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:
The following article was featured on
the Social Media Club’s national Social Media Education blog
on Election Day, November 6, 2012:
If you’re like me, your friends on Facebook have been talking about the election.
I’m friends with supporters of President Obama and Governor Romney, and even a few who are advocating for Governor Johnson. But, I’ve been surprised by the variety of Facebook arguments that I’ve witnessed in the weeks leading up to the election. Most are heated debates championed by friends of friends who write passionately and with varying levels of grammatical prowess.
In my courses in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, we’ve been discussing the role of Facebook as a gathering spot – not necessarily of like-minded individuals, but rather of friends, acquaintances, and peers. In our discussions, I’ve been thinking about the role of Facebook as a space.
Some argue that Facebook is a podium for expressing opinions. They liken it to a microphone that can be turned up to share ideas with people, or to try to persuade anyone who will listen. Thereby, users on Facebook could and should advocate for selected issues.
Others believe that Facebook is a dinner table around which friends are invited to gather. These folks suggest that dinner table conversations should avoid politics, sex, and money. Therefore, the socially aware Facebook user would refrain from discussing these topics.
Still others might argue that Facebook shouldn’t look like an podium or a dinner table, but something else all together.
As educators who are researching, reflecting on, and teaching about social media use, perhaps our job is to ask others to do the same. To pause. To reflect. To consider the messages we send, when we choose to use social media, and for what purpose. Our role is to lead the discussion about the power of social media and to harness that power for the good.
I’m happy to report that the banter on Facebook on Election day appears to have changed. My friends and acquaintances are posting pictures of their “I Voted” stickers. This kind of civic encouragement might demonstrate the actual power of the platform: to encourage each other to act as citizens.
John A. McArthur is an assistant professor of communication in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. Connect with him online athttp://jamcarthur.com or on Twitter @JAMcArthur
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.
Last year in a graduate seminar, I made the claim that all experiences of space and place are designed for us.
One student in the seminar rolled her eyes and, face aghast, said, “I don’t believe that.”
As I pressed her on the issue, she relayed a story of a hike she took through the woods to view a beautiful waterfall that was as natural a setting as she’d ever encountered. Surely, she noted, that experience was not designed.
I apologized to her in advance of my next statements.
Did you follow a trail to get there? Was it in a national or state park? Was the water flowing from or into a reservoir of some sort? Was the site clean and free of debris? Affirmative answers to any of these questions would point to a designed experience.
I think the discussion may have rocked her world.
In late September, I traveled to the Catskills to experience the beauty of a fall in one of New York’s most natural settings. One of the weekend events was a beautiful hike to Giant Ledge near Big Indian. Here are some of the signs that my experience at Giant Ledge was designed:
CONSERVATION & PROTECTION
As I drove into the mountains, I was greeted by this sign:
Note the relationship between a natural area that is protected from development (since 1885) and the reason to protect it: “Water from mountain streams stored in great reservoirs… is conveyed by aqueducts and tunnels to supply New York City.”
Off of Oliveria Road in Big Indian sits a gravel parking lot indicating the Giant Ledge trail head. The sign calls hikers to enter the woods at a particular point and follow the marked footpath to the ledge.
Later in the hike, at a fork in the path, a series of signs indicates directions to various locations in the area.
The trail itself is a design of sorts. A hike to the top reminds the traveler that this trail is in the middle of nature.
In some places the trail is a natural, worn path of rock and mud that could be mistaken for a deer path or game trail. Yet, in others, giant boulders create routes through wetter areas or align to create stair-like structures for scaling near-vertical inclines. Never was there a rope or rail for assistance. Perhaps that would have made the trail feel too designed.
VIEW FROM THE TOP
The trail led to a fantastic overlook that showed the glory of the Catskills in bright autumnal colors. Surely this was not designed. Some might look back on the original sign and note that two events shaped this view. One: the protection of this region from development in 1885 – a protection that still exists today. Two: the timber industry may have altered the type and variety of tree found in the region.
I’m not sure that either of these two issues warrants the claim of design. But, I will point out that the decision to protect a natural area from the forces that could destroy it or supplant it is a decision of intentional design.
The trip to Giant Ledge was an exercise in experience design. But that design does not diminish the beauty of creation revealed in the experience. While I was there, I enjoyed the experience as I marveled at the beauty the Catskills and the beauty of a Creator who delights in colors, textures, and the grand design.
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.
Whether you were once BFFs, Facebook friends, more-than friends, or friends of friends, unfriending someone leaves a record – a history.
My family and I were strolling through a park a few weeks ago and sat on a bench swing. Bench swings, trees, and fence posts have a rich history of serving as markers. People throughout the world use these public spaces as places of memory. Carvings in tree trunks speak of first loves, fence posts bear the artifacts of couples who plan to return, and benches become places to invest in relationships.
While we were swinging in the park, the post of the swing caught my eye:
The first thing I noticed was the immediate attempt these friends made to be sure they had the correct date on their
vandalism inscription. I can appreciate that. I’m all for accuracy.
But then I noticed that either Anabella or her BFF had returned to the swing – to commit an unfriending. At some point after 6/24/11, one of the girls scratched out the name of the friend and left only Anabella’s name on the post.
The key marks on the post are a physical reminder of the relationship lost. They shared with me a sense of hurt feelings, or even anger. One of the girls felt so strongly about the end of the friendship, that she took the time to return to the inscription and blot out a memory.
I started to wonder about the act of losing a friend, and my thoughts immediately turned digital. How does unfriending surface in a digital age?
We inscribe our friendships on the walls of Facebook. These walls are as public as the post of a bench swing, and can be just as revealing.
A quick Google search reveals that one of the biggest questions asked in digital etiquette might be about the rules of unfriending. When is it okay to unfriend someone? Will they know? How can I unfriend them without letting them know I unfriended them? Here’s Facebook’s response:
Even without virtual key scratches, the remnants left behind in the digital space signal the dissolution of a relationship. The absence of a name in a friend list or the dissappearance of a familiar face from the news feed are tangible reminders of the friendship lost.
But the digital marks do not stop there.
Facebook users can request records of their friends who have quietly committed unfriendings. Applications like “Unfriend Finder” and “Who Unfriended Me” (and other similarly named things) can tell a person who has unfriended them and when. Some will send alerts to a mobile phone or pop-up alerts on a computer.
Friendships are tricky things in the digital world and the physical one. In both spaces, the marks of unfriending are clear.
Have a good unfriending story? Feel free to share it here.
The objects placed into a blog post all have individual attributes (size, color, location) that impact their perceived use of space on a page. The trick for bloggers is to figure out how to design their space for maximum readability.
This isn’t a new challenge. Printers have been grappling with this issue since the Gutenburg Bible in the 1450′s at the dawn of the Enlightenment. But in a digital space like a blog, everyone has the chance to be a producer.
So what will you do with your space
Here are a few ideas for maximizing the digital space you have when writing a blog post:
Five tips for using space well in your blog
- Consider the spacing of your text on the finished page. Some studies show that people are far more likely to read short statements (of 1-3 lines) than long paragraphs. So, insert a paragraph break for every new thought, about every three sentences.
- Use the “Kitchen Sink” when you edit posts to create a look for your text. Keep it simple, but emphasize important items using stylistic elements like color, blockquotes, bullets, and numbering.
- Include a link or two in every post by embedding them in your text. This connects your space to other spaces on the web.
- Use bullets, and/or numbering to separate your text so that it’s formatted in a readable way for the digital space.
- Photos or videos are a must for blog posts. Consider where and how you place them by experimenting with the justifications (right, left, and center).
And some general reminders:
- Source Citations: If you use a quote from any source, include either a hyperlink (if it is on the web) or author, year, page number (if it is not on the web).
- Editing: Spelling and grammar matter. Double check your work, edit repeatedly, and help each other. If you see a typo, let the author know about it (myself included).
- Complete information: Keep in mind that your readers (and your readership will grow over the course of the term) may not be familiar with your spaces. Fully explain your thoughts and give them a way to find your spaces (via hyperlinks) if they want to visit.
If you have other tips for bloggers about using space well, leave a comment here with your advice.
This fall in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, students are studying the role of proxemics (the use of space) in our lives. As part of the assignments for their study, students are completing experiential analyses of spaces they encounter. These tips are meant to improve the digital spaces housing these analyses.
In many cities, hunts for mice on the streets are tasks left to cats, health inspectors, and pest control personnel. Not so in Greenville, SC. Everyone is
expected invited to search the city’s main street for the mice that are ever-present and underfoot.
The nine bronze mice were a senior project envisioned by Jim Ryan in 2000 during his final semester at a Greenville high school. The mice were sculpted by local sculptor Zan Wells and were hidden along Main Street. According to Wells, the idea was based on the nine mice hidden throughout the children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
The first mouse is located on Main Street’s North End and directs people to seek the other mice along the street. For nine blocks, the mice dot the landscape of the sidewalk, hiding in storm drains, on bannisters, under trees, and near pedestrian thoroughfares.
One of the nine “Mice on Main,” peering into Coffee Underground at the corner of Coffee Street
The real secret of the Mice on Main art installation is that it invites visitors to move down a street and experience the businesses, restaurants, hotels, and other pieces of public art along the way.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of public art, but I am especially a fan of public art that inspires passers-by to do something or to engage with it in some way. I want public art to create an experience for its viewers and to cause them to act. This is why I love the concept of Mice on Main.
Most visitors might notice a mouse or two, or hear about the statues in one of the local businesses lining the street. But the real secret of Mice on Main is its connection to kids. When the mice were installed, the creators issued mouse hunt hints. Each of the nine clues helps children in their quest to find all of the mice. And, trust me, even the most savvy, mature mouse hunters will not find all nine without a little help. They’re not hidden, but they are mouse-sized.
Over a decade after their introduction, the mice still inspire people to action. Even long-time Greenvillians discover the mice anew on trips downtown. I know they must be thinking, “I’ve seen all the mice before, but surely this one has not always been here.” And they might be right. The mice seem to move every now and then as various construction projects change the layout of the streetscape, or trees, sidewalks, or trashcans are replaced.
One of the most compelling things about this art installation to me is that it is perhaps at once the smallest and largest art installation in the city. Each mouse takes up three square inches, but the installation spans 9 city blocks on both sides of Main Street. It’s a compelling project that proves that public art doesn’t have to be big to have a dramatic impact.