behaviors that can inspire design.
- Design thinking allows designers to uncover needs and real issues. Even though design can hide flaws, the design process exposes them.
- Human-centered innovation requires us to inform, inspire, iterate, and innovate (via Change By Design). By thinking about our work as a design, we can remove the stigma of “sacred cows” and legacy infrastructure. Everything can be assessed together.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2012 Media Learning Seminar in Miami Florida brought together leaders of community foundations, media professionals, technology entrepreneurs, researchers, educators, and foundation staff in the foundation’s quest for informed and engaged communities. I attended as a representative of the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, a grantee of Knight Foundation. Read my articles on the conference here.
Few would have chosen to build a new studio in the shell of a 1982 Chevy Step Van. Kyle Durrie did, so she could take her press on the road. Eight months into her nation-wide tour, she arrived in Greenville, South Carolina where I met her at a demonstration at the Greenville Library.
Her truck welcomes visitors to ink a page with one of her two presses. On tap for today: a souvenir of the event reading “Greenville Type Truck, 2.16.12.”
When I arrived with my daughter, we rolled the red ink onto the letterblocks. After carefully positioning the paper and locking it into place, we pulled the press across coating the page with this image:
Moveable type gained widespread popularity starting in 1435 AD with the invention of the Gutenburg printing press. The moveable type press created what we now refer to as “mass communication” – the ability to reproduce and send the same information to many people.
Moveable type has now been relegated to the artist community as computer and personal printing technology has diminshed the need for a letter press. But, moveable type presses have a lot to teach us about why desktop publishing (on Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign or other programs) is set up the way that it is. In fact, using a letter press should be a required lesson for all students learning about graphic and layout design.
Three things we might learn about Microsoft Word from moveable type:
- Font Size: Font size seems tricky to many authors because different fonts do not appear to be the same size when both are 12-point, for example. The size of a font depends on the size of its largest, quirkiest letters and is related to the size of the block onto which it would be placed.
- Leading: Named for the strips of lead that were placed between rows of text, leading is the space between lines.
- Kerning: Kerning refers to the space between characters. The term comes from the word corner, because the corners of the letter block could be cut to allow overlap of space between characters.
To learn more about Durrie’s mission to spread moveable type across the country, visit her website, www.type-truck.com.