Urban Interaction Design - a work in progress


Opinions from the UrbanIxD Advisory Board...

What does Urban Interaction Design mean to you?


Attila Bujdoso:  It is a specific scope of and a perfect test-ground for Social Interaction Design.

I think 'Urban' is important as:

  1. an established form and context of social co-existence of a larger population, 
  2. which is usually represented in a more or less a consistent political platform.

The two above mentioned reasons allow cities to serve as test grounds of experimentation with new ways of social interactions.

Richard Coyne: How ubiquitous consumer-oriented digital devices turn the city into something strange.

Lea Rekow: The great significance of Urban Interaction/Design is its transdisciplinary ability to act within the complexity of culture through creative relationships that can connect theoretical concepts to physical environments within the precarious context of the 21st century. These relationships, at their superlative, insert themselves directly into the molecular politic of grassroots change while biting into the molar dimensions of global complexity. As we utilize resources in this process, we must assess the effects of our activity, not only for our cultural impact, but for the impact on the systems we are altering.   We must carefully account for the repercussions created from our interventions. They must be implemented through a combined approach to complex problem solving that is derived from the various interplays between amateur and specialist, soft and hard infrastructures, and social and economic capital.  The goals, to be valuable, must envisage real-world societal and ecological benefits, be accountable for their resource use and environmental responsibility, and encourage the development of resilient systems that hold value across a range of possible futures.

Marcus Foth: It's the artful integration of people, place and technology. A longer response can be found here: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/39159/

Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena: Cities are becoming the preferred habitat for mankind to thrive in. These places are byproducts of technological innovations, beginning with the mastery of agriculture thousands of years ago. Rooted in these traditions, Urban Interaction Design is an emerging field focusing on technologically enhanced and/or networked urban experiences. These creations blend physical location with digital experience to shape new behaviors and uses of our cities. Some examples of these concepts are the newfound applications of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) empowering diverse urban activities such as in-car navigation as well as mobile geo-located services, content and games.

Manu Fernández: From my perspective, is a tool and a framework to understand how people use services, infrastructure, devices, furniture… in their daily life in the city. Why we behave the way we do, how we use what we have at hand in cities, how this involves certain kind of collective intelligence and an underlying social preconception of living together.


How should cities be preparing for the technology of the future?


Attila Bujdoso: Allow and foster stronger engagement of citizens. Develop the city's capabilities of being open and ready for giving away power.

Richard Coyne:  Maximise flexibility.

Lea Rekow: I believe our only viable future is an environmentally responsible future. To develop a green city means developing technologies with infrastructures that lower the use of non-renewable energy and natural resources, that lead to environmentally friendly architecture, that create and enhance productive public space, that support non-motorized transportation and clean energy mass transit initiatives, that encourage a culture of reuse, and that promote the use of digital technologies in ways that connect people to the physical world they live in.

Marcus Foth: Rather than to sit and wait for the technology of the future to arrive, and then figuring out what we are going to do, I think it is important to be proactive and approach this head-on. A good and nuanced understanding of people and place aspects is crucial to inform technology design and development. Interaction designers collectively created the tools that helped passive consumers turn into active producers of content and services. Let’s apply our magic to do the same for citizens and cities.

Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena: Municipalities may reap many potential rewards from their openness to technological innovation in our urban experience—at least the most visionary cities will, for sure. But the roadmap will not be entirely clear and many mistakes will be made along the way, particularly if top-down management is the sole approach. Security risks need to be balanced with good will to engage and involve citizens in a city-making process by providing access to a city’s spaces, data and even infrastructure. The implementation of efficient standards in data-driven services as well as public resources or spaces should also foster increased innovation and scalability.

Manu Fernández: Lots of thing to say on this question, but lately I am really concerned about some discourses on the future of cities that imply a very negative and pessimistic vision of them. “We need technology to command and control this mess” seems to be the motto. Technology seems to be needed to resolve the chaotic cities we live in. I try to resist these subtle ideas because they are very unfair. Cities work, more or less or, at least, what is to be solved about inequality, civil rights, urban design or any other field, has to do more with fields more close to politics, anthropology, sociology or economics that just technology improvements. Of course, technology is important as an enabler and this is why I would recommend to understand the present, the technology that is being used today and has already created major changes in the way we organise, the way we share and the way we create collective solutions. The focus on the future tends to underrate social and collective practices taking place today probably, outside the flashes of the celebratory discourses of the smart cities movement - with great impact.



What excites you about this field?


Attila Bujdoso: There is still a lot to learn from the social impacts of new technologies. And we are at the very beginning to experience its implications for our future. 

Richard Coyne:  It's not just architecture.

Lea Rekow: Innovations in carbon neutral architecture and transportation design, water catchment, filtering and saving, recycling and zero waste initiatives, public health and safety, disaster response, and other solutions that can help mitigate the damage and risk associated with climate and ecosystem collapse, are all creating vital alternative social, environmental and economic models that can lead to protecting and advancing our quality of life, and the quality of the world we live in.

Marcus Foth: The potential to make a real difference to people's lives.

Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena: The potential to redefine what our perceptions of and social behaviors in urban spaces are by the clever introduction of technology. I am compelled to explore this area by creating designs that blend aesthetics and functional aspects of the experience.

Manu Fernández: The most amazing thing about the intersection of urban living and digital technologies, among others that could be mentioned, is that it can have a transformative potential in the way citizens organise, share and create in a distributed and networked way. This is not something intrinsically embedded in these new digital tools and, even though they comprise a social change potential, this will not come from technologies themselves, but through a political debate on implications, consequences and limitations.


What was the last book/article that you read?


Attila Bujdoso: Crowdsourcing for Democracy: New Era in Policy-Making by Tanja Aitamurto, and The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Richard Coyne:  Finzi, Eric. 2013. The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Lea Rekow: SLUM UPGRADING: lessons learned from Brazil. Fernanda Magalhães, Francesco di Villarosa (Eds), published by the Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC, 2012.

Marcus Foth: McCullough, Malcolm (2013). Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/ambient-commons

Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena: Article: It’s Not Just Nice to Share, It’s the Future Tina Rosenberg, New York Times, June 5th 2013. Book: Sense of The City: An Alternate Approach to Urbanism, Mirko Zardini, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Oct 28th 2005

Manu Fernández: I am constantly reading. Books are my main source of inspiration and in the last two years I have read some books that have impacted my approach on this topic: Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (Adam Greenfiled), Code/Space. Software and everyday life, (Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge), Sentient City. Ubiquitous computing, architecture and the future of urban space (Mark Shepard) or From social butterfly to engaged citizen. Urban informatics, social media, ubiquitous computing, and mobile technology to support citizen engagement (Marcus Foth, Laura Forlano, Christine Satchell and Martin Gibbs).

At the same time, I am eager to read three books envisaged for this year: Smart cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia (Anthony Townsend), The City as Interface. How New Media Are Changing the City (Martijn de Waal) and The City Is Here For You To Use: urban form and experience in the age of ubiquitous computing (Adam Greenfield)


What is your favourite thing about your favourite city?


Attila Bujdoso: Budapest: super-cultural + lively + engaging. Barcelona: Budapest + sea. Tokyo: Barcelona + crazy + crowded

Richard Coyne:  London: It's like being abroad.

Lea Rekow: My favorite city is where I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Rio is a stunning megacity of forest and beachfront, with12 million people that live in a complex reality that is defined by one of the largest disparities of wealth in the world. To integrate the informal and formal sectors of society, with all the problems associated with this disparity of wealth and pressures of urban density, is a glimpse into a future we must all be concerned with.

Marcus Foth: Favourite city: Brisbane, Australia. Favourite thing: That I can call it home.

Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena: In New York City, I enjoy sidewalks and outdoor public parks and plazas the most. The variety of people and the range of activities they engage in within these spaces and with each other is a constant source of observation and inspiration. I see these are some of the most shared resources in our collective experience of cities, and that this makes them rich in interaction possibilities.

Manu Fernández: One of the things I most appreciate in cities is walkability. Walking is the best way to know cities and to enjoy them. The best moments I had in every city has always been moving around with no direction, getting lost and discover the unexpected. To what extent they are pedestrian-friendly is my main quality standard.