Urban alphabets - A smartphone application to change public space for the user

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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This thesis employs a practice-based research approach in order to determine the influence of digital mobile media on public space. To investigate this influence, the thesis has developed a smartphone application, Urban Alphabets, which enables users to create their own alphabet. Ur-ban Alphabets (currently for iOS and Android platforms) encourages users to re-experience their surroundings by enabling them to upload photographs of individual, cropped letters, which can then be used to write short messages, called Urban Postcards. While the Urban Alpha- bets project also uses the uploaded letters for display on large-scale urban screens as well as exhibition in galleries, the Urban Alphabets smartphone application forms the basis for this thesis’ contribution to research in the spatiality of public spaces influenced by digital mobile media. The work draws its theoretical framework from the fields of sociology, urban and cultural studies, as well as geography. It employs Lefebvre’s aspects of spatiality, perceived and conceived space, and additionally utilizes the concept of acted space, which emphasizes that users actively create spaces by means of their bodies. Between May 2013 and November 2014, seventeen workshops were conducted in eight countries. Employing participant observation and group interviews, the thesis shows that Urban Alphabets increases users’ attention to details in their environment that usually remain unnoticed. The application encourages users to actively change their behavior in public, particularly when in small groups. For example, the participants make special efforts to capture the best possible photos. The use of two surveys and the group interviews enables the thesis to explore future development opportunities, such as the educational use of the project. The results of this practice-based research show that mobile applications hold the potential to influence public space positively: Urban Alphabets causes users to re-explore public space through mobile media. Thus, it can be understood as one strategy to help users to step outside their usual perceptions of their everyday surroundings. The work concludes by offering recommendations for designers of smartphone applications to re-connect users with their physical environments. However, this thesis should be understood as only a first step in a series of case studies to investigate the field of spatiality in public spaces influenced by the use of digital mobile media. In order to generalize the results of this thesis, it is recommended that further studies be carried out in this field.
Correia, Nuno
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Correia, Nuno
public space, smartphone application, digital mobile media, spatiality, users' perspective, practice-based research
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