Chapter VI: Discussion
In the last three chapters I introduced the methodology, the underlying theoretical framework and presented the Urban Alphabets project. These sections served to build the basis for this main section of the work. This chapter presents the key findings of my research. It focuses on answering the research questions in regard to the case study but will also present two outcomes apart from the research focus of this work. The generalization of the results of this case study will be kept for the concluding chapter.
The substantial part of this section answers the research questions raised in the beginning of this work. First, I will be concerned with the changes regarding perceived, conceived and acted public space as well as the bystanders’ reaction when participants used the Urban Alphabets App in public space. Furthermore I will discuss the durability of these changes and the place-specificity of the photographed letters. Lastly, this section will discuss the different user types and the possible future use scenarios suggested during the development phase of this project.
In Chapter IV it has been argued that public space can be analyzed in five aspects: (1) perceived space is the space passively observed by the participant, (2) acted space is the active behaviour resulting from these perceptions but also the individual’s intention in the space, (3) conceived space specifies the way space is represented by the participant and the image this representation produces of an unknown space in her mind, (4) experienced space refers to space memory, the spaces encountered before, (5) lived space involves the subjective experiences users have in space. Three of these aspects are useful points of closer analysis: perceived, acted, and conceived space. It can be argued that the stock of experienced space always increases and therefore an analysis of its change is unproductive. I additionally acknowledge, that exactly differentiating between lived, perceived and acted space is problematic. However, for this work it is still useful to understand perceived space in terms of the more passive perception and acted space as the active behaviour in space.
In all transcribed workshops participants reported a change of their perception of space ‣1‣1 Digital appendix 5-1 to 5-8. Frequently, the attendants disclosed they paid attention to details usually unnoticed: a participant in Munich pointed out that she looked at posters even though she did not speak German and could therefore not understand their content. In Madrid a participant highlighted that she would usually not pay as much attention to letters, and in Liverpool a participant mentions that she looked much closer at the streets, she passes almost every day. In Liverpool the participants also discussed among themselves if a certain shop had been in the street for long as they had not noticed it before. This shows that they paid closer attention to their surroundings than in everyday life. This change in perception could indirectly also be evidenced in the participant‣2 See chapter VI.1.1.2 observation ‣2 .
A participant in Munich elaborated whether she was walking or wondering around while using the application. She suggests that she spent more time than she would usually do in an unknown place. While as a tourist she would frequently only look at the tourist sights suggested by others, she noticed that during the workshop she observed the locations in between these destinations. A participant in Sao Paulo made a similar point ‣3‣3 Digital appendix 5-5: In everyday life we are used to “walk around fast; to run from one point to another point and in between the two points you see basically nothing. You put your earphones and you are alone with your thinking.” When using Urban Alphabets, she pointed out, that she practiced her observation skills in a creative way. A Munich workshop participant also mentioned this observation experience: She reported on noticing smells and colors, which add on her experience of the public space. In particular she talks about the market square (Viktualienmarkt), where the participants had spent a considerable amount of time during the workshop.
Looking at things as letters was another frequently mentioned aspect. In everyday life we are used to see letters where they seem to convey a message. However, participants reported that when using the Urban Alphabets application they started to see things as letters, which are not meant to be letters ‣4‣4 Figure 36 and chapter VI.2.1. This change in perceived space has been reported numerous times in the interviews ‣5 but also during the outside walk in the 3rd workshop in Liverpool. ‣5 Digital appendix 5-2, 5-4, 5-5, 5-7, 5-8In Sao Paulo ‣6 a participant referred to the change of perception when using different modes of transportation: While on the bus she notices very different things compared to walking the same route. Following this line of thought, Urban Alphabets‣6 Digital appendix 5-5 demands yet another mode of city observation from the user: paying attention to letters in the city environment.
Figure 36: Things as letters: door handle as an "S"
Another participant in Sao Paulo established an interesting connection between the accessibility classes she has attended, and Urban Alphabets ‣7‣7 Digital appendix 5-5: These classes required her to comprehend a situation from another person’s point of view. She revealed, when using Urban Alphabets she needs to change her perception in a similar way, towards the letters in the city.
The survey results also confirmed a change in user’s perception: 45% of all paper-based survey respondents definitely expect to look at letters differently during the next weeks, and another 28% tend to expect the same ‣8‣8 Figure 37 or digital appendix 3-5 for the full results . Even though the response rate of the follow-up survey was low, its results also clearly indicated a change of perceived space ‣9: 56% of the respondents reported to look at advertising in public space differently and even 75%‣9 Figures 38 and 39 or digital appendix 4-2 for the full results noted to pay particular attention to letters in public spaces after the workshop. In the follow-up survey the respondents also qualitatively replied to the way in which their perceptions of letters and advertising has changed. Participants disclosed that they increasingly noticed the presence of advertisement and letters in public spaces around them. Some respondents also recognized that they analyzed advertising and letters in public spaces more carefully or more often saw objects as letters.
Figure 37: Outcomes of the paper-based survey: letter-perception
Figure 38: (left) Outcomes of the follow-up survey: letter-perception
Figure 39: (right) Outcomes of the follow-up survey: perception of advertising
Some of the changes in perception cause immediate shifts in behaviour in public spaces: When participants reported to look more closely at details, participant observation often revealed that they walked very close to capture letters not seen on first sight. “Things as letters”‣10 e.g., digital appendix 6-6 scene 04; 6-7 scene 03 are a good example but also letters that participants have made up themselves serves as evidence for participants’ behaviour shift ‣10.
The attention to details that some participants reflected on in the interviews can also be evidenced in the participant observation: A participant in Munich looked at the decoration on the market square very closely ‣11‣11 Figure 40 . In Riga I observed a participant investigating stickers carefully ‣12‣12 Figure 41. Two participants in Berlin spent several minutes next to a container for donating clothes, a place generally considered undesirable to spent time at ‣13‣13 Figure 42. A video recording shows how participants in Sao Paulo paid close attention to the shop window of a drugstore ‣14‣14 Digital appendix 6-6 scene 01. In Liverpool a participant took a photo of a plant’s leaf at a plant tub hanging in front of a window ‣15. These examples clearly show that participants do not just think to perceive public space differently when using the Urban Alphabets app but it also causes them to act differently.‣15 Figure 43
Figure 40: (left) Participant in Munich paying close attention to decoration on the market square
Figure 41: (right) Participant in Riga photographing a sticker
Figure 42: (left) Participants in Berlin taking photos at a container for donating clothes
Figure 43: (right) Participant seeing a plant’s leaf as a letter
The most important shift in the observed behaviour is the constant switching of attention between the smartphone screen and the physical surroundings ‣16‣16 e.g., digital appendix 6-2 scene 07; 6-7 scene 04. Whenever a participant captured a letter she has to stop to do so. Yi-Fu Tuan’s states a “place is a product of a ’pause’.” (Quoted in Cresswell 2010, 20) Thus, when the participants stopped, abstract space frequently transformed into experienced place. Every letter captured personalizes public space a little more.‣17 Figure 42
Spending time in unusual locations ‣18 Figure 44is another change in the participants’ acted space observed frequently: ‣19 Digital appendix 6-7 scene 08In Berlin participants captured photos of letters at containers for donating clothes ‣17 and for construction waste ‣18. Similarly participants in Liverpool looked closely at a construction site ‣19. In Madrid participants kneeled down next to a motorbike ‣20‣20 Figure 45. During a walking tour in Helsinki the two participants spent several minutes at a safety island of a street‣21 Figure 46 ‣21. When it started raining during a workshop in Sao Paulo the participants‣22 Digital appendix 6-6 scene 05 passed time in front of the FIESP building, a space empty in everyday life ‣22. In Riga a participant decided to walk on the grass next to the walkway instead of the sidewalk itself ‣23‣23 Figure 47.
Figure 44: (left) Taking photos next to a construction waste container (Berlin)
Figure 45: (right) Participants in Madrid kneeled down next to a motorbike
Figure 46: (left) Participant spending time at a safety island in Helsinki
Figure 47: (right) Participant in Riga walking next to the sidewalk
‣24 Figure 48 As another example of changes in acted space serves that participants often made an active effort to capture photos in the best possible way: ‣25 Figure 49They climbed balustrades (St. Petersburg ‣24), bollards (Madrid ‣25) ‣26 Digital appen- dix 6-4 scene 05or even other participants’ shoulders (Helsinki ‣26). Some participants kneeled down for the best possible images ‣27‣27 Figure 40 while others tiptoed ‣28. One participant blocked the sun, so that the letter the group captured ‣28 Figure 51was fully in shade (Madrid ‣29). In Liverpool ‣29 Figure 50 several participants walked onto the street to capture photos of letters written on the asphalt ‣30‣30 Figures 52, 53.
Figure 48: (left) Participant on a balustrade in St. Petersburg
Figure 49: (right) Climbing a bollard in Madrid
Figure 50: (left) Blocking the sun for the best possible picture
Figure 51: (right) Tiptoeing for the best photo (Madrid)
Figure 52: (left) Participant on the street in Liverpool
Figure 53: (right) Participant on the street in Liverpool
‣31 Digital appendix 6-2 scenes 01, 02; 6-4 scenes 01, 03, 07, 08; 6-6 scene 05; 6-7 scenes 03, 05, 10 Pointing at letters was a common practice among workshop participants, especially if they used the devices in groups. Evidence of this behaviour could be found in Madrid, Riga, Helsinki, Sao Paulo and Liverpool ‣31.
In several cities participants gathered to see the current alphabet (Madrid, Helsinki, Sao Paulo, Liverpool ‣32‣32 Digital appendix 6-2 scene 04; 6-6 scene 02, 6-7 scenes 02, 04, 05). This is a practice rarely seen in contemporary public spaces. Smartphones are highly personalized devices. Thus, they are currently utilized as individual’s own screens rather than for distributing content to several people.
Switching attention between the smartphone and surroundings, spending time in unusual locations, active efforts for the best photos, pointing at letters and gathering around the smartphone screen are the clearest proofs of changes in the acted space of the participants. However, many other changes in the participant’s behaviour have been observed. Some of them seem to be as unlimited in terms of cities as the aforementioned shifts, while others only occur in a single city.
Especially the children in Helsinki often speeded up their walking or even started running when they had descried a letter they wanted to capture ‣33‣33 Digital appendix 6-4 scenes 03, 08. Though in other cities participants did not start to run, they also speeded up their walking when they saw an interesting letter (Berlin, Madrid, Helsinki public walking tour). This also has to do with the notion of “owning a letter” if discovering it first: A participant in a Helsinki walking tour told me that I was not allowed to capture a certain letter because she had detected it before and wanted to capture it for her own Urban Alphabet.
In almost all cities there is also evidence of making the letters, which could not be found, by oneself ‣34‣34 e.g., digital appendix 6-7 scene 09. This also shows that participants often had a high motivation to complete a full alphabet.
Participants occasionally also engaged with their smartphone instead of looking up: In Sao Paulo a woman waited at the traffic light and filled the time by exploring the application’s functionality ‣35‣35 Figure 54. Generally during the initial phase of unfamiliarity with the app’s workflow, participants were more likely to be bound to their smartphone screen ‣36‣36 Digital appen- dix 6-3 scene 01. During the workshop in Munich this happened more frequently than in the other workshops ‣37. Participants explained ‣37 Digital appendix 6-1 scenes 01, 03their screen focus with the fact that the app crashed several times and they tried to redo the alphabet to the point they had reached before.
Figure 54: Participant looking at her phone to fill waiting time at a traffic light
Another undesirable outcome is that participants sometimes stopped to pay attention to traffic: One participant during rush hour walked onto Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo‣38 Figure 55, the most frequented street in the city’s business district ‣38. But also in a less frequented street in Liverpool‣39 Digital appen- dix 6-7 scene 07 a group of participants did not notice the traffic coming ‣39.
Figure 55: Walking onto Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo
Other frequently witnessed behaviours include following each other closely within the group who produced one alphabet (Riga, Sao Paulo), frequent looking up and around (all workshops), and asking the group whether a captured letter was “good enough” to become part of the alphabet (Helsinki Munkkiniemi workshops). ‣40 Digital appendix 6-3 scenes 01-03The children in Helsinki also assisted one another in how to work with the application; similarly in Riga during the phase of initial unfamiliarity participants helped each other ‣40.
Through the use of mobile digital media the ways that space is represented has drastically changed: Whereas traditionally maps were only to be understood by professionals, the audience of maps and other spatial representations has already widened with the advent of the computer. Through mobile digital media more people have become involved in the production of these artefacts (e.g., Gazzard 2011, 406 reports on the production of cultural maps). This also leads to different kinds of representations of space (Farman 2012). Most recognized is Google’s Street View, which enables users to “travel” through 3D space in their web browsers without downloading any additional software.
During the interviews I showed the participants not just their own uploaded letters and alphabets but also examples of alphabets from other cities.
Participants often generally acknowledged the difference between the alphabets they had produced and the other shown alphabets ‣41‣41 Digital appendix 5-1 to 5-8. In order to collect more detailed material the discussions in Liverpool emphasized this topic more than the other workshops. Two central aspects were discussed:
On the one hand, the participants reinterpreted the letters they had captured in regards to the ideas they reveal about their own city, Liverpool ‣42‣42 Digital appendix 5-6. One participant expressed she found the images fairly diverse but overall dull. I posed the question whether Liverpool is quite dark, because many of the letters uploaded during the first workshop in the city had black backgrounds. The participants agreed, but one student blamed the missing sun. However, when she later compared the Liverpool alphabets to the ones from Helsinki, she agreed that black backgrounds were specifically found in Liverpool.
On the other hand, interesting realizations were reached when looking at letters from cities that the participants had never been in. I frequently showed them the alphabets from Neuruppin, my German hometown, and from Las Vegas, USA ‣43‣43 Figures 56, 57. Especially the Las Vegas alphabet provoked strong reactions. Interestingly, the alphabets were often attributed a nationality. ‣44 Digital appendix 5-6One participant mentioned the Las Vegas alphabet looked “quite fake” ‣44.
Figure 56: (left) Urban Alphabet from Neuruppin, Germany
Figure 57: (right) Urban Alphabet from Las Vegas, USA
The participant in the third Liverpool workshop reinterpreted the 90’s design of the Finnish K- and S- Market letters as un-progressive ‣45‣45 Figures 58, 59 and digital appendix 5-8. When looking at the letter development video of Helsinki the same participant mentioned that there is a competition between the different letters in the alphabet, particularly between the S-Market “S” and the Suomalainen Kirjakauppa “S” (Finnish Bookstore ‣46‣46 Figure 60). In another Liverpool workshop the letters from Helsinki were named “bold”, “standard”, and “not very diverse”, even “quite sad” ‣47‣47 Digital appendix 5-6. However, none of these attributes particularly describes Helsinki as a city, but rather stays on the level of characterizing the letters.
Figure 58: (left) Old-fashioned design of the Finnish K-market logo
Figure 59: (right) Old-fashioned design of the Finnish S-market logo
Figure 60: Suomalainen Kirjakauppa “S” (Finnish Bookstore)
Generally, the reinterpretations of known and unknown spaces were interesting but did not reveal precise patterns. However, it can still be noted that the Urban Alphabets project adds another form of conceiving space to the diverse list: photographically captured letters are used as identity markers.
Another crucial point to mention is that the representation of space can be distorted consciously or unconsciously: This opportunity I realized when a workshop group in Madrid captured an entire Urban Alphabet out of “things as letters” ‣48‣48 Figure 61. Also a misleading representation of space necessarily results in a distorted reinterpretation of the representation. Thus the way that letters are captured and composed together into an Urban Alphabet is a decisive factor for the conceived space of others.
Figure 61: “Things as Letters”-alphabet from a group of participants in Madrid
Goffman has used the term bystander in a situation “to refer to any individual present who is not a ratified member of the particular encounter in question” (2008, 91).
‣49 Digital appendix 5-8In several situations bystanders’ reaction to participants using the Urban Alphabets app in public space has been investigated in the participant observation. ‣50 See chapter IV.4.2 for further information about the right to civil inattentionIn one instance a participant also reflected on the reaction of bystanders during the interview (Liverpool ‣49). She reported that bystanders on the street “looked at us quite bizarre, like staring at me.” She felt her right to civil inattention temporarily suspended ‣50. Similarly, participant observation in other cities revealed that bystanders‣51 Digital appen- dix 6-1 scene 02; 6-2 scenes 02, 06, 07; 6-6 scene 03 stared at the workshop participants, seemingly asking: “What do you do there?” ‣51
In Madrid and Sao Paulo the workshop participants themselves sometimes broke bystander’s right to civil inattention: In Madrid, the group I observed helped a shopkeeper to open the wooden window blind in front of her shop. Afterwards they continued taking photos of her shop’s font whereupon the shopkeeper asked the participants what they do there with their smartphones. One participant shortly explained that they take photos of letters to‣52 Digital appen- dix 6-2 scene 06 analyze them later on ‣52.
In Sao Paulo a participant communicated with an owner of an outdoor shopping stall ‣53‣53 Figure 62. As I do not speak Portuguese I did not understand what he said, but from the observation it appeared that he asked her if he was allowed to take a photo of the legs of her stall. After she had given permission, he asked her to move out of the image, so he could capture the best possible letter.
Figure 62: Participant communicating with bystander to take a photo of her stall’s table legs
Generally I noticed more direct communication with bystanders in Madrid and Sao Paulo, while in the other cities bystanders rather looked and stared but did not engage actively. I do not want to hypothesize on the reasons but instead I leave this as an observed fact.
The bystanders' reaction to participants using Urban Alphabets in public spaces can be summarized as follows: often the activity went unnoticed, frequently bystanders gazed at the participants, and occasionally participants and bystanders engaged in short conversations. In these last cases bystanders became active participants of the situation for a limited time. However, none of these situations appeared to showcase improper behaviour, neither from the participants nor the bystanders. Urban Alphabets is not primarily designed to engage strangers in discussions. However, participant observation has proven that in certain situations the application can serve as a trigger for conversations.
In chapter IV I described that smartphones are often used as involvement shields, to signify appropriate main involvements in order to preserve the individual’s right to civil inattention. When conducting the workshops I also aimed to determine if Urban Alphabets serves as an involvement shield in particular situations. Even though the application aims to re-connect users with their surroundings, the possibility to use it for cocooning exists.
During a workshop in Sao Paulo a woman filled the waiting time at a traffic light with exploring the Urban Alphabets application ‣54‣54 Figure 54. Her smartphone was clearly her main involvement in these circumstances. The device serves as an involvement shield signifying her proper main involvement and therefore her right to civil inattention. However, waiting time at a traffic light is rarely the situation where one has to signify another main involvement than waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Thus, I do not think that the participant used her smartphone deliberately as an involvement shield. Nonetheless, even if unknowingly the device serves to signify a main involvement.
A study of access patterns to news suggests, that in Western countries smartphones have taken over print media to access news during public transport rides (Newman and Levy 2013, 29). Further increasing the use of smartphones in public space diminishes the probability of meeting strangers or noticing the unexpected because the main involvement is already pre-given: looking at one’s smartphone.
Nevertheless, I want to argue that Urban Alphabets occasionally provokes reactions from bystanders who understand the use of the application as an improper main involvement, and therefore suspend the users’ right to civil inattention.
During many workshops participants reported they spend more attention to details often unnoticed in everyday life ‣55‣55 Digital appendix 5. The participants in a Sao Paulo workshop gave this discussion a different emphasis ‣56: They pointed out in everyday life the default mode is to ‣56 Digital appendix 5-5zoom out of a situation or zoom in to the smartphone’s screen, both actions being the same with a different emphasis of the description. Often city inhabitants only comprehend the information needed in order to fulfill a task. One participant cited previously stated: “to run from one point to another point and in between the two points you see basically nothing. You put your earphones and you are alone with your thinking.” I argue that this is a tactic adapted by modern city dwellers in order to cope with the complexity of urban everyday life (cf. Waal 2014, 78). Urban inhabitants are not able to comprehend all information the city conveys, so focusing on messages of personal importance at a certain time is a survival instinct, which is also implied in Sennett’s account of the modern passive body ‣57‣57 See chapter IV.2.2. Urban Alphabets provides an incentive to withdraw from this survival instinct and focus on details usually unnoticed. In other words, the modern city dweller deliberately chooses to distract herself whereby obstacles disturb her passively rendered body. Thus, the passive body becomes active again. In this line of argumentation Urban Alphabets can be understood as a strategy, similar to la fête or the dérive ‣58‣58 See chapter IV.3, to defamiliarize the everyday.
When using the first version (v1) of the Urban Alphabets app I realized that I did not just change my letter perception when I purposefully employed the application to create an Urban Alphabet, but the shift maintained when I did not use my smartphone. I switched into a “hunting for letters-mode” when in public spaces.
To verify this personal observation I used the follow-up surveys two to four weeks after the workshops. Though the response rate was small (only 23%‣59 Figure 39 or digital appendix 4-2 of all participants answered the follow-up survey), the results clearly indicate that the change in perception lasted much longer than just the workshop: 56% of the respondents report to look differently at advertising in public space‣60 Figure 38 or digital appendix 4-2 since the workshop ‣59. Even 75% of the participants indicate to see letters differently after the workshop ‣60.
Already during the workshop a participant in Sao Paulo by himself highlighted that ‣61 Digital appen- dix 5-5he expects his attention to letters to change, even when being without a phone ‣61.
These facts indicate clearly that for most users Urban Alphabets does not just change their attention to details while using the application itself, but these shifts certainly last longer. However, to determine how long the effect lasts and if eventually the shift in attention depends on whether participants use the application repeatedly, the present data is not sufficient.
One of the aims when starting the Urban Alphabets project was to capture a visual identity of a country, city or neighbourhood. I assumed the analysis of letters from different cities would reveal the character of the city itself. This was often a point of discussion in the workshops.
While some participants call particular letters very place-specific, they were simultaneously not. The “V” from Liverpool serves as an excellent example ‣62‣62 Figure 63: A participant called this letter “really Bold Street” ‣63‣63 Digital appendix 5-7. In her eyes it was specific to one street in the city. However, she also pointed out that the company “Voodou” is a chain of hairdressers in Liverpool. Thus, she acknowledged the letter is not place specific to a particular street in the city but rather the whole city. She continued on to explain that the sign is so big and therefore prominent in the street that she instantly connects it with the identity of Bold Street.
Figure 63: ”V” from Voodou, a hairdresser’s saloon in Liverpool
Interestingly, the participants in the same interview in Liverpool also attributed photographed letters a nationality: They called letters “American” on the basis of belonging to logos of originally US-American companies: the “S” and “Y”‣64 Figures 64 to 66 of Subway and the “M” from Disney’s Mickey Mouse ‣64.
Figure 64: (left) Commercial letters: Subway’s “S”
Figure 65: (right) Commercial letters: Subway’s “Y”
Figure 66: Commercial letters: Disney’s Mickey Mouse “M”
There are also Finnish equivalents of the US-American letters: Several Finnish supermarkets use brand names consisting of a single letter + shop type: S-Market, K-Market, and R-Kioski ‣65‣65 Figures 58,59,67 are the most typical contemporary examples. These letters commonly exist in many public spaces in Finnish cities and even villages. These companies are only operating in Finland and therefore the letters can be attributed a nationality. However, this is an understanding that developed while realizing this project. These letters are so common in Finland that their presence is considered self-evident. Only when holding workshops in other countries I personally realized their ubiquity in Finland.
Figure 67: Finnish commercial letters: R-Kioski “R”
Another example, the considerably worldwide “P” of the permissive parking-sign ‣66‣66 Figure 68 , lead to a similar conclusion: In many countries the Parking-“P” is taken for granted. It exists as a white letter on blue background in England, Germany, Finland, Latvia, Russia, Spain and many other countries. Only during the workshops in Sao Paulo I realized that the Parking-“P” is not a worldwide sign: Brazil uses an “E” to signal parking ‣67‣67 Figure 69.
Figure 68: (left) Parking sign in Liverpool
Figure 69: (right) Parking sign in Sao Paulo
The attribution of letters to internationality or locality lead me to the realization that these attributes should be understood as a continuum between worldwide and place-specific. This scale includes, for example, concepts of multinational, international, national, regional, citywide or neighbourhood letters ‣68‣68 Figure 70. Among these concepts there are still many other possible nuances and a specific letter might not be easily located precisely on that scale. Instead, being “more worldwide” or “more place-specific” than its neighbours should identify a letter in the continuum.
Figure 70: Duality of worldwide and place-specific letters
‣69 Digital appendix 5-1 to 5-3, 5-5, 5-6In several workshops the participants agreed on my hypothesis that the captured letters reveal a specificity of the place they have been captured in ‣69 but repeatedly they expected neighbourhoods within a city not to reveal such a difference ‣70‣70 e.g., digital appendix 5-3. During the Madrid workshop we also considered the intentions that users of the application have while capturing an alphabet ‣71. It can be argued that the place-specificity of an Urban Alphabet ‣71 Digital appendix 5-2enormously depends on which letters are captured and which are not.
Lastly, I want to highlight that Urban Alphabets specifically uncover intentions or preferences of the maker: Whether the alphabet is captured fully within a short time or made during a longer period, whether the maker is testing with indoor types she finds around herself or making visible efforts for the best possible framing, whether a group is using the app for educational purposes or an individual captures particular letters from books and magazines. These are only few examples of how Urban Alphabets has been used to highlight that many of these intentions are visible in the final results.
One aim of this research was to investigate what particular interests the (potential) users of Urban Alphabets have.
Already in the workshop in Munich, when the second version of the application was not even in development, the participants identified two main groups of potential users for Urban Alphabets ‣72‣72 Digital appendix 5-1: The users from the first group want to explore public spaces and capture their own letters. The second user group prefers to use items uploaded by others to write their own postcards or combine them into custom alphabets.
‣73 Digital appendix 5-2This opportunity‣73 Digital appendix 5-2 to re-use existing material from other users has been a request also in other workshops (e.g., in Madrid ‣73) and will therefore be considered in the future development of the project ‣74‣74 See chapter VII.2.1.
This distinction of two user groups is very practical, however, the following results regarding interests do not follow this distinction but rather focus on the users’ interests in certain topics.
As the basis to correlate user’s interests in the topics graphic design, writing systems, shopping, cities, modes of transportation, advertising, and smartphone apps, with their interest in Urban Alphabets I used the answers from the paper-based survey ‣75‣75 Digital appendix 3 . All answers were rated with 1 to 5 points. The rating in the topics regards the answer “no interest” as 1 and “very interested” as 5. The rating in the future use expectancy of Urban Alphabets regards “I will never use it” as 1 and “I will definitely download it” as 5. In order to reveal statistically relevant correlations a combination of cross-tabulations and Fisher’s Exact Tests were used. Even though the computed cross-tabulations ‣76‣76 Example in Appendix 5 and all results in digital appendix 8 include the outcomes of the Pearson Chi-Square test, its results cannot be used because the sample sizes are too small. Fisher’s exact test assumes the null hypothesis of independence indicated by a p-value bigger than 0.05.
Additionally to the cross-tabulations I visualized the answers in two different ways ‣77‣77 Appendix 6: The upper-part of the visualizations reflects the cross-tabulations, but gives a visual understanding of emerging clusters. The size of the circles reflects the number of participants in the paper-based survey who have answered a particular combination (e.g., 18 participants answered they had a very high interest in graphic design and will definitely use the Urban Alphabets application after this workshop ‣78‣78 Appendix 6-1 ). Figure 71 shows the rationale behind the variance of interests’ visualizations: Adding the number of participants with a similar or very different interest in one or the other field shows the variation in the interests. For example, all participants who have answered to have an interest of 1x1, 2x2, 3x3, 4x4, 5x5 are summed up in the 0-field of the lower visualization.
Figure 71: Rationale behind Variance of interest-visualization
On the basis of Fisher’s Exact Test only two (advertising, smartphone apps) of the seven fields show a statistically significant association of interests in the topic and in using Urban Alphabets in future (p-value for advertising: 0.027; for smartphone apps: 0.050). In the other five fields (graphic design, writing systems, shopping, cities, modes of transportation) the p-values are larger than 0.05 and therefore no association with the interest in using Urban Alphabets‣79 Digital appendix 8 could be discovered ‣79.
Nevertheless, the analysis of the variation of interests shows significant differences in the results and can be used as a strong indicator of an association, even though not statistically significant:
Appendix 6-1 shows a cluster of high interests in both graphic design and the future use of Urban Alphabets. 40% of all users report the same interest in graphic design and their future use expectancy of the application. Another 41% show a 1 or 2 point higher interest in graphic design than in the future use of Urban Alphabets.
Appendix 6-2 presents a much more diverse variation with only 31% of the participants mentioning the same interest in writing systems and the future use of Urban Alphabets. The interest tends towards the future use of Urban Alphabets: 46% of the answers indicate such a tendency.
Appendix 6-3 also reveals a diverse picture: Overall the interest in using Urban Alphabets in future exceeds the interest in Shopping. 66% of participants have a higher interest in using Urban Alphabets in future, compared to only 18% reporting a higher interest in shopping, and 16% having a similar interest in both topics.
Appendix 6-4 shows a similar allocation of interests as appendix 6-1 (future use expectancy – graphic design). Almost all participants have the same or a similar interest in cities and the future use of Urban Alphabets: 81% report a variance of -1, 0 or +1.
Appendix 6-5 shows a marginally higher interest in using Urban Alphabets in future than in the different modes of transportation: 73% disclose a similar interest in both topics or a lightly higher interest in the use of Urban Alphabets (reported variance 0, +1 or +2).
Appendix 6-6 and Appendix 6-7 concern the interests in shopping and smartphone apps, and the future use expectancy of Urban Alphabets, which according to Fisher’s Exact Test correlate. However, the variance analysis on both sides shows a slightly higher interest in using Urban Alphabets in future than in shopping or smartphone applications. Respectively 90% of the respondents indicate a variation in their interests between -1 and +2, with 19% reporting an interest variance of +2 in shopping and 20% in smartphone apps.
When evaluating these results it is critical highlight that there are no significant differences between the interest in the seven topics and the future use expectancy of the Urban Alphabets app. A statistical method, Fisher’s Exact Test as well as the analysis of the variance of interests has proven this fact. Fisher’s Exact Test indicated an association between respectively shopping and smartphone apps, and the future use expectancy of Urban Alphabets. The analysis of the variation of interests showed the most linear interest distribution between cities and the future use of Urban Alphabets and a generally high interest in both topics in graphic design and the future use expectancy of the application.
Three factors limit the validity of these results: Firstly, the seven topics have been chosen in the very beginning of the research. The aim was to find areas that are considerably obvious in their relationship to the Urban Alphabets project and see if there could be a significantly higher correlation of a certain topic and the interest in Urban Alphabets. Thus, all topics have a certain relation with the project and significant differences failed to materialize. During the study I could have also extended or changed the topics in the survey to widen the picture onto additional areas. At the time I decided against this option, mainly because I wanted a larger sample of participants. However, in future workshops I will perhaps adjust the survey.
Secondly, all seven concepts were common-sense terms. Thus, their understanding might have differed in different cultural contexts, or depending on personal backgrounds of the participants. Therefore the rating of interests can be distorted to a certain extent.
Thirdly, the use of the semantic differential scale for rating has its advantages and disadvantages: It was chosen to make the analysis of the results straightforward (translation of the scale into points). Simultaneously, it limited the participants to only five options. Thus, the correlation analysis might partially distort the true relationships.
One aim of this thesis was to identify more ways in which Urban Alphabets could be used. In February 2011 I developed three personas and two use-scenarios, which will be introduced shortly, before I go on to describe which scenarios and use-ideas have been collected during the Urban Alphabets workshops.
The initial personas and scenarios were not intended to show the variety of uses of the Urban Alphabets app but rather to demonstrate new features the next version of the application could incorporate. Scenario-based design was employed to concretize the experiences and demonstrate particular use-cases in which Urban Alphabets could be imagined.
Three personas were developed to demonstrate three different user-types:
Lisa ‣80‣80 Figure 72 is a first-time user who explores the application while walking her dog in Berlin.
Tapio ‣81‣81 Figure 73 is a recent graduate from a graphic design program in Helsinki who uses Urban Alphabets frequently to take new photos but is also very active in sharing his alphabets in social media. Additionally he follows his friends’ uploads and comments regularly.
Astrid ‣82‣82 Figure 74 is a Swedish woman in a long-distance relationship using Urban Alphabets to send personalized messages to her boyfriend in Norway.
Figure 72: Persona 1: Lisa from Berlin, the first-time user
Figure 73: Persona 2: Tapio from Helsinki, the super-user
Figure 74: Persona 3: Astrid from Sweden, the re-user
Two of these personas have been used to develop more detailed scenarios:
Lisa’s first time experience using the Urban Alphabets application is depicted in Digital appendix 9-1. The super-user Tapio already owns several thematic collections of letters. A friend’s upload he encounters while on public transport motivates him to arrange a meeting to complete her alphabet of snow-letters together.
The use-cases suggested during the different workshops have to be understood as singular ideas rather than as use-scenarios in the way introduced before. The aim was to identify in which situations workshop participants want to employ Urban Alphabets themselves or could imagine other people use it. These ideas can be separated into three main categories: overall ideas for the project, ideas regarding the smartphone app or ideas regarding only the website.
Ideas for the overall project
A common idea was using Urban Alphabets as a tool for education. This has not just been suggested in Riga ‣83‣83 Digital appendix 5-3 but has also been implemented by the University of Vigo in Spain and practiced myself in the workshops in Helsinki and Liverpool ‣84‣84 Figure 4. Creatively teaching the alphabet to young children is the main objective of this idea. In the workshops in Liverpool we also explored the opportunity of employing the application with older students to introduce them to the topics of typography and branding. Personally, I regard both options as significant for the future of Urban Alphabets.
A participant in Riga proposed utilizing Urban Alphabets for teambuilding ‣85‣85 Digital appendix 5-3. She suggested to divide companies into groups and give them specific tasks that they need to achieve together.
Different users have also asked me to build a social network similar to Instagram around Urban Alphabets ‣86‣86 e.g., digital appendix 5-1. However, I do not believe Urban Alphabets itself has the potential to be used by enough users for an independent social network. Instead, I think, well-done integration with other social networks is the key for Urban Alphabets’ future success.
Ideas regarding the smartphone app
A participant in Munich ‣87‣87 Digital appendix 5-1 suggested employing Urban Alphabets to entertain his 8-year-old daughter during walks through the city. He mentioned that challenges could give her a specific goal and she would playfully get to know her hometown better. He saw a potential that Urban Alphabets could be used as an inexpensive weekend activity. Similarly, other users mentioned in the paper-based survey that “rewards for filling the alphabet”‣88 Digital appendix 3-5 would make it more likely for them to use the application in future ‣88. This idea can be understood as part of the gamification‣89 See chapter VII.2.1 trend and will be considered in the future development of Urban Alphabets ‣89.
During the workshop in Munich the participants also imagined Urban Alphabets combined with a location-based tourist guide: Travellers get hints on tourist locations nearby, see where they are on a map and also get directions and route suggestions ‣90‣90 Digital appendix 5-1. When completing an Urban Alphabet they could then get a reward connected to tourism in the city, for example, free entry to the city museum.
Users in Madrid also highlighted that they want to use Urban Alphabets in a touristic context: Either they state generally they intend to use the app during travels, to write postcards from travels or they even demand more information ‣91 Digital appendix 3-5behind individual letters ‣91.
Other users in Madrid criticized the Urban Alphabets application for emphasizing the alphabet rather than the specific message ‣92‣92 Digital appendix 5-2. For them the motivation was higher if they could use the app to achieve a specific goal, such as writing an Urban Postcard. They also demanded the possibility to customize the postcards: letters should be scalable, letter spacing variable and the format of the individual elements freely adjustable.
A user in Riga introduced a personal use-case ‣93‣93 Digital appendix 5-3: At present she captured photos of letters, which she made by herself. She then used the letters to write friends’ names and gave the prints as presents to them. Urban Alphabets could facilitate her in this process if it was more flexible and the quality of the written Urban Postcards was higher.
Repeatedly users asked for the same experience in the application that they have in the website ‣94‣94 e.g., digital appendix 3-5. There is certainly a demand to see other users’ uploads as well as own contributions on a map. This is connected to another feature that has received positive feedback: A search-functionality, which automatically generates an Urban Alphabet from a search term or a location ‣95‣95 Digital appendix 5-1. This does not only require all uploads to be geolocated but also the possibility to tag letters. The feature will be considered in the future development of Urban Alphabets.
Ideas regarding the website
Workshop participants wanted the opportunity to download their own letters easily ‣96‣96 Digital appendix 5-6. This request did not specifically aim at the web. However, it is the most straightforward technical solution, which only requires common user-names and passwords across the platforms. The download should be high quality so that users can employ the photographs for further editing.
When participants saw the alphabet in development videos, where they watch the alphabet developing over time, they repeatedly asked for a similar feature on the web ‣97‣97 Digital appendix 5-5. They requested the control to stop at a specific point in time and integrate it overall better into the webpage.
Urban Alphabets as a tool
In most of the paper-based surveys I asked the participants to continue the sentence “Urban Alphabets is a tool to/for …” ‣99‣99 Figure 75. A participant in Madrid had pointed towards this direction when I asked her whether she could imagine using the application in London: “It is a good tool to…” ‣100‣100 Digital appendix 5-2 To me it was important that she did not continue the sentence as it made me think about how I would end it myself. Ultimately I realized that the application has the potential to be a tool of many kinds. Thus, it was beneficial to ask the workshop participants in the paper-based survey for what they recognize Urban Alphabets as a tool.
Figure 75: Urban Alphabets is a tool to/for... - answers from the paper-based survey
The answers to this question differ widely, but they can be classified in different categories:
Firstly, participants see Urban Alphabets simply as a tool to make Urban Alphabets.
Secondly, users emphasize that Urban Alphabets has a primary relation to typography. They understand it either as a tool to “expand your horizons on typography” or to “create [and explore] a variety of different fonts”. One participant mentions that Urban Alphabets enables her to “discuss the typography of a city more ‘concrete’”.
A third group of participants highlights Urban Alphabets’ relation to culture and city specificity: They either emphasize that the app helps them to get to know other visual cultures around the world or to explore their own city or neighbourhood and create a city-specific font.
A fourth group of users understands the project as a fun and entertainment tool. Their answers are mostly short stating, “Urban Alphabets is a tool…” “for fun and games”.
A fifth group of answers relates Urban Alphabets to education.
Other individual answers include Urban Alphabets as a tool for communication with friends, for advertising, for event making and tourism, to tell a story or simply to “explore”. A participant from Liverpool understands the application as a tool to “catalogue the language(s) we see around us everyday”. Another answer highlights that it “represents letters as more than what their original purpose once was.” A participant in Riga gives another explanation: The project is a “tool to make me look at simple things (letters on the streets) different”. Lastly a participant in Sao Paulo wrote Urban Alphabets is a tool to “see and feel the city with another time, a time to think.”
None of these answers is more right than another: All are appropriate ways to understand the Urban Alphabets project. These answers have additionally been classified centered on the activities (verbs) rather than the relationships (nouns) described above ‣101‣101 Figure 76 or digital appendix 3-5. This categorization gives another overview of the same answers: The largest groups of participants understand Urban Alphabets as a tool to entertain, educate, communicate, feature a place or change space.
Figure 76: Visualization of answers to “Urban Alphabets is a tool to/ for...”-question
The amount of different ideas mentioned illustrates that the Urban Alphabets project triggers users’ creativity. The quantity of directions also challenges me, as the artist, designer and developer of the project, to decide which opportunities to take and which ones to discard, a question further discussed in Chapter VII. From a research standpoint, the participatory design methods employed in this work empowered to collect a number of ideas and directions never possible to imagine by a single designer.
Apart from answering the research questions stated in Chapter I I also want to present two other important findings of this research. Though they have not been explicit part of the research they appeared multiple times during the implementation and are closely connected to the different aspects of the Urban Alphabets project.
The outcomes of the Urban Alphabets application shown on the website reveal three types of letters in public spaces, which were also repeatedly discussed during the workshops ‣102‣102 e.g., digital appendix 5-6 and the Connecting Cities events.
“Letters as letters” refers to the signs surrounding us in everyday life, for example, the advertising in public space that is intended to convey a specific message. They could be called the ‘obvious’ letters ‣103‣103 e.g., figures 58, 59, 64, 65. They were the letters I expected and intended to collect using the Urban Alphabets application in the beginning.
“Things as letters” identifies the letters less obvious, seeing a door-handle as an “S” ‣104‣104 Figure 36 or a part of a ladder as an “H” ‣105. They are the letters people perceive, when Urban Alphabets triggers their creativity. ‣105 Figure 77Users report on seeing an alternative city full of these things, which can be perceived as letters though they have not been designed as such.
Figure 77: Things as letters: Latter as “H”
“Handmade letters” are made by the participants: Written in sand ‣106‣106 Figure 78 or made from different found objects ‣107‣107 Figures 79 to 81. In Liverpool participants also used a condensed glass to write using their fingers ‣108. Often these are the letters hard to find in the urban environment, such as the “Q” or “Å” in Finland.‣108 Figure 82
Figure 78: (left) Writing letters in sand (St. Petersburg)
Figure 79: (right) Numbers made from found objects
Figure 80: (left) Ice-cube letter in Berlin
Figure 81: (right) Cigarette stub letter (Liverpool)
Figure 82: Drawing a letter on condensed glass (Liverpool)
These three categories might seem obvious. However, in everyday life we do not think of letters in these ways as we concentrate on the first form. Thus, this grouping of letters is an unexpected research outcome of this work.
Additionally to these categories a user in my hometown, Neuruppin , Germany, has uploaded an alphabet I call “objects for letters” ‣109‣109 Figure 83: Each photo showcases an object. The first letter of that object, in German language, stands for the letter it is assigned to in the alphabet. For example, “B” stands for “Blume” (translated: flower) and the image features a flower; “K” stands for “Katze” (translated: cat) and shows a cat. This alphabet completely depends on understanding the system and the knowledge of German. When using it to write a postcard, deciphering becomes a big challenge, much more than with other Urban Alphabets.
Figure 83: Objects for letters alphabet
Another issue worth mentioning is the ongoing discussion on who is allowed to speak in public space. Especially with the curators of the CCN and during a public discussion in Berlin in September 2014, the question emerged: Do we need to censor messages that are sent using Urban Alphabets? During the CCN events users’ uploads were projected into public spaces in real time. Thus, the curators often asked beforehand how to deal with offensive messages and how to identify those. It has been a point of concern during the entire time of the project, that people could miss-use Urban Alphabets for political statements or sexual harassment: When the iPhone app went online a few penis letters appeared, which was the point when I personally realized this potential. These letters were eliminated from the database. In contrast, no offensive, harassing, fanatic, or racist uploads occurred during any of the CCN screenings. However, the discussion accompanied me especially during 2014: I developed an user-friendly web interface so that curators themselves had the opportunity to turn individual uploads invisible. This feature was especially important during the longer festivals, where I could not personally check all uploads and when Urban Postcards where written in languages I do not speak.
The question of who is allowed to speak and be visible in public, to me, is still unanswered. Through the use of technology Urban Alphabets already excludes many users. But not just the digital divide of regions is of importance here, also the divide between generations. Additionally, the target groups in workshops but also during the screenings are an issue: All festivals were local initiatives, most neighbourhood festivals. What particular relevance had Urban Alphabets, for example, in Berlin’s Brunnenkiez in comparison to other neighbourhoods in the city? Who can access smartphones and who wants to participate? Who can be visible in public space and who cannot?
These are questions I cannot answer. I think they are issues, which can only be raised but not resolved. For this reason it is of particular importance to me to include them here. An artistic project, like Urban Alphabets, can also raise questions without providing answers.
This was also one objective in the workshops: There has never been an aim to answer all questions about the project. Rather the artistic strategy of Urban Alphabets is to raise new questions for further thought and personal exploration.
This chapter reflected all research questions regarding the Urban Alphabets project. It showed that public space changes in all its aspects when using the mobile app:
Perceived space is altered by looking at details usually unnoticed, spending more time than usual in a place, perceiving things as letters, and increasing the attention to letters and advertising in public space.
Acted space changes by constantly shifting attention between the smartphone screen and the physical surroundings, looking closely at details, spending time in unusual locations, making an active effort for the best possible photographs, pointing at letters using one’s hand, speeding up the walking when an interesting letter was discovered, and gathering to see the current alphabet on the smartphone. The user increasingly personalizes public space, space transforms into place.
Conceived space is modified by actively taking part in representing space, acknowledging the difference between city representations and attributing letters a nationality.
However, it should be noted that changes in the different aspects influence each other and have been separated in this work for the purpose of analysis.
Furthermore the chapter explored the role of bystanders in situations, who frequently gazed at the participants and occasionally short conversations evolved. Additionally, the writing investigated how Urban Alphabets can be miss-used as an involvement shield, and highlighted that most users’ perception of letters alters not just when using the application but the change continues up to four weeks. I suggested describing the site-specificity of letters as a continuum between worldwide and place-specific.
The potential user-types for this mobile application can be differentiated by motivation: The first category of users wants to capture their own letters in the urban environment, whereas the second intends to re-use the letters captured by the first group. In regards to the interests of the users and their future use expectation of Urban Alphabets two clear interrelationships could be found: Fisher’s Exact Test showed a correlation between Advertising, and Smartphone Apps and the announced interest to use Urban Alphabets in future. No such correlations could be found in the areas of graphic design, writing systems, cities, modes of transportation, and shopping. However, the analysis of the variance of interests shows distinct differences between these aspects.
Additionally this chapter introduced use-scenarios and ideas for the future development of Urban Alphabets on which I will further reflect in the next chapter ‣110‣110 See chapter VII.2.1 . The analysis showed users have a very different understanding of what the Urban Alphabets project is. The replies range from a description as a tool for personal exploration, and communication to a means for education and tourism.
Lastly the chapter introduced two aspects the project raises, which are not included in the initial research questions: Three types of letters in public spaces have been discovered: letters as letters, things as letters and handmade letters. Finally the Urban Alphabets project raises questions of who is allowed to speak and be visible in public space; a question raised but unanswered.
This chapter utilized the case of Urban Alphabets in order to answer the research questions. A more general account on how this relates to digital mobile media in general will be given in the next chapter ‣111‣111 See especially chapter VII.1.2.
>> next: chapter VII: Conclusion