DIS 2010 workshop

DIS2010 – Informing the Design of the Future Urban Landscape :: Report

17 August, Aarhus, Denmark

The workshop attracted both creative practitioners and academic researchers who were drawn together by the mutual desire to better articulate the issues that designers and technologists will have to address as they shape the interactions within the media-rich urban landscape.  Taking inspiration from ethnographic design research methods, the workshop took an experimental approach to the recording of activities. Participants used a rapid ethnographical approach to document the ‘bleed points’ where the physical and virtual worlds connect or indeed disconnect. The aim of the activity was to encourage the participants to adopt an attitude of curiosity as they sought to unpack the nature of peoples’ rituals, habits and priorities, focusing, in particular, on the potential for behaviour associated with existing technologies.

The collected images formed a digital scrapbook to stimulate the subsequent debate of emergent themes. The group worked through 3 concepts that explored the following themes:

The city as shelter from interaction :: mobile, re-configurable shelters the provide inhabitants with momentary restbite from the demands of interaction.

Shared spaces :: multiple viewpoints of the urban environment, depending on context and role, the tourists’ and inhabitants’ gaze.

Kinetic Crossing :: harvesting energy from pedestrian movement as a source of power and as a driver for ‘just in time’ signage.

at the workshop, Aarhus

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The DIS conference addresses design as an integrated activity spanning technical, social, cognitive, organisational, and cultural factors.

Original Workshop Call

It is envisaged that the urban spaces of the future will be saturated with both visible and hidden media that gather and transmit information. How we as physical beings connect with, interpret and shape the increase of data residing in our environment will be a significant challenge. The forms in which this data will be presented, and how we decide to conceptualise it, is as yet unknown. Will the technologically enriched environment adapt to accommodate human/city contact points, and, in response, how will we choose to interact with and navigate through, this information landscape?

This workshop will identify emerging design themes by bringing together practitioners and researchers from across disciplines. Participants in the workshop will collaborate in a practical exercise designed to reveal issues that will increasingly impact upon the design of the products and services that will populate the urban landscape in the near future. The outcome of this workshop will be the identification of challenges that designers and technologists will have to address as they shape the media-rich urban landscape. It is hoped that this workshop would form the basis of a new collaborative network with the aim of taking this technological design research agenda further.



As the aim of this workshop is to generate discussion and to collaboratively identify design issues, we would like to encourage attendance from a mix of people at different career stages, both creative practitioners and academic researchers. As interdisciplinarity is an important feature of this workshop, participants from a range of backgrounds in the fields of technology and creative design are welcome to attend.

Selection of participants will be made on the basis of individuals’ interest in the topic, as well as an overall balance of skills and backgrounds in order that participants can gain from the collaborative experience.
If you would like to participate, please reply, including some information about yourself and why you wish to be involved, on the Applications to Participate page.
We will notify you of your acceptance to participate in the workshop as son as possible.



Today’s urban experience is enhanced by technology that increasingly enables simultaneous existence in both the virtual and real worlds. Such technology offers a number of bridges between these worlds but in so doing places an increased tension on the sense of place and subsequently the identity of the individual. Identity has many components that have to be woven in our everyday lives. It is postulated that in order to cope with the demands of our society, people must be capable of switching between identities actively and quickly while stitching these different identities in place (Hall, 1991).

Furthermore, it is possible that a ‘fragmentation’ of identity is part of our experience of modernity (Benjamin, 1997). Today identity is just as much about stitching multiple identities in separate virtual places as it is with their physical counterparts. Our sense of place, both physical and virtual, contributes to our feeling of presence and the subsequent identity that is created, maintained and communicated. It is at the border of these physical and virtual worlds that the urban dweller’s sense of place resides and it is through collaborative enquiry, using techniques such as those to be employed in this workshop, that the crossing points can be identified and shaped.



Humans have always been in constant engagement with their surroundings, often without being consciously aware of the process or nature of this interaction. By investigating the activities that currently take place in this liminal space we may be able to identify important themes and issues. Taking inspiration from ethnographic design research methods, the workshop will take an experimental approach to the recording of these human activities. By using the everyday technologies that people have to hand, the participants in the workshop will be provided with a new perspective on the traditional techniques that designers have employed, such as the creation of scrapbooks, mood boards and sketches. It is envisaged this approach will widen opportunities for participation in the design process. These can assist the technologists and designers of the future as they work to shape physical and virtual environments in such a way that they can be made sense of and manipulated.

Workshop activities

The workshop will comprise of the following activities over the day, with appropriate breaks:

  1. An introductory presentation that will orientate the participants to the aims of the workshop and the context of the data gathering activity.
  2. A session for participants to introduce themselves and their interests, and form small mixed groups based on their skills and interests.
  3. Data Gathering Session: This practical activity will employ (very) rapid ethnography as a means of gathering rich visual data about the urban space in which we engage. This data will form the basis of a ‘digital scrapbook’ that will be immediately transformed into a visual presentation, to be used as a stimulus for participants’ design responses, and subsequent discussion and critical debate.
  4. In their small groups, participants will generate quick design ideas, or “responses” to the identified issues and themes.
  5. Groups will present their ideas to the rest of the workshop for discussion, analysis and debate. The emphasis is on the ideas, new collaborations and potential research themes that emerge.

Research questions

The workshop will seek to address questions such as: What form will the information landscape take? How will people adapt their behaviours and indeed how will the nature of the urban landscape alter as increased amounts of information is overlaid on the physical environment? What new products and services will be available given the increase of targeted information aimed at specific communities and interest groups? Will this result in an increase in segmentation and fragmentation associated with the urban experience leading to the possibility of the creation of multiple experiences of the same physical space. What will inform the visual aesthetic of the future information landscape?

The workshop will seek to explore the ‘bleed points’ where the physical and virtual worlds connect or indeed, disconnect. Examples will be drawn from advertising and product design (art works). Furthermore the workshop will focus on the small ideas that underpin the ‘big questions’ that too often overwhelm researchers. Indeed, it has been said that the ‘devil is in the detail’, subsequently the workshop will invite participants to adopt an attitude of curiosity as they seek to unpack the nature of peoples’rituals, habits and priorities, focusing, in particular, on the potential for behaviour associated with existing technologies.

Workshop organisers

Michael Smyth & Ingi Helgason, Centre for Interaction Design, Edinburgh Napier University Edinburgh, UK

As the background of the organisers is in the field of Interaction Design, they have a research interest in how personal technologies are used and appropriated to record and share thoughts, times and places. Therefore, while this workshop uses technology in its delivery, it is an important factor in this experience that the technologies should be those that the participants carry with them (i.e. mundane) in their everyday lives.

Dr Michael Smyth is a Reader in the School of Computing, Edinburgh Napier University, UK. He has worked in the fields of Human Computer Interaction and Interaction Design since 1987 and during that period has published over 50 academic papers in refereed journals, books and conferences. In addition he has had interactive installations exhibited at both UK and international conferences and arts & design festivals. He is co-editor of digital blur: creative practice at the boundaries of architecture, design and art. He is also working on a new project that relates to the urban themes of this workshop, entitled Transville.


Ingi Helgason is a researcher at the Centre for Interaction Design, Edinburgh Napier University. Ingi is also a part-time lecturer, teaching interaction design, multimedia and digital technology, and is studying for a PhD on the subject of Audience engagement with new media art as a resource for interaction design. She has an MSc in Multimedia and Interactive Systems, and has a background in visual and communication design. Ingi has presented workshops and installations at conferences, including (re)Actor3 in 2008, and ISEA 09. Currently she is involved with the organization of Create10, an interaction design conference, international student competition and design showcase taking place in Edinburgh in 2010.


Benjamin, W. (1997) Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, Verso Classics, London.
Hall, S. (1991) Stitching yourself in Place, Annual Magazine of the European Network for Cultural and Media Studies, Vol 1, Amsterdam, 4-13.