Category Archives: Information Design & User-Experience
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:
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
Those planning construction or renovation projects for educational facilities might want to study the people using the proposed space as part of the construction and planning process. Dr. John A. McArthur makes this case in an article in the American Clearinghouse on Educational Facilities Journal. The publication, titled “Practical Lessons from User-Experience Design for Spaces of Learning,” uses information design theory to advocate for user participation in facilities improvement and management.
In the Editor’s Note, Mark Littleton writes, “John McArthur provides an eloquent discussion of user-experience design, a discussion that centers on facility design which favors spaces designed for learning over spaces designed for teaching.”
Dr. John A. McArthur is an assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte.
Read the article – “Practical Lessons from User-Experience Design for Spaces of Learning” - in the journal’s online edition.
Where do information design theory, digital media, and community engagment intersect? One location is on the Queens University of Charlotte campus inside a fountain in the middle of a major courtyard. That’s the home of @QueensDiana.
At the National Communication Association annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, I presented a paper on the hyperlocal community engagement enhanced by @QueensDiana, the Twitter page of the bronze statue Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.
My presentation surrounded the intersection between the user-experience of Diana and the sense of community created in that experience. Here are the visuals that accompanied my presentation.
If you’re interested in this topic and other case studies about the intersection of digital media and information design, look forward to our book on the topic coming out this spring.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a classroom on the first day of the term at Furman University. I had just finished the first course of my senior year – “Freedom in the Western Tradition” – and was settling into my second of the day – “Islam.”
The irony of that juxtaposition was not lost on me that morning.
As planes crashed in New York City, Washington, DC and a field in Pennsylvania, I watched and prayed. Two days later, as news was still developing, student leaders at Furman led a prayer vigil for our country. At our opening of school convocation, the Furman community sang a hopeful “America, the Beautiful” in place of the typical rendition of our alma mater.
A decade after 9/11, each of us can remember our feelings of shock, anger, and fear and tell the story of where we were when the news found us. When we take the time to share our stories, we memorialize the event. But the stories of those that perished in the attacks will be forever told through our national memorials.
The Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial was dedicated three years ago. 184 benches, each representing one of the lives lost at the site, jut up from the ground and hover over reflection pools. The benches are arranged along an age line – from the youngest victim aged 3 to the oldest, 71. Each is engraved with the name of the victim for whom it stands.
While facing the Pentagon, visitors see the inscriptions for those that died in the building; whereas the inscriptions for those who died aboard the plane can be read by facing the sky in the direction from which the plane travelled.
The gravel underfoot, the sound of flowing water, and the peeling paperbark maple trees at the site give the sensation that this is a place of memory, different from the area around it.
The memorials at the World Trade Center in New York City and the site of the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania will be dedicated this weekend. Like the Pentagon Memorial, the two memorials to be dedicated on this solemn anniversary tell the stories of the lives lost there.
Each memorial is set apart from its surroundings, creating a place for reflection. Each shares the stories of the victims as individuals. And each creates a space designed for national remembrance.
Memorials move us from saying an independent, “I will never forget,” to declaring as a nation, “We will always remember.” They cause us to pause, to contemplate our history, and to share our own stories.
This September 11th, take the time to learn about our three national memorials and the stories of the lives they represent, reflect on the events of these last ten years, and tell your own story of remembrance.
Dr. John A. McArthur is an assistant professor in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte and resides in Greenville, SC. Contact Dr. McArthur at http://jamcarthur.com