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Understanding spaces as places: extending interaction design paradigms


This short paper focuses on some issues involved in the design of ubiquitous technologies and their integration within physical spaces. Current design methodologies and techniques do not explicitly consider the importance of gaining a full understanding of the human experience of space when designing technologies that will pervade and become an integral part of our physical environment. This paper is specifically focused on the importance of considering spaces as places, and of analysing those features of a place that are going to shape users’ interactions with technologically enhanced environments. It also examines the future implications that this approach may have on theoretical and methodological aspects of interaction design.

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  1. 1.

    A concept developed within phenomenologically influenced human geography (Relph 1981; Tuan 1977), place is the concept of space inextricably linked with the wealth of human experiences and use occurring within it: “Place is a space which is invested with understandings of behavioural appropriateness, cultural expectations and so forth. We are located in ‘space’, but we act in ‘place’” (Harrison and Dourish 1996).

  2. 2.

    The discipline of Environmental Psychology has been discussing this perspective since its foundation (Canter and Singer 1975; Cassidy 1997).

  3. 3.

    The use of such “inspirational” material in the form of “cultural probes” to inform design has been successfully employed in the EU project “Presence” (Gaver et al. 1999).

  4. 4.

    The SHAPE Project is funded within the IST-FET Disappearing Computer Initiative. Partners in the SHAPE Consortium are: the Royal Institute of Technology-KTH (Sweden, Coordinating Partner), the University of Nottingham (UK), King’s College London (UK) and the University of Limerick (Ireland).


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The work presented in this paper has benefited from the guidance of Prof. Liam J. Bannon and the support of all the members of the SHAPE Project and of the Interaction Design Centre.

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Correspondence to Luigina Ciolfi.

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Ciolfi, L. Understanding spaces as places: extending interaction design paradigms. Cogn Tech Work 6, 37–40 (2004).

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  • Ubiquitous technologies
  • Space and place
  • Physical presence
  • Interaction design
  • Localised experience