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University of Art and Design Helsinki

F 35

Digital Tools
– A New Way to Interact with the World
Blanca Acuña & Nuno Correia (eds.)

Brenda Castro
Eirik Fatland
Xin Li
Heli Rantavuo
Joanna Saad-Sulonen
Mariana Salgado
Anna Salmi
Digital Tools, a New Way to Interact with the World

Working Papers / Työpaperit

Publication Series, F 35
University of Art and Design Helsinki

Editorial Board
Yrjänä Levanto (editor-in-chief), Pia Sivenius, Susann Vihma

Blanca Acuña

Further Information
University of Art and Design Helsinki
Hämeentie 135C
00560 Helsinki
Tel. +358-9-75631, telefax +358-9-756-30433
Publications / Annu Ahonen, tel. +358-9-756-30213, e-mail:
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ISBN 978-951-558-265-2pdf
ISSN 1455-8955
Helsinki 2008

Blanca Acuña and Nuno Correia: Digital Tools, a New Way to Interact with the World..........................3

Eirik Fatland and Xin Li: The Puppet UI: Tools for Nonverbal Communication in Virtual Environments......4

Heli Rantavuo: Playing with Broadband: Circulating Digital Snapshots....................................................12

Brenda Castro: The Virtual Art Garden:
A Case Study of User-centered Graphical User Interface Design..................................................................17

Joanna Saad-Sulonen: First Steps Towards Designing the “Urban Mediator”................................................23

Mariana Salgado and Anna Salmi: Use of Clay in the Dialogue with the Visually Impaired.....................27

Blanca Acuña (
Nuno Correia (

Digital Tools, a New Way to Interact with the World
“The notion of tool has always been a romantic idea for humankind –
from swords to musical instruments to personal computers (...)” (Kay 2001, 131)

This new Working Papers edition presents a se- dissertation work. Through different ways but with
lection of projects, research, and educational the same goal, the following writers have been re-
topics developed at the Media Lab, the School of searching ways for developing solutions, which can
Digital Design of the University of Art and Design improve interaction and performance with the use of
Helsinki. digital tools.

The topic developed in the current issue of Media Fatland and Li, in their paper “The Puppet UI:
Lab Working Papers focuses on theories and design Tools for Nonverbal Communication in Virtual En-
issues related to tools within the digital domain. Since vironments”, present tools as part of a larger ICT en-
new media is such a novel and interdisciplinary field, vironment, while a different approach is developed
it offers a wide breadth of possible research lines in by Rantavuo, in the paper “Playing with Broadband:
the creation of such applications. The assorted ap- Circulating Digital Snapshots”, where the analysis is
proaches towards the topic developed by the authors focused on the way visual material circulates within
in this issue are a sample of the diversity and scope of media. Two of the writers propose projects where
possibilities in the field. tools are used within a community of interest: Castro,
in the essay “The Virtual Art Garden: A Case Study
The digital revolution that spread with the use of of User-Centered Graphical User Interface Design”,
personal computers and the Internet in the 80’s and develops a concept based on collaboration and moti-
90’s has grown at a vertiginous speed among the vation within a community, and Saad-Sulonen, with
different societies, attracting global attention to the the text “First Steps Towards Designing the “Urban
development and implementation of Information Mediator”, conducts research on how to implement
and Communication Technologies around the world. an interface for connecting citizens and city admin-
These technologies have opened new possibilities for istrators in the Helsinki area. Finally, the text by Sal-
accessing digital information, obtaining knowledge, gado and Salmi proposes accessibility solutions in
building virtual worlds, and have also allowed people museum settings: “Use of Clay in the Dialogue with
to be connected to several locations without restric- the Visually Impaired”.
tions of time and space.

These digital possibilities are accessed by the use There is still plenty of research to be done on the
of tools, artifacts that act as mediators between hu- design, development, and implementation of tools
mans and technology. Tools have been around since that could fulfill this 21st century need for the ex-
early times, when Humankind started trying to ‘re- tension of human activities in the digital sphere. As
cord’, ‘sign’, ‘communicate’, and ‘perform’. For ac- Bergson states, “Intelligence, considered in what it
complishing this, men searched for ways to invent seems to be its original feature, is the faculty of man-
artifacts that could act as an extension of human ufacturing artificial objects, especially tools for mak-
activities. The search for such artifacts spread from ing tools” (Bergson quoted in Gassée & Rheingold
the use of flints to mark changes of seasons; to the 1990, 225). The dossier Digital Tools, a New Way to
making of pointed sticks for drawing on clay tablets Interact with the World, hopes to contribute to these
to sign animals and belongings; through tool making developments with ideas, projects and academic re-
for hunting and helping on harvesting activities; to search within the field of new media.
the mass-production of household objects, electronic
devices for communication and entertainment; up to
the design and implementation of computer interfac- Bibliography
es that allow for interaction with digital systems.
Gassée J.R. & Rheingold M. 1990. “The Evolution
This selection of essays is a sample of the research of Thinking Tools”. In B. Laurel (ed.): The Art of
and academic work developed in Media Lab. Some Human-Computer Interface Design. Reading: Addi-
of these essays are in the initial conceptual state, or son-Wesley Publishing, 225-227.
have already designed the first prototype; while oth- Kay, A. 2001. “User Interface: A Personal View”. In R.
ers have by now implemented usability testing or are Packer & K. Jordan (eds.): Multimedia - From Wagner
part of a bigger research project towards a doctoral to Virtual Reality. New York: W. W. Norton & Com-
pany, 121-131.

Eirik Fatland (
Xin Li (

The Puppet UI: Tools for Nonverbal Communication
in Virtual Environments

At present, a user’s control of his/her persona and vocal nonverbal signals. In designing this input
in an online virtual world such as “World of War- method, we are taking our inspiration from hand
craft” or “Second Life” is constrained to text in- puppets – user interfaces that predate the Internet
put through a keyboard, excluding most forms of by hundreds of years, and are well-understood and
nonverbal communication. The “Puppet UI” is an well-tested ways of animating a virtual persona. In
ongoing exploration of alternative input methods,
developing the Puppet UI, we are using an iterative
inspired by hand puppets, that are intended to
enhance inter-personal communication and user
design process, involving benchmarking, user
agency in virtual environments.
studies, low-fidelity and working prototypes. This
paper outlines the context of this work, and presents
Introduction the results of the first iteration.
An iterative design approach requires a certain
For most citizens in the industrialized world, and degree of flexibility. We are working on an “input
especially for the younger generations, computer- method”, which may or may not require a specialized
mediated communication tools such as e-mail, input device, and the “Puppet UI” may take the form
weblogs, social software, instant messaging and web of an actual puppet, worn over the user’s hand, or of
fora have become integral to everyday life. With the an interface that is only distantly inspired by puppetry
exception of dedicated audio and video services, but serves a similar purpose.
such as Skype or YouTube, online communication is
primarily conducted through text. Target Group: Social Internet users
Reliance on text communication is especially
obvious and puzzling in so-called “Virtual Worlds” We are interested in designing for the social Internet
that frame their communities within an imitation user. This group is fairly wide, but not all-inclusive.
of the physical world and represent their users as Nearly all Internet use is social in the sense that it
virtual, animated personae called “avatars”. In terms involves communication between individuals. But
of technology, text chat is the simplest solution to much of this communication is pragmatic or utilitarian
the needs of computer mediated communication. In – geared towards the exchange of factual information
terms of culture, the written word conceals its writer, or the maintenance of social bonds formed outside
and allows for anonymity and role-play in the virtual of the Internet context. Work-related e-mail and
environment. However, it is poorly suited to carry the instant messenger contact with family members are
breadth and depth of inter-human communication – examples of such communication.
much of which relies on nonverbal signals.
Social Internet users additionally seek interaction
To the degree that an avatar can mimic the human with other users who they may never meet offline,
body, it is controlled through a mouse and keyboard, and engage in social behaviour for the purpose of
and relies on static pre-recorded animations for entertainment or self-expression. Examples of such
movement, activated through a text command or behaviour include:
button click. Such interfaces are cumbersome,
and map poorly to user intentions. A better input • “Role-play”, in its strict meaning of
method would facilitate real-time control of avatar collaborative construction of fictional
gesture and posture as well as movement, a seamless reality through dramatic impersonation.
connection between the user’s nervous system and (Montola 2005).
avatar locomotion. • “Role-play”, in its looser meaning of
The “Puppet UI” is a proposed input method for expressing an online identity distinct
avatar-based communication in virtual environments. from the user’s offline identities. (Donath
Our goal is to facilitate user expression of bodily 1999, 29 - 59)

• Social curiosity - building familiarity 3. Flexibility - users should be capable of learning
with (and understanding of) people the or inventing gestures not envisioned in the original
user cannot meet in the offline world. design.
• Flirtation and virtual romance. 4. Feasibility - the input method or device should
be based on off-the-shelf, inexpensive technology.
• Cybersex and sexually themed role-play.
• Company, the satisfaction of the need
Background: Verbal and nonverbal
for human contact.
• Community, the satisfaction of the need
to belong. Nonverbal signals
• Competitive game-play, pitting
individuals or teams against AI or other Nonverbal signals are essential to any kind of
human opponents. interpersonal communication. As a “communication
coding system” nonverbal signals play a key role in
We can draw two conclusions from this list of
impression formation, complex emotional expression
social Internet behaviours: All of these practices may,
and conveying personality (Burgoon and Hoobler
to a greater or lesser degree, be aided by non-verbal
2002, 241-299). Research has found that the majority
communication. And they rely, to varying degrees,
of humans are strongly reliant on nonverbal cues,
on hiding the actual user under the layer of the online
such as body movements, gestures and appearance,
in order to form initial impressions of others and
We can assume that current social users at present act upon those impressions. Burgoon and Hoobler
find text input at least minimally acceptable, or they describe seven classes of nonverbal codes in human
would not engage in social behaviour on the Internet. visual cognition and sound sensation:
Our goal is thereby to enhance the experience of those
• Kinesis: bodily movements, gestures,
users who find the text input method lacking. These
facial expressions, posture, gaze, and gait
fall into two groups: those who make do with text
input, but would prefer a more expressive interface, • Vocalics or paralanguage: pitch,
and those who currently are not social users due to loudness, tempo, pauses, and inflection
the lack of support for nonverbal communication.
• Physical appearance: clothing,
A third group, social users who prefer the text hairstyle, cosmetics, fragrances,
input method, fall outside of our target group. Such adornments
users might lack interest or skill in non-verbal
• Haptics: use of touch, including
communication, or they might feel more comfortable
frequency, intensity, and type of contact
and skilled in expressing themselves through text.
Many of the current social users, due to practice and • Proxemics: use of interpersonal
familiarity, can be assumed to belong to this third distance and spacing relationships
• Chronemics: use of time as message
We are primarily interested in aiding the social system, punctuality, lead time, etc.
interaction of adult users, but do not exclude potential
• Artifacts: manipulable objects and
future applications designed for children.
environmental features that may convey
Design objectives
In face-to-face communication, most of these
nonverbal cues are rich, visible, and relatively easy to
First and foremost, our ideal input method should grasp. In most situations, they co-exit with linguistic
facilitate complex non-verbal communication cues.
between users. Additionally, it should fulfill four
criteria that follow from the target user group: Colin Ware states that “gesture as linking devices” is
the most natural way to link verbal content and visual
1. Agency - the user should feel a greater sense of imagery (Ware 2004, 309). He classifies gestures as
presence and control in the virtual environment than belong to three distinct classes, dependent on their
with the keyboard input method. relationship to the speech they accompany: deictic
2. Learnability - no prior training or explanation (indicating), symbolic (illustrating) or expressive
should be required for the user to master the basic (emphasizing). According to Ware, gestures provide
functionality of the input method. an additional, visual, cognition channel alongside
the audible channel of speech. A similar observation

is made by Goldin-Meadow (1999, 422): “Because text or button-clicks – to initiate gestures or modify
gesture rests on different representational devices posture. In Second Life, for example, a “/dance”
from speech, and is not dictated by standards of form command will start the avatar dancing according
as is speech, it has the potential to offer a different to a pre-defined animation. Users can replace such
view into the mind of the speaker.” animations by uploading a custom animation of their
own design, but not improvise a new gesture on the
Nonverbal signals in virtual worlds
Voice communication, a prerequisite for vocalic
Table 1 shows the degree to which these non-verbal signals, require voice rather than text communication.
cues are implemented in two of the most popular At present, voice communication in virtual worlds is
virtual worlds – World of Warcraft (a MMO game) only available through third-party services such as
and Second Life (a multi-purpose virtual world). Ventrillo and Teamspeak, but not through the user

Kinesis Vocalics Appearance Haptics Proxemics Chronemics Artifacts

Second Limited, No Yes No Possible Possible Yes,
Life UC UC

World of Very No Partial No Possible Possible Partial,
Warcraft Limited, SC

Table 1: Support for nonverbal signals in “Second Life” and “World of Warcraft”.
UC= User Created Content, SC= System Created Content.

Proxemics and Chronemics are possible to use as interface itself. Furthermore, speech through such
non-verbal signals in virtual worlds, but the nature of services has no effect on the properties of the virtual
such worlds decrease the power of these signals. Since world. When a user chats in Second Life, the avatar
the user is not actually present in the virtual world, but mimics keyboard-typing movements, but if he or she
observes the avatars from an external point of view speaks through voice-chat software nothing happens
(zooming in and and out at will), proxemics loose to the avatar. Neither can the user’s voice be heard by
some of their power. Lacking voice, and accurate other users without the required software set to the
information about the user presence, chronemics – appropriate channel.
too – loose some of their communicative power. If
a user delays an answer, he/she may not be sending
Previous research
a nonverbal signal but simply be preoccupied with
something other than virtual world interaction in her
real physical environment. There are several examples of design research
approaching non-verbal communication in avatar-
Haptics, the illusion of touch, pose large challenges based online environments. One of the earliest, Comic
in terms of technology and human factors, rather Chat (Kurlander et al. 1996, 225-236), represented
than design, and are therefore excluded from this users as 2D avatars on a stage composed according
study. Tools that allow the users to modify and create to the conventions of comic strips. BodyChat
content, such as Second Life’s 3D building tools and (Vilhjálmsson & Cassell 1998, 269-276) and Cursive
scripting language, are already proving effective at (Barrientos & Canny 2002, 151-152) automate
allowing players to use appearance and artifacts as avatar gestures by estimating the user’s intentions.
nonverbal signals. In BodyChat, intentions are explicitly input through
Our focus is on the two remaining classes of user selection of events such as “greeting” and
nonverbal signs: kinesis and vocalics. These are, “farewell” but are modified by variables such as time
incidentally, the most commonly used and identifiable and distance between avatars. Cursive, designed for
forms of nonverbal signals. pen input, allows avatar control through pen gestures,
and additionally interprets the user’s handwriting to
The virtual worlds that are popular at present have determine the avatars gesture and posture. Sentoy
either no user control of avatar gestures, or implement (Paiva et al. 2003, 60-67) uses a physical doll as input
an interface where the user can run commands – as device for a virtual doll, in the context of a game

where the user would manipulate the doll through one boredom, through the hand puppet. These experiments
of six pre-set gestures corresponding to emotions. were recorded to video and reviewed afterwards.
Findings from observation of the conversation
Puppets as interfaces experiments (3 experiments):
• Users made larger and more visible
Learnability of hand puppets movements when the puppet was
“speaking” than when it was “listening”.
Puppets and their interfaces come in a wide range of For example, users would move the
complexity and required skill. Some puppet designs, puppet in a small, nodding movement to
such as the Balinese shadow puppet or the two- indicate “I’m listening”. (much like two
handed marionette of European puppetry, require people have a conversation)
years of practice to master. “Hand puppets”, which
• All three of Ware’s gesture classes
are worn over the puppeteer’s hand, require minimal
(symbolic, deictic and expressive) were
skill to manipulate. A child may pick up a hand
puppet for the first time, and immediately be able
to use the puppet to mimic speech and for gestural Findings from observation of the expression
communication. experiments (4 experiments):
The learnability of puppet models is largely an • “Joy” was usually indicated by large,
issue of mapping and coordination. In the case of the energetic, rapid movements with the
hand puppet the fingers of the puppeteer are mapped puppets head lifted upwards.
directly to the limbs of the puppet, providing instant
• “Sad” movements were usually slow,
feedback and reducing the cognitive load of puppet
with the puppet’s head bowed down and
operation. Single-handed puppets further reduce
the hands held close to the face or eyes.
the need for coordination between the puppeteer’s
limbs. As such, hand puppets are ideal models for an • “Boredom” movements were less
avatar control method designed for end users with consistent than the two others. Two out
no particular skill in puppetry. Additionally, single- of four users expressed this emotion by
handed puppet interfaces leave the puppeteer’s other making puppet leaning backwards.
hand free for mouse or keyboard interaction.
• Although there are general trends for
Most hand puppet designs fall into one of two both happy and sad movement, each
categories - they are “sock puppets”, where the user’s movements were distinct and
puppeteer uses the thumb opposite the four remaining unique.
fingers to control a puppet’s mouth movements, and
Findings from both experiments:
“glove puppets” where the puppeteer manipulates the
head and arms of the puppet using the thumb, middle • All users employed vocalizations, such
and little fingers. The anatomy of the human hand as laughs, whistles and sighs, to clarify
makes it difficult to move all five digits independently the puppet’s emotion. For example,
of each other. Typically, a glove puppet will be rapidly twisting the puppet from left
manipulated through the use of three digits: the to right might be interpreted in several
thumb, the little finger and the middle finger. The ways, but giggling sounds accompanying
index and ring fingers may either be clutched against it were used to express joy.
the palm, or (preferably) moved together with the
• Users often twisted the puppet around.
middle finger and little finger.
Rotation of the head or whole puppet
along the vertical axis was the most
User study common form of twisting.
• A recognizable figure might not be
We conducted an informal user study to observe how an ideal puppet for a generic avatar. Our
ordinary people (not professional puppeteers) express puppet looked like a lamb, and so at least
themselves through a glove puppet. As we sought to two users tried to express the character of
understand play behaviour, the experiments took place a lamb rather than conveying their own
in a class room and a cafe, rather than in a laboratory emotions and intentions.
or studio. We did two different experiments: in the
first experiment, we asked users manipulating a hand
puppet to have a short conversation with another
person. In the second experiment, we ask users to
express certain emotions, such as joy, sadness and

Prototyping puppet UI


Figure 1.

To emulate the interface of a glove puppet, our • Tracking of the palm in two degrees of
ideal input method needs to track three points – freedom (x,y).
corresponding to the three fingers – in all three
• Tracking of three points correlated with
dimensions. Glove puppets only incidentally require
fingers, each along the x and y axes,
the movement of the finger joints to operate –
relative to the palm.
sufficient information can be obtained by tracking
the fingertips relative to the hand. • Tracking of hand rotation along the y
Rotation of the fingers relative to each other is
near impossible, and so tracking of finger rotation is The minimal Puppet UI may therefore be made by
not necessary. However, hand puppet manipulation tracking four points along two axes, and rotation of
requires rotation and movement of the whole hand. the whole hand along one axis. The location tracking
Our user interviews showed users twisting the puppet can be accomplished through a 2D input device such
from left to right in order to communicate a gesture of as a web camera, accompanied by colour or pattern
refusal, or lifting it rapidly up and down in a jumping tracking software and calculation of the points’
motion to communicate joy or anger. position relative to each other. Hand rotation along
the y axis is not easy to infer from a 2D capture
An ideal hand-tracking device for avatar puppetry
device, but early prototypes can be done without
will thus have the following requirements:
y-rotation tracking.
• Tracking of three points, correlated with
Additionally, certain events may need to be tracked
fingers, in 3 degrees of freedom (x, y and
with additional precision:
z axes) each.
• Two fingers touching, e.g. the case of an
• Tracking of whole hand rotation and
avatar clapping.
movement in 6 degrees of freedom - x, y
and z plus rotation along all three axes. • Fingers touching the palm, the case of a
closed fist.
This adds up to a requirement for a 15 degrees
of freedom (DOF) hand-tracking device, a level These events may be inferred by the proximity
of tracking offered only by expensive high-end of tracked points – two fingertips overlapping can
datagloves. However, the interface method does not be interpreted as a “clap” event. Unfortunately,
require precise data on hand location and rotation, occlusion of a tracked point by another will yield the
as information about hand rotation along the x and z same data even without the fingers actually touching.
axes can be inferred by comparing fingertip location Ideally, touch sensors in the device will be able to
to the palm location. Additionally, the movement of detect such events.
fingertips is anatomically constrained, so that their
position along the z axis may – at least partially –
be inferred from their position along the x and y
axes. A minimal hand-tracking device for avatar
puppetry therefore needs only to meet the following Glove puppets provide tactile feedback through
requirements: fingertips touching each other or the hand, and through

the properties of the material itself. The material it may need to resemble the puppet to some degree.
properties of the puppet are important constraints We intend to explore both options through further
on user manipulation - by making movements easier prototypes and user studies.
or harder to perform, they constrain the puppet to
make certain gestures easier or harder to express. In
Working Prototype
a well-designed puppet, the gestures that are easy to
express will be the ones that make the puppet more
convincing. A Puppet UI may be designed along the To test our assumptions further, we built a rough
same lines – built to constrain certain movements, working prototype. The prototype was programmed
and make other movements simpler. This would also in Macromedia Director MX, using the TTCPro Xtra
provide the user with passive haptic feedback. for colour tracking. Our protoype input device was
a glove, with three coloured points on the fingertip,
Active haptic feedback is desirable to the degree worn and held in front of a web camera. The software
that the avatar touches other physical objects in the would track the fingertip points, and map them to the
virtual environment. This may be the case, as with limbs of a 2D avatar. We tested two different forms
avatars shaking hands or wielding tools, but the of mapping. In our first experiment, points and limbs
complexity and expense of active haptic devices were mapped directly to each other. If the user moved
means that this type of feedback is not feasible for her middle finger to the right, the avatars head would
the Puppet UI project. move to the right. The second experiment limited the
The primary feedback from the Puppet UI will avatars movements to trajectories – if the user moved
thereby be visual. As the interface maps the user’s her middle finger to the right, the avatar head would
hand to a 3D avatar, visual feedback may come from stay in the same location, but tilt towards the right.
both locations: The first experiment, providing direct mapping
1.The user observing the avatar between fingertips and avatar limbs, worked better
movements on the screen than the second experiment, where the tracked data
was modified to better represent the movements of
2.The user observing his/her hand as it is the avatar. Users reported a stronger sense of control,
being tracked and viewers felt the motions of the simple avatar to be
This leaves us with two options for further design. more believable. These results indicate that immediate
If the screen is to provide all feedback, the input feedback and direct mapping are necessary to sustain
device does not need to resemble a puppet. But if user agency in this form of manipulation.
the input device, by itself, provides visual feedback The lack of precision in colour tracking led the
avatar’s limbs to move even when the users hand
was still. The precision of colour tracking may be
improved through a better camera, better tracking
points, and more control over the lighting. Still, this
indicates that the colour tracking method may not
work well enough for an end-user product.



In 2.2 (above) we identified kinesis and vocalics
as the classes of non-verbal cues most suitable for
our purposes. The prototype Puppet UI explores
the use of kinetic cues, but not vocalics – which are
conveyed through verbal communication. Though
one might easily imagine a purely non-verbal virtual
environment, where communication occurs through
mimicry, the goal of our design is to enhance rather
than substitute the user experience of current virtual
environments. Language therefore needs to be
considered for future iterations.
One option is to retain the text chat interface
Figure 2. currently used in virtual worlds. If the user is engaged

Figure 3.

in using one hand for avatar control, the other hand environments. The virtual world promises that “you
might be used for text entry through a keyboard. can be whoever you wish to be” – this might be part
Keyboard text entry, while it may be done single- of the core appeal for current Social Internet users.
handedly, is significantly faster when done with both
hands. Furthermore, users are generally accustomed
to two-handed keyboard typing. In the typical desktop Conclusions
computer set-up, one hand is also used for interaction
with a mouse or other pointing device. The prototyping, benchmarking and user studies
done in the first iteration showed that the idea itself
A second option, then, is to use voice communication
is viable. But it also showed that further iterations are
– which would also add vocalics to the array of non-
needed to refine and test this idea. Future iterations of
verbal signals. By tracking the user’s voice input,
the prototype should include audio transmission and
especially if aided by a microphone that filters out
study how this effects user behaviour and perception.
ambient noise, the avatar’s mouth or head can be
The question of input device design, whether it
synchronized to the spoken word. In our initial user
should ideally resemble the avatar or not, needs to be
tests, we saw a clear difference in user behaviour
resolved through comparative user studies.
depending on whether the puppet was made to speak
or not. A speaking puppet would be moved in large, The current iteration of the Puppet UI captures
dramatic gestures while a silent (listening) puppet hand and head movements well, but it is far less
might make small, almost imperceptible movements precise when it comes to facial expressions. Users are
to communicate agreement, disagreement and limited to moving and/or tilting the avatar’s head, and
attention. Tracking the user’s voice input can thus to underline head movements with arm movements.
confer the additional benefit of modifying avatar Given the importance of facial expression in non-
behaviour to imitate this pattern. verbal communication, this may prove a disadvantage.
This issue can be further explored by modifying our
However, voice in virtual environments is far from
input device to work as a facial control interface,
unproblematic. The user’s real voice risks revealing
mapping points to eyes and mouth movements rather
his/her gender, age, nationality, dialect or sociolect in
than head and hands, or by directly tracking the user’s
ways that text chat does not, limiting the anonymity
facial expressions.
of the user and making role-play difficult. Practices
such as gender-play, where a user of one gender It is possible that the puppet UI would not appeal to
plays an avatar of the opposite gender or some third the typical social Internet users. It would break with
gender, are well-documented and pervasive in virtual already established practices regarding anonymity

and textual meta-communication. We hope to test
whether a puppet UI might appeal to new users,
whether it might enable new kinds of social Internet
practices, and whether such practices are interesting
or powerful enough to replace text-based practices.


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Virtual Worlds:
Second Life:
World of Warcraft:

Heli Rantavuo (

Playing with Broadband: Circulating Digital Snapshots

This article addresses information and communi- search that studies how people make sense of digital
cation technologies (ICT’s) as tools for the playful media technologies in the context of the home or the
and creative circulation of digital snapshots. The household, as opposed to the context of paid work.
paper is based on interviews with sixteen Finnish (See, for example, Bakardjieva, 2005; Berker et al.,
cameraphone and digital camera users in 2006, 2006; Lally, 2002; Peteri, 2006; Silverstone & Had-
and is part of a wider doctoral study. Through don, 1996; Uotinen, 2005). Relevant to my approach
examples of how the participants used ICT’s as considering playfulness are British ethnographic
tools for playful snapshot circulation, I will sug- works on the internet and mobile media. They stress
gest that humour and playfulness were important these “as continuous with and embedded in other
in creative ICT’s use and that mobile technologies social spaces (...)” (Miller & Slater, 2001, 5) and as
were less valued than computer-based ones. I will technologies that are used to fulfill “desires that are
also discuss why the photographers themselves historically well established, but remain unfulfilled
did not value their playful creativity. because of the limitations of previous technologies.”
(Horst & Miller, 2006, 6) Methodologically, my ap-
proach on cameraphone use is explorative and stress-
From albums to online circulation es the user perspective. (Ito & Okabe, 2006; Okabe
et al., 2006)
of snapshots

Sixteen Finnish cameraphone photographers of
Digitalization and the introduction of cameras to
whom fourteen also used digital cameras participated
mobile phones have brought snapshot photography
in the study. The group of participants consisted of
into close connection with broadband media. While
five 17-18-year-olds, two girls and three boys; five
interviewing cameraphone users for my study, most
20-35-year-olds, three women and two men; and
of whom also used digital cameras, it caught my at-
six 35-53-year-olds, two women and four men. The
tention that creative ways of using cameras and on-
adult participants came from professional fields rang-
line communication channels were related to playful
ing from health care to the IT industry. None were
uses of the snapshots. Thus the question that I will
experts in digital photography or mobile or internet
explore in this paper is: How do ICT’s serve as tools
technologies. All participants resided in urban areas in
for playful and creative circulation of snapshots? I
Southern Finland. The research period during which
will first present the approach, methods, and the data
the participants made notes of all of their interactions
for this study. Next, I will show detailed examples
with digital photos, and saved the photos as far as it
of how the participants in my study circulated snap-
was possible, varied from two to three weeks in the
shots playfully. I will then consider how the persons
spring 2006. Soon after, we met for the interview. I
evaluated and made choices in using the circulation
analysed the data by writing case studies and seeking
technologies. Before concluding, I will discuss why
for significant themes across the cases, and playful
the snapshot photographers themselves did not value
and creative circulation of photos occured under all
their creativity in the playful circulation of photos.
of these themes of interpretation. As a technical note:
An underlying presumption behind this article is that
the quotes in this paper have been translated by the
user creativity in the field of ICT’s is welcome and
author from Finnish, therefore they do not apppear in
encouraged, and that more knowledge is needed on
quotation marks.
what invites it.

Theoretical framework, methods, and data Circulating snapshots playfully

The frame of reference for this paper is the field of Raimo’s, 53, stevedore, most frequent cameraphone
domestication and cultural studies. Particularly, re- activity was sending picture messages at work to
other stevedores. At the port, there were matters that

the stevedores could not discuss in the radio frequen- Another area of playful and creative cameraphone
cy phones because the managers were connected to snapshot circulation was planning, making, and
the frequency as well. As a solution, the stevedores sending greetings. To send a birthday greeting to his
used their own, private cameraphones to communi- girlfriend, Sami, 28, had cut out a heart of red paper,
cate amongst themselves. The matters that needed to lit tealights, and taken numerous pictures to reach the
be kept secret from the managers concerned, for ex- outcome he was looking for. (Figure 2)
ample, the way the stevedores organised their work,
or the selling of alcohol and cigarettes on the ships
in the port. Much of this communication was carried
out by a humorous exchange of photos. There was,
according to Raimo, a practical reason for exchang-
ing pictures instead of phonecalls, for example. Ste-
vedores work outdoors or in unheated spaces. This
makes it difficult to operate anything with your fin-
gers for long, and your glasses turn foggy when you
put them on. It can also be noisy at the port, which
makes it difficult to speak on the phone.

Although Raimo stressed the practical reasons for
sending photos instead of text, it was clear that there
were other reasons behind it as well. The men had
found a way to extend the verbal joking of the work-
place to a pictorial form of communication, using the
cameraphones as tools for it. Most of the pictures that Figure 2. Birthday greeting
the stevedores exchanged were visual puns, whether
they were related to tasks at work or to topics relat-
ed to life outside the port. Raimo explained that the Sami: Well, this was supposed to be, like, a picture
photo messaging took the form of a question-answer to Saara, what day was it again, yeah it was her
pattern. In this exchange, it was important, first, to be birthday. A picture that would convey that candles
able find a clever picture for the message, to be able are burning. The problem was, well, there was some
to react back with equal wittiness, and, a fundamental photographic technique problem-solving involved
factor, to be able to understand the joke. Frequently, [smiles]. So, the problem was that if I took a photo
Raimo would use a photo that he already had on his and it was too dark, you couldn’t make anything out
phone and that he may have had used many times of the picture. Although now that I uploaded them
before in other contexts. The pictures were generally to the computer, it looks better. On the phone, it
either not accompanied by a caption or the caption looked much worse. And if I added too much light,
would not explain the picture but add to the joke. you couldn’t see there were candles burning, [but
For example, when someone on the radio frequency you could see] the whole background. So I was,
had asked for the time, Raimo had sent him a photo like, looking for the perfect [smiles] picture that
of the coffee machine, knowing that the recipient would be a nice birthday greeting. (...) I thought
would show it to others around him. Another photo I’d look for, like, a clichéd love feeling [emphasis
that Raimo told me had served as an answer to many Sami’s] here, and what would be more of a cliché
kinds of questions was a picture of a glass of brandy than a candle and a heart.
(Figure 1). At the port, he had used it to answer ques-
tions about his plans for the weekend, and I received The participants in my study who were creative
the photo while arranging the study with the mes- with their cameraphone photos, or used them play-
sage: Doctor’s orders - three days sick leave. fully in their communication, did not restrict photo
messaging to phone-to-phone exchange. In fact, mul-
timedia messaging was a tool they normally sought
to avoid. The main reasons for this were the price that
was regarded to be too high, and the technical prob-
lems that people encountered when trying to send or
receive the messages. As an alternative route, older
adults preferred e-mail, while the younger genera-
tion preferred chat and instant messaging. Whatever
the tool, a common denominator to this circulation
became that it was no longer relevant whether the
photos had been taken with the cameraphone or the
digital camera, or downloaded. (Generally, the par-
ticipants were often careful to separate cameraphone
snaps from other kinds of photos.)
Figure 1. Glass of brandy with many significations

Sami: Well, sending photos by e-mail might be Because Aaro used a company phone, he could
something a bit more official, like if I, if I have hap- not send the photos directly from his phone. First
pened to snap a photo related to work, it’s more for he had to transfer them to his computer, which he
that. And the general use, which is not too common did via bluetooth, to be able to send them out by e-
either, is, I don’t know, with Skype maybe, well at mail. The tone of the messages and the effort related
least through Messenger (...) through them with to them resembled the e-mail spam traffic that took
my friends (...) something a bit more humourous place among Aaro’s colleagues. While we were in
[laughter] I’ve been sending to friends at times. contact, Aaro sent me all the spam he received or
HR: Umm, well, how do you happen to send them, sent. The most popular themes had to do with sexual
like, why do you send, how do you come to think insinuations, cars, or sports, and they were one-off
of sending a photo to someone? visual jokes. Some of the messages were elaborate
S: Well, it’s about what we have chatted about and time had been spent on constructing them. For
while instant messaging, for example, a mate (...) example, a mail titled Traffic round-a-bout included
went back to Vancouver, and in December, when he a Word document where photos had been added of a
had gone back, we chatted and he mentioned he had round-a-bout in Great Britain that the author of this
some kind of a car there. It was pretty humourous, file had found particularly confusing. He had added
this chatting of ours, so I had to make fun of him a text, in fonts of different sizes and colours, to tell a
bit. I remembered I had a picture that I took when little story of the driver arriving to the crossroads and
I was interrailing in Greece in the summer. On one becoming confused over how to drive through it.
of the islands there was a, you know, one of these
bicycles with a motor installed on it. So I remem- The examples show that the participants were pre-
bered I had this photo, and I send it to him, say- pared to see some trouble for, first, creating their play-
ing, you must have something like this, then. And ful messages, and second, for finding the most suit-
another mate who happened to be in the same chat able tool in each context to transmit their message.
(...) he sent something similar, a picture of a trac- The participants considered their audience, thought
tor he had taken (laughs), in Spain, looking pretty about tools at the audience’s disposal, the level of
miserable. So, like, I’ve sent pictures to mock other immediacy needed for the delivery of the message
people [laughter]. and the response, and possible restrictions involved
at the recipient end. This way, they evaluated the op-
Aaro, 52, had made a habit out of e-mailing cam- tions that the ICT tools at their disposal provided for
eraphone photos and digital video clips that he found messaging. Sometimes, however, the evaluation lead
amusing to his friends, colleagues, and acquaintanc- to the decision of not to use information networks at
es. all but to simply show the snapshots to their desired
audience from the camera, computer, or the phone.
A: So, this mate is a head of research, or a professor at
a physics lab, running some research project, and be-
cause [the licence plate] said FYS-1, it was logically
Evaluating technologies for snapshot
related to physics, so I took a picture and e-mailed it to
him, like, is that your company car [laughter].
HR: Yeah.
A: And this, in turn, our estate manager is called The most frequently cited reason for not using mobile
Jalonen, well, there it is, so I, it’s related to that. So, multimedia messaging was the cost of it. However,
this kind of pictures I take a lot. I mean, you can take a the participants were not in fact aware of exactly
photo right there in the situation. how much the messages would cost, but the image
of multimedia messaging as expensive compared
to other services persisted. Evaluations concerning
price were not, surprisingly, made against the qual-
ity of the service. This was surprising because at the
same time, problems were frequently reported with
the service. It seemed that the active users were more
concerned with the problems in the service than with
the price. Raimo, with the most experience in multi-
media messaging, had for long debated problems in
the transmission of his messages with the operators
and his mobile phone manufacturer. Sami reported
problems caused by having to often switch his SIM-
card between two phones.

Sami: (...) I had to order [the missing settings] from
[my operator] and so on, blah blah, install them.
Plus, as a side comment, for the [operator] ser-
vice, you have to remember your user name and
Figure 3. Aaro’s play with words password that I didn’t remember either, and I can
imagine how difficult it is for some Jack Smith

[laughter] to get the settings right on their phone ticipant wanted to show that she or he was aware of
[laughter.] the fact that looking at the photos on the phone, for
example, was not useful. Cameraphone use was thus
Sami’s complaint highlighted a common prob- judged by the average Western notion that morally
lem. Many users who would potentially wish to send justified use of computers and other ICT’s is goal-ori-
photo messages did not have an inkling on whether ented and purposeful use where tasks are performed
they had the right settings installed in their phone, or (see, for example, Hartmann 2005, 141-158). What I
how they could install them if they did not. The same wish to bring forth is that while the notion of the cre-
concerned the use of infrared or bluetooth. In other ative use of ICT tools, and the value of such creativ-
words, in the case of multimedia messaging, the lack ity, may be obvious to researchers in the field, it is not
of services, or the bad quality of them, was a common always that to the users – at least when associated to
reason for devaluing this tool among cameraphone playfulness. As circulating snapshots in both private
users. Those who had other options and possessed the and public internet messaging increases, however,
skills to find a way around this problem, like Henri, ICT’s may gain new roles and increased value in the
17, relied on other tools. His statement also shows process as tools for fun. The proliferation of internet
that apart from technical or economic reasons, people picture galleries for social networking, for example,
sometimes decided not to use any kind of messaging point to this direction.
tool due to the importance of shared presence while
viewing the photos.
Henri: Well, I think the last time I sent a picture
message was at New Year’s, and I guess at Christ-
The examples of humourous and playful circulation
mastime I sent one to someone. It’s rare that I
of snapshots show that ICT’s can be tools for creative
send picture messages, I tend to send e-mail if I
and surprising communication in workplaces, in inti-
have pictures that I want to send. (...) If I want to
mate relationships, and among friends. It seems that
transmit or send a photo, I do it directly from the
the users of chat and instant messaging services were
phone with the infrared or bluetooth connection, or
the most satisfied with the support that these applica-
by e-mail or the Messenger. Sending picture mes-
tions provided for their communication and creativ-
sages, it’s, like, if you don’t have someone’s e-mail
ity. Even e-mail, which potentially involves a long
address, or you know that they never read it, the
delay in delivering the message, was seen as a more
picture message is a more sure way to get the mes-
convenient medium than the mobile multimedia mes-
sage through right away. If you want to, say, wish
sage for circulating humorous messages.
someone happy birthday, you might send a mes-
sage with a picture. But I don’t, if I take a photo of
Mobile multimedia messaging entails several
something, I don’t usually send it to anyone.
problems from the perspective of enabling the user’s
HR: Why?
creativity in photo circulation. First, it has the image
Henri: I do it on the computer, with the Messenger.
of an expensive service. Second, there is a contradic-
Because of the cost. Well, it’s not so expensive, but
tion in providing an easy user interface for sending
it’s just not my thing. I’d rather say, come online
the messages, on one hand, but making it difficult to
and you’ll get a few photos, like. Much easier.
manage the settings needed for sending pictures, on
the other. Furthermore, without a reaction from the
recipient, the sender is unaware whether the message
has been delivered. It is also easier, and cheaper, to
Playful circulation of snapshots as include multiple recipients to the message in online
“just playing” than in mobile environments, and the pace of the ex-
change of messages is quicker in the former than in
In association to being playful, during the study, I no- the latter – both important elements in the instances
ticed a contradiction between the way that the playful of playful communication with pictures online that
moments or messages were played down in words, were reported in my study.
and the manner in which they were told. Being play-
ful with the cameras and photos was mentioned in Apart from technical issues, there are cultural and
passing, and as a response to further questions, the social issues that potentially encourage or restrict cre-
participants convinced me it was “just playing”, noth- ative uses of ICT’s. The cameraphone, for example,
ing important to discuss at length. The playfulness, is still seen by many as a gagdet, without the same ca-
however, always took place between people who pacity to fulfill the tasks and desires of its user as the
were very close to each other, and I sensed a feeling personal computer is seen to have. Among the youth
of joy and enjoyment whenever I was told about these in my study, this seemed to lead to valuing the cre-
events in the interviews. The moments and messag- ative use of online internet applications more than the
ing were also remembered very well. However, the creative uses of the cameraphone and mobile mes-
participants never explicitly acknowledged them as saging, which were downplayed as “just playing.”
important, memorable, or even simply “fun” without
any reservations. Cameraphone use in its totality, for
example, was often called “just playing.” The par-


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Brenda Castro (

The Virtual Art Garden:
A Case Study of User-centered
Graphical User Interface Design

This paper describes the methodology used to design of those concrete needs detected. In this paper
design a tool that aims at motivating virtual com- the focus is the final outcome of the design process,
munities of art education or related fields of study which is a web-based tool for sharing artworks and
to share visual material and work collaboratively. communicating around them.
The Virtual Art Garden is a Graphical User Inter-
face (GUI) that provides information about visual Designing tools in virtual communities
works (or artworks) which are the practical out-
comes of students of art and design. Tools, in general terms, have the functionality of
making tasks easier to perform. Nowadays, the need
In the interface of the Virtual Art Garden, the art- of performing tasks is very much related to informa-
works are represented through a map view in the com- tion and communication: today’s society has the need
puter screen through a web-based system. Through to constantly produce knowledge and to communi-
the interface of the Virtual Art Garden, the user group cate it in order to apply it in practical environments.
generates the visual aspect of the interface by orga- The design of the tool that is described in this paper
nizing freely the images that conform it, as well as by is meant to facilitate tasks related to organization and
linking artworks together with connecting lines. This communication of objects of information. The objec-
freedom of structuring a view map makes it possible tive is to propitiate knowledge building after an ad-
for the users to adjust the categorization of the visual equate visualization of these objects of information.
information depending on their needs.
Knowledge building, a term which refers to the
Motivation way societies learn in a world of information reach-
able through pervasive media (Scardamalia 2003), is
The decision to consider the doability of this project a result of a selective gathering of data and its appli-
is based in personal interests on the fields of Arts and cation into real situations. Knowledge is created from
Design to be integrated efficiently in virtual programs social needs and therefore it results on the basis of
of study. The project is grounded in needs analysis social development. The process of creating knowl-
and user observations from a community of virtual edge is nowadays strictly related to digital media: the
learning in the field of Art Education at the Universi- way communities emerge and evolve over systems of
ty of Art and Design Helsinki. The basic needs deter- information and communication.
mined in those studies were: improve collaborative
practices and motivate participatory learning through The possibilities of virtual environments make of
visual based interfaces and through the building of modern knowledge an undeniably community based
shared identities. experience (Capurro 1986). Virtual communities
determine the hermeneutics of society as a collab-
The user group is that of virtual groups of art edu- orative process of selecting information and build-
cation. In this community, the use of virtual environ- ing meaning out of it, in relation to the diversity that
ments and of visual communication are recurrent and comprises those communities. Innovative tools are
one can find good possibilities of taking advantage core in the transformation of cultures. Today, digital
of emerging tools for online communication. The online tools that provide means of communication in
design process began with different approaches con- a global scale not only transform cultures that exist
sidering the advantages and weaknesses of mobile independently from each other; they propitiate nexus
devices, web applications, and virtual tools for the between communities that are almost anywhere and

lead to a conceptualization of a global society, based existing information into personal mental representa-
on access to information through digital technolo- tions.
Through a process of association, new concepts in-
The “global informational society” (Castells 2000) tegrate with assimilated ideas to construct new inter-
is transforming all the time around forthcoming tech- pretations. This conforms a set of both, abstract and
nologies. The design of technological tools shapes concrete mental representations that can be trans-
very much this transformation; in the way that the formed into language –– spoken, written, or graphic
tools provide elements that guide the way people –– through the use of universal conventions (signs).
interact with the available information. Diversity This is fundamental to consider in the design of in-
between members of communities –– and between teractive systems, where communication depends on
communities –– that interact pervasively is very rich the user’s actions over a digital interface, which has
for positive transformations in the informational so- to be understood, learnt, and identified by the user.
A visual interface works as an object of interaction
In order for a tool to be efficient, in general terms, it that gathers information from a group of users (and
ought to provide visible benefits to the users through sometimes from other sources) and (re)presents it in
a simple and self-explicit mechanism (Shneiderman a codified way. An interface is something that acts “in
1998; Hix & Hartson 1993). This applies to tools of between”: between people, between individuals and
all kind of technologies, both to physical (e.g. a pen- information; and this aspect of being in between is at
cil) and to digital (e.g. a word processor). When a the same time path and barrier. Through its main char-
tool is efficient and it manages to be attached to a acteristics of interactivity, dynamics, and autonomy,
community, it influences social transformations and an interface in the context of computers and virtual
becomes a symbol that represents certain character- environments tend to amplify users’ mind (Krippen-
istics of the community, the users and their whole so- dorff 2006). When designed for learning communi-
cial, historical, and economical environment. Groups ties, graphical user interfaces must act as a simplified
of people create, accept, adjust, and (sometimes) de- symbolic system of information-communication that
pend on innovations; efficient tools are innovative ar- enhances participation of the community and opens
tifacts that determine the productivity and growth of possibilities of achieving personal and common cog-
a community: coexistence, common understanding, nitive results.
and similar aims.
The use of interface design that enables visualiza-
The constant development of tools and people’s tion of hierarchies and categorization of informa-
adopting and adapting those tools to their daily lives, tion under a codified structure is necessary in virtual
make society dynamic, always transforming through networks. The fact that categorization depends or is
the new ways in which tasks are performed. People manipulable by the users can also work as a factor of
evolve with the impact of the tools they commonly motivation in the process of building knowledge and
use, and so, they also modify those tools as a process of creating a meaningful virtual environment where
of understanding their benefits (Krippendorff 2006). information is constantly evolving, dynamically or-
In that sense, tools become a representation of the ganized, always accessible, and productive.
community using them, they become objects of iden-
User-centered design
The Virtual Art Garden is conceptualized as a tool
that approaches the user group through identity. The The Virtual Art Garden aims at experimenting and
evolution of identities within a virtual community is introducing the following statement: Learning prac-
a collective process of participatory behavior. Online tices in virtual communities can be improved by us-
communities shape throughout internal activities and er-centered interfaces that consider the importance of
the way in which members interact to perform those social identities to encourage the cognitive develop-
activities is very much influenced by the virtual en- ment of individuals as part of a social system.
vironment, by its symbolic and its functional char-
acteristics. The interaction design of the Virtual Art Designing tools by having a specific user group in
Garden intends to determine the feasibility of partici- mind can bring more benefits than the usual interest
patory behavior. of solving concrete needs. By studying the commu-
nity that will be using the tool, it is expected to come
up with a design solution that can be easily accepted
Semiology of the Virtual Art Garden by the users and incorporated to their daily practic-
es. Further more, it allows the possibility of finding
Communication processes happen through symbolic common interests or behaviours that experimenting
systems that cannot be separated from the cultural with interfaces arise.
context in which they take place. Visual communica-
tion is always coded and those codes allow common “User-centered design consists in more than ob-
understanding in society (Kress & Leeuwen 1998). serving and interviewing the users” (Hix & Hartson
Understanding means de-codifying and re-codifying 1993, 30); getting to know the users in a deep way

leads to creative and innovative design solutions. 2006, 99). The role of rhetoric in designing digital
User studies certainly require a complex of human media solutions is not anymore that of persuading
resources to get a clear and precise set of informa- as in Aristotelian times, neither that of illustrating in
tion out of the user group. Understanding user tasks, order to magnify the importance or the beauty of an
capabilities, and preferences (Preece 2000) are key idea; in digital media design, rhetoric is about the use
to develop the right tools that an online community of appropriate tangible phenomena as a ground (as
demands. a model) to create understanding between users and
By using situations, words, pictures, and metaphors
The evolution of this project encompasses several that are natural and known to most users, a user’s ex-
stages: from the determination of the user group and pectations about an interface are supported, and cog-
user observation and analysis, to the sketching of nitive directness is increased (Hix & Hartson 1993).
the different approaches of the concept idea, and till Thinking of metaphors in the field of mediated com-
the resolution of the final concept and its progress munication and interaction design helps to create a
towards a hi-fi prototype. The last stages of the de- natural approach to human needs, thus, by generating
sign process consisted on the interaction design for a spontaneous association between the new artifact
user-user and system-user experiences, and on the vi- that is being designed and common places that are
sualization of the tool from a functional approach (by immediately identified by the users as human beings
considering tasks and features). living in certain context.

The methodology used for the design process con- Metaphors are very much related to artifacts, in the
sidered the premise that virtual environments must be sense that natural phenomena has inspired technolo-
experimental rather than expectant. This means that gies and served as a model in the designing of tools.
the user must have certain freedom of interaction. To Richard Coyne sees this inspiration as a two sides
achieve this, the interface should provide a set of ob- effect: “technologies are described biologically and
jects of information that members of the community biology is sometimes understood in terms of technol-
can freely decide how to use. Needs and motivations ogies” (Coyne 1995, 280). It is a human nature to use
are changing constantly and designs have to be adapt- signs as an understanding of phenomena, to explain
able to the practical experiences of human-computer something through examples and comparisons. The
interaction. use of rhetoric in this sense, in the context of inter-

Figure 1. Illustration of the methodology used after the user studies.

A set of metaphors were sketched and analyzed face design, relates to the purpose of finding natural
during the concept design as a process of brainstorm- and ergonomic associations between the medium and
ing. These metaphors were the result of the user the human action.
studies. The most determinant findings from that
brainstorming phase were then considered in a final
metaphorical approach of the design solution, there- The Virtual Art Garden
fore the title of this work is strictly related to the use
of those metaphors. The selected metaphor refers to the title of this paper,
the Art Garden, and is a direct result of the user stud-
Metaphors ies. The initial association of the project with a gar-
den comes from the idea of sharing a place that starts
An approach of digital technologies through effec- as an empty field and can be grown in beauty and
tive use of metaphors as models implies natural inter- harmony with combined effort and commitment.
action between man and machine: “The use of visual
metaphors (...) informs the design process as much This metaphor is grounded in the idea that each art-
as it enables users’ understanding” (Krippendorff work is a very particular piece of creation, as a plant,

that even if it belongs to a specific category it will person to the other depending on individual mental
never have an exact replica. Plants are seed and need associations and on the cultural context that the in-
to be taken care of so they can grow nice and pretty. dividual is immersed on. Aesthetic perception is an
A plant little by little changes its form, and it contrib- individual experience but seeks always a universal
utes to the flourishing and transformation of the gar- agreement (Kant 1987). Aesthetic experiences, that
den as a whole. As in a field owned by several experi- ever since Plato have been discussed in relation to
mental gardeners, they can always grow more or they beauty and perception, refers to the emotional reac-
can even cut, but with the understanding of sharing a tion that an individual has after an object or a repre-
common space that has to become a complex experi- sentation of an object. It is an interactive experience
ence besides that of the of each single element. between the individual and the object, or more likely,
the “interdependence among the elements of an ob-
ject” (Moynihan & Mehrabian 1981, 323).

From the motivational perspective, the aspect of
aesthetic plays an important role, as it is strictly relat-
ed to human emotional activity; which is subjective
but at the same time aims at being shared. From the
way the virtual art garden works, a common building
of a visual interface represents the aspect of moti-
vation that is propitiated through aesthetics. Trying
to avoid the cliché of design that represents beauty,
the graphics are clean enough to let the user create
their own aesthetics, or to experience their own idea
of beauty, ugly, serious, funny, etc.

Figure 2. First sketch. Each square represents a different art- To motivate the community, the interface features
work, connected with paths of selected width and color. a common visualization created from individual im-
ages as a result of collaborative work. Aesthetic ex-
In the garden interface, paths follow patterns of periences are individual but are determined socially;
identity and personal interests. Different paths can in this sense, participants of the Virtual Art Garden
be drawn between artworks to express emotional or are expected to react emotionally to the visual inter-
technical associations. A garden, as a natural envi- face that is generated within a context. Through these
ronment immersed in the urban space gives us cer- experiences, a visual interface influences the activity
tain feeling of relief as a small way out from rush of the group members and this is understood in terms
and stress. The Virtual Art Garden should work in a of social learning as a factor of motivation. The way
similar way, as a place for enjoyment after fulfilling the Virtual Art Garden approaches aesthetics is by
the duties of studies. From a basis of intrinsic moti- the interaction of the users with the interface, or most
vation, a place like this can be used for stimulating likely, with the users themselves through the inter-
learning activities in a social, friendly way. face. This is comparable to the vision of aesthetics
proposed by Krippendorff; which focuses in the aes-
The main characteristic of the digital garden is that thetic experience as an interaction of the user with
it enables the collaborative building of identities by a the artifact (Krippendorff 2006) that is external to the
generative visual environment. Like in the architec- expressive purposes of the designer.
tural design of a botanic park, paths become essential.
If one artwork is left alone without any path leading
to it or way out from it, the artwork will be less vis- Expected contributions through the
ited, and therefore, less commented. On the contrary, Virtual Art Garden
a work that has many ways in and out will be more
visited and thus, will receive constant feedback. The concept of the interface is based in two main
ideas: identity and motivation; which are used in
The Art Garden should act as a place where users terms of the hypothesis to improve learning practices
participate freely and interact around a joint creativ- that are virtual and community based. The elements
ity. Following a metaphorical approach, the aspect of identity are mostly the artworks appearing in the
of identity and collaboration is searched through a interface as a map. The artworks alone are the objects
graphical user interface taking advantage of web- of information; they carry feedback and other data.
based technologies and of the association with a The placement of these artworks is also an object of
common physical space. information on itself, in the sense that they act as a
pattern of recognition within the community. The
placement in the map is visual information about the
Concept aesthetics community, its identity and activity.

A visual element (as almost anything related to hu- Users will be adding images and linking them with
man perception) is perceived differently from one each other creating intentionally or non intention-

ally an object of their own. This is the main aspect emotions, body, and daily activities; something that
within identity matters; the way the interface grows is done by the individuals themselves, through real
and evolves is through a process of participants’ rec- experiences with the technology.
ognition in which the users become represented as a
community. Collaborative processes are more than ever taking
the advantage of cultural and knowledge diversity,
Motivation is the second basic purpose of the proj- and are integrating developers and users of tools in
ect. The interface itself should work as a motiva- a joint development, where “the aim is to progress in
tional element by influencing the participants to get a collaborative way towards a global sustainability”
involved in the evolution of the visual space. Other (Himanen 2004, 19). The project of the Virtual Art
elements that are directly related to the artworks, as Garden is grounded in the aspect of collaboration as
feedback comments, work as motivation factors as an aim in the user experience, but the design itself is
well. Paths opened from artwork to artwork are also also a collaborative process: experiences and knowl-
a means of motivation. edge from people in different fields, mainly those of

Figure 3. Next page. Schema of the possible progress of the visual
interface with users’ activity.

Conclusions Art Education who have been involved as user group,
have been influencing the design process through all
Designing technologies, technological tools and ap- its phases.
plications, imply transforming thinking processes and
behavior, which demand, as a result, new thinking A diversity of knowledge and experiences are
and understanding of those technologies. Designing gathered in this project from the beginning, until it is
successful tools for digital media can be approached finally shaped as a prototype in an interesting collab-
as an iterative design process that makes use of ex- orative implementation taking place through virtual
ploratory behavior. An iterative method of practi- means between two people located at more than ten
cal experimentation that allows, and even expects, thousand kilometers away. This aspect can be used as
continuous reshaping of a tool. The design of virtual an example to demonstrate the possibilities of collab-
tools can take advantage of experimenting with ideas orative processes that can be achieved through vir-
that can be reshaped by the users or with direct users’ tual environments breaking distance boundaries and
feedback. merging cultural interests.

The presence of the user in the design process is
now almost a requisite. Following and reinterpreting
what Eskelinen and Koskimaa (2002, in Introduc- Bibliography
tion) describe as functional theory of media, concep-
tual designers do not need to consider how a medium Capurro, R. 1986. “La Hermenéutica y el Fenómeno de
works or what are its limitations, but rather how it is la Información”. In International Conference on Phe-
practically used an how it is integrated to people’s nomenology and Technology (Updated version 2002).
22 Free translation
by the author. (Last reviewed March 2007). New York:
Polytechnic University.
Castells, M. 2000. The Rise of the Network Society. Ox-
ford: Blackwell.
Coyne, R. 1995. Designing Information Technology in the
Postmodern Age, from Method to Metaphor. Cam-
bridge: MIT Press.
Moynihan, C. & Mehrabian, A. 1981. “The Psychologi-
cal Aesthetics of Narrative Forms”. In H. I. Day (ed.):
Advances in Intrinsic Motivation and Aesthetics. New
York. Plenum, 323 - 340.
Eskelinen, M. & Koskimaa, R. 2002. (eds.): “Introduction:
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kylä, 7 - 12.
Himanen, P. 2004. Challenges of the Global Information
Society. Helsinki: Committee for the Future Parliament
of Finland.
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es: Ensuring Usability through Product and Process.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Kant, I. 1987. Crítica del Juicio. Oviedo: Losada.
Kress, G. & Leeuwen, T. 1998. Reading Images. The
Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.
Krippendorff, K. 2006. The Semantic Turn. A New Foun-
dation for Design. Boca Raton: T&F.
Preece, J. 2000. Online-Communities: Designing Usabil-
ity, Supporting Sociability. London: Wiley.
Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. 2003. “Knowledge Build-
ing”. In Encyclopedia of Education (2nd ed). Cam-
bridge: Macmillan Reference.
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Strageties for Effective Human-Computer Interaction.
London: Addison-Wesley.

Joanna Saad-Sulonen (

First Steps Towards Designing the “Urban Mediator”

This paper reflects on the very first steps taken Technology developers are already loading personal
by our multidisciplinary research team to address mobile devices with ubiquitous, pervasive, proxim-
the design of what we have called “Urban Media- ity and locative technologies; making it possible to
tor”; an open framework and specific tools for also interact with the everyday physical environment.
building connections between citizens and city Urban space is becoming a new locus for digitally
administrations, making all knowledge mutually mediated entertainment and information sharing. The
accessible. potential is also open for these new technologies to
offer new interaction modes for citizens and city ad-
Icing’s goal is to explore these new possibilities
by bringing forth real-time and “in-situ” interaction
The design of Urban Mediator is part of the work the possibilities for knowledge exchange: official knowl-
ARKI [1] Icing research team will produce for the edge about the city and citizens knowledge that is
Icing research project. Icing, an acronym for Innova- built through their everyday experience of the city.
tive Cities for the Next Generation, is a 6th framework
programme EU funded IST (Information Society
Technologies) project, scheduled to run from January Urban Mediator – first thoughts
2006 to June 2008.
According to the project’s official description on Urban Mediator is the key concept to be developed in
work, Icing’s goal is to “research concepts of e-Gov- Helsinki’s test-bed of Arabianranta. It is to be devel-
ernment based on a multimodal, multi-access ap- oped as a prototype for the Icing project.
proach to a ‘thin-skinned City’ that is sensitive to the The initial ideas for the concept of the Urban Me-
citizen and to the environment, using mobile devices, diator are that of a system and an interface that would
universal access gateways, social software and envi- facilitate interaction between citizens and city au-
ronmental sensors.” thorities and channel this interaction to existing city
The project partners include city councils, univer- services. The idea is therefore not to create yet an-
sities and telecom operators from Barcelona, Dublin other interaction channel, like the various websites,
and Helsinki. The Finnish partners are the City of portals or discussion forums, but rather come up with
Helsinki and the University of Art and Design Hel- a system that would help citizens know of the exist-
sinki. ing channels and services and help them decide in
what way they’d want to interact with the official
city. Urban Mediator would make it possible for peo-
New tools for city-citizen interaction
ple to send information, questions, complaints, and
remarks regarding their neighborhood, linking them
Digital technologies have enabled the development of to existing interaction channels, as well as receive
new tools for citizen participation. Until now, Inter- both official and non-official information. Citizens,
net-based services for citizens have been at the heart residents associations as well as various city admin-
of various local and European e-government and e- istrations are plugged to the Urban Mediator, making
participation projects (Saad-Sulonen 2005). There it easier for them to reach the information they need
is however, growing interest in considering multi- regarding the city, when they want it and where they
modal and multi-access concepts for e-participation, want it.
with special interest in potentials presented by mo- Integrating the interaction possibilities with loca-
bile technologies. Mobile devices have become com- tive technologies extends it also to the experienced
monplace for urbanites around the world: we carry space of the city itself. The Urban Mediator extends
our mobile phones with us and use them everywhere. therefore existing web-based citizen-authorities

bridge into the urban space as experienced everyday ful, are missing or would be needed. This first back-
by different people - in a way, extend the interface for ground ethnography also laid the ground for engag-
citizen participation and involvement, to the every- ing the stakeholders in the design process, early on.
day experience of urban life.
The first ideas linked to the idea of Urban Media- Scenario building
tor therefore reflect both the framework of the Icing
project – a IST project addressing objectives of Pri-
ority 2.4.9 ICT research for Innovative Government The following step was to gather and analyze the eth-
[2] – and the research and design interests of the re- nographic material collected so far and extract from
search team – understanding how “social” factors as them themes with most potential to be used, as ingre-
well extending the interface for citizen participation dients for building scenarios.
and involvement to the everyday experience of ur- Through building scenarios, we try to bring to-
ban life could invigorate eGovernment services and gether the relevant information for building a com-
eParticipation. Ideas for what design areas would mon understanding of what Urban Mediator would
be linked to the development of the Urban Media- be. Scenarios also act as the reference material for
tor were therefore the following: interactive maps for our internal team of social scientists, designers and
information representation and interface possibilities software developers.
(tools for city administration and planners), locative Scenarios are also tools of “reflection in action”
technologies for interaction in urban space and social (Schön 1983, Carroll 1999). They can help identify
software for citizen-driven, collaborative construc- elements of the envisioned system the way these ele-
tion of the information space. ments translate social features.
Coming up with a series of scenarios also helped
keep the holistic view of the envisioned system in
Methodology mind, the various stakeholders and their different
needs as well as the different possible modes of in-
The design process initiated to develop the initial teractions.
“fuzzy” Urban Mediator concept into a tangible de-
sign solution starts with gathering ethnographic ma- Scenario 1: State of the Arabianranta Park
terial as a way of understanding the needs of the main
stakeholders; citizens (residents) and city office em- This scenario was inspired by pictures and comments
ployees, as well as engaging them, from the very start sent by a moderator who volunteered to take part in
of the design process, as active actors in the design the neighborhood documentation experiment that
process. The second step is building a series of sce- took place in February 2006.
narios that are grounded in the ethnographic findings
and also provide a set of tools to help put forward
further design tasks and technological features inves- Lilja (35) is a resident of the newly developed area
tigations. of Arabianranta in Helsinki. She is walking her dog in
the morning, by an area that is supposed to be a park.
Lilja notices the poor state of this park area (it is just
Initial background ethnography an empty plot of land) and thinks that it’s really unfor-
tunate that nothing is being done to make it better. The
Two areas in Helsinki were chosen to conduct eth- bad condition of this plot of land only attracts drunken
nographic studies in: the Icing test-bed area of Ara- people and youths who have no other places to go now,
bianranta as a well as the area of Malminkartano at especially in the evenings. Lilja thinks: “When is this
the north-west edge of the Helsinki municipal area. going to be taken care of?”
The area of Malminkartano was chosen in addition Lilja wants to react in real time, on the spot: she
to the official testbed area of Arabianranta because, wants to know why the situation of this park is like
contrary to Arabianranta, it is an old established resi- that and what are the plans for the future regarding
dential area and can give insight on issues that might this park?
rise in Arabianranta in the future. Lilja uses her mobile phone to access the Urban Me-
The initial round of ethnographic studies consisted diator for her area. The system recognizes her loca-
of a series of interviews with employees from various tion. She then types the keyword “park” and gets links
city offices (Helsinki City Planning, Public Works, to discussions and information related specifically to
Social Services, Health Services), with resident com- parks in the area she’s in. She finds out that the Public
munities and with key figures in the two areas. Fur- Works Department had responded to residents’ ques-
thermore, a small neighborhood documentation ex- tions regarding the park and had explained that noth-
periment and workshop was organized with a specific ing can be done before one year. She also finds out that
group of residents in Arabianranta, the moderators. a group of residents had documented the rubbish left
[3] in the “park”.
This round of ethnographic studies provided a gen- Lilja decides to contact the other residents: “This
eral understanding of how residents and city office park problem can’t be left for one year! Why can’t we,
employees address and understand the areas of Ara- the residents, propose an alternative solution for the
bianranta and Malminkartano, and what kind of city/ next year?”
citizen interactions possibilities exist, are success-

Scenario 2: My Parking-spot Info Scenario 4: Social worker and pre-emptive social
This scenario was inspired by pictures and comments
sent by a moderator who volunteered to take part in This scenario is inspired by comments made by a
the neighborhood documentation experiment that Helsinki city planner, during a meeting / interview in
took place in February 2006, as well as by observa- February 2006.
tions done by the research team members in Arabi-
anranta. Antti is a social worker working in the greater Ara-
bianranta area. He’s been in charge of the pre-emptive
Because of the construction work going on in Ara- social care experiment in the area. He tries to find out
bianranta, things change unexpectedly: for example about possible problems before they get very big. He
the bus stop locations might shift because of new con- looks into the sociotope map of the Arabianranta area
struction work, or parking spaces can become illegal and sees that there are a lot of complaints about the
because they’d interfere with the works. high school kids of the area spending their weekends
Lasse has a car and decided to subscribe to informa- drinking in the park. He remembers hearing parents
tion about the legal parking spots around his building in the area being concerned about there not being any
block. By subscribing, he gets information, to his email supervised spaces (youth centers etc) in the area.
or to his mobile phone about any plans or changes that He looks at another layer of the map -- the layer of
might affect the parking spots, for example informa- the department of real estate- to get information about
tion about construction work that will “remove” some the owners of some possible buildings where a youth
spot (when the work will starts and when it is sup- center could be placed.
posed to end), or information about the dates when the
snow plough will come and therefore the parking spots
Next steps
should be emptied etc.
Lasse also subscribed to a residents group initiative
that let them negotiate “sharing” parking spots in re- The initial ideas for using interactive maps, locative
lation to their schedule for car use. technologies and social software can already be tak-
en a step further and be represented in the following
fashion, as per Fig 1.
Scenario 3: Planner interested in people’s local

This scenario is inspired by comments made by a
Helsinki city planner, during a meeting / interview in
February 2006.

Sari is a planner from the City Planning Office. Cur-
rently, Sari is busy, working on the planning of a new
residential area. Even though this is a new area, she
always wants to stay informed about what inhabitants
of the area think about their living environment and
what are the current issues in the area. Sari believes
that it is important for a planner to build a overall un-
derstanding of the area she works on, especially that
she has only been two years working in that area. Sari Figure 1. Urban Mediator
uses the interactive map of the Urban Mediator system
of this area to get a quick overview of what are the The four scenarios developed by our research team
main issues of concern for the inhabitants right now. already give an idea of relevant directions for design
She likes it that she can quickly see on the map see effort:
which areas as well as which topics are “hot”. She can • provide citizens with the possibility to re-
also directly link to the discussions and the messages. quest for location-specific information, on the
She sometimes answers residents’ questions using spot (see scenario 1)
this channel, but she does that voluntarily. She knows • provide citizens with the possibility to sub-
many other planners who don’t do that because they’re scribe to location-specific information (sce-
afraid that people will harass them with further ques- nario 2)
tions. The formal way to interact with inhabitants is a • provide a way to “harvest” existing local in-
bit different: the interaction planner follows the area’s formation (scenarios 1, 3 and 4)
Urban Mediator and channels questions to the specific • provide city office employees, for example
planners if needed. city planners or social workers, with tools that
facilitate their access to local information,
helping them in taking decisions (scenario 3
and 4)

These themes will be explored further through the Design involvement in the Icing project, during the
continuing ethnographic information gathering pro- initial phase of project building for approval by the
cess addressing various communities. This process EU.
will however become more clearly part of the itera-
tive co-design process for developing Urban Media-
tor. Co-design workshops and meetings will be de- Bibliography
veloped and then organized to involve the different
stakeholders in the development process of the Urban
Mediator, building up on the themes gathered from Carroll, J. 1999. “Five Reasons for Scenario-Based De-
the scenarios. sign”. In Proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International
These stakeholders will consist of active partici- Conference on System Sciences (January 5-8, 1999).
pants that have expressed interest in collaborating in Maui, Hawaii, 3053-3054.
developing the Urban Mediator during the prelimi- Information Society Technologies portal. 2004. 2.4.9
nary ethnography rounds. Parallel to that, public in- ICT research for innovative Government [online]
teractive experiments open to the general public will
also be organized in Arabianranta and Malminkar- en/2_4_9.htm, accessed 25.04.2006
tano, also as a way of working out the design themes Saad-Sulonen, J. 2005. “Interactions at the Boundaries:
and involving people in the co-design process, as a Design Research Exploration Around Urban Space,
well as opening up the Icing project ideas to the gen- Digital Media and Public Participation”. In Proceed-
eral public. ings of the Life in the Urban Landscape. International
The co-design process will eventually help the Conference for Integrating Urban Knowledge & Prac-
design team to identify and further develop relevant tice (May 29-June 3 2005). Gothenburg, Sweden. [CD-
design building blocks for the Urban Mediator, to ROM] Gothenburg: Formas.
eventually come up with a working prototype. Schön, D. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner: How Profes-
sionals Think in Action. New York: Basis Books.


[1] The ARKI research group ( at
the Media Lab/School of Digital Design of the Uni-
versity of Art and Design Helsinki is a multidisci-
plinary research group that focuses on understanding
digitalization in society; the potentials as well as the
drawbacks it creates in the context of everyday life.

[2] The focuses of Priority 2.4.9 that Icing addresses
are: 1) Innovative ICTs for democratic involvement,
in particular eParticipation, 2) Intelligent, inclusive
and personalised eGovernment services, 3) Adaptive
and proactive eGovernment support systems (Infor-
mation Society Technologies portal 2004)

[3] A moderator is a resident of a building that
voluntarily takes up the job of moderating the build-
ings web pages. There are 20 residential buildings in
Arabianranta that have a moderator moderating their
building’s own web pages. These web pages are set
up and hosted by the Helsinki Virtual Village Portal
of Arabianranta. This portal also offers specific ser-
vices for registered users, residents and companies
in the area.


The research work for the period of January 2006 to
May 2006 was done through a group effort, involving
the following ARKI research group members: Taina
Rajanti, Iina Oilinki, Tommi Raivio, Roman Suzi, Jo-
anna Saad-Sulonen.
Taina Rajanti, Kari-Hans Kommonen and Joanna
Saad-Sulonen have been the main contributors to
provide the text describing the University of Art and

Mariana Salgado (
Anna Salmi (

Use of Clay in the Dialogue with the Visually Impaired

The topic of this paper is the tools used for de- Two workshops were organized as part of the re-
signing accessible solutions in the context of mu- search activities of the project Äänijälki [1].This
seum exhibitions. The paper focuses on the use project consists of an interactive audio service for
of clay pieces during two participatory design museums that allows the exchange of comments
workshops held in Ateneum Museum in 2005. In within present, past visitors and museum staff. These
addition we explain how we use cards and affinity comments relate to the pieces in the exhibition and
diagrams for analyzing the results. Based on the the navigation inside the museum.
diagrams produced we describe some features
that are relevant for visually impaired people in Äänijälki is an interactive audio service for muse-
exhibitions. ums that allows the exchange of comments within
present, past visitors and museum staff. These com-
The analysis of the clay pieces together with the ments relate to the pieces in the exhibition and the
participants’ oral interpretations is an exploration into navigation inside the museum. “Äänijälki will be
visually impaired people’s perceptions in the context used for sharing hints about the experience of going
of museums. Emotions and space were the central to and being in an exhibition. The goal is to motivate
topics that came up from this process of organizing visually impaired people to visit museums by provid-
the workshops and making sense of the material we ing a tool to get information about museum spaces
collected. and exhibitions, with their ‘comments.’ ” (Salgado
From this analysis we develop preliminary sug- & Kellokoski 2005, 10-17). It is now in a prototype
gestions for planning future dialogues with visually stage.
impaired people in this particular context.
Participants did not get to use the actual Äänijälki
PDA application in the workshops. They were in-
Introduction formed about the concept and basic functionality. In
addition the workshops are an attempt to gather re-
search material that can be useful for the project and
As part of our process in the design of an interactive to obtain inspirational ideas for making museums ac-
tool for the visually impaired people’s community cessible for the visually impaired people’s communi-
we posed some questions: how to engage with this ty. The aim of the workshops is to enable us designers
community in order to understand their needs in the to create a thorough understanding of the users’, their
context of a museum visit? How to clarify questions opinions, emotions and the challenges that they face
about accessibility that deal with emotions? when visiting museums.
In an attempt to look for these answers we orga-
nized two workshops during 2005 in Ateneum Art
Museum, The Finnish National Art Gallery, in Hel- Description and comparison of the situations
sinki. The workshops were based on Participatory
Design methodologies. Researchers such as Hult- The workshops were planned in order to use the au-
crantz and Ibrahim have been using workshops of dio material produced in them as part of the content
this type in order to evaluate future concepts (Hult- of Äänijälki. We have video and audio documenta-
crantz & Ibrahim 2002, 344-348). Our workshops tion of both workshops.
were based on the model that Taxén proposed for
introducing participatory design in museums (Taxén We organized these two workshops in different
2004, 204-213). Taxén describes methods for evalu- ways. In the case of the first one we sent a letter
ating museum exhibits and for developing exhibition through a mailing list of visually impaired people
concepts. advertising the workshop and invited the people we
were in touch with. In the first workshop we had six

persons, only one was a sighted person and she was the participants we formulated titles for each group.
the wife of one of the participants. Two of them knew At the end of the task we confirmed that everyone
each other well before and one of them was an ac- agreed with the titles given. This activity was based
quaintance that by chance met the others in the work- on the technique of making an affinity diagram (Bey-
shop. Three were women that were around 70 years er 1998). Most often such a diagram is put together
old and three were around 40 years old. on a wall using e.g. Post-It Notes. The aim of build-
ing the diagram is to organize individual notes into a
In the case of the second workshop we invited the hierarchical structure that reveals the common issues
people through Arla Institute, a vocational training and themes in the subject that is being studied (Beyer
and development centre, where we went to give an 1998).
introduction about our project: Äänijälki. Seven par-
ticipants were visually impaired and the rest were as- The clay pieces are unique small sculptures, made
sistants or teachers. All of them participated in the for the purpose of communicating participants’ ideas
workshop in equal terms. In this group there were in the context of the workshop. They were a tool for
people of different ages, from 16 to 50 years old, stimulating discussion and an aid for remembering
and from different backgrounds (for example: craft what was discussed. The tangibility of the pieces kept
or masseurs students). In this workshop the total the meaning attached to them in a concrete shape.
amount of people present in the workshop was 17: 12
persons came from Arla Institute, two persons were
Ateneum Museum staff, one person was in charge Analysis of the clay pieces
of documenting and two researchers conducted the
workshop. Cards
The program of the two workshops varied for some “Pictorial montages show their seams, whereas the
parts. In the second one we added a tour in the mu- images produced by words fuse into unified wholes”
seum and the whole workshop lasted one hour more (Arnheim 1969, 253). Based on this statement, we
than the first one. decided that our interpretation would focus on both
the images and the oral descriptions that accompa-
nied them in the situation. To isolate these two sides
Clay pieces of the same coin from each other would have led to
The aim of the first task of the workshops was to
shed light on the factors that for the visually impaired
make up a good experience in the museum. In the
first workshop the first hands-on task was to describe
the features of an ideal future guide for museums. It
could be a person, a dog or a device. In the second,
the task was to describe features of a good exhibition.
In both workshops clay was used as material for vi-
sualizing thoughts. We chose clay because it utilizes
visual medium, essential in design, for conveying
ideas and also because neither of us knows Braille.
We also thought that the familiarity with the material
and the connection of it to childhood memories could
facilitate the task. Participants were asked to make a
piece for each aspect they wanted to present. Figure 1. A card shows the title, a clay
The pieces were placed in the middle of the table piece and the explanation.
one by one, in the order of being finished. Partici-
pants modeled the clay and spoke about their ideas. In the process of analyzing the clay elements that
After the participant explained the clay piece we the participants had made we created cards. Each
asked some questions related to the issues that rose card had a picture of the particular clay piece (digi-
from the explanation. In many cases the question was tally color-corrected), a title given by the participant
how the person connects the piece with the topic of who made the piece and a fragment of the oral infor-
future exhibitions. mation chosen and translated by the researchers. In
this process of manipulating the cards some of the
After this activity, we asked the participants to start interpretations took shape. These cards were bound-
dividing the pieces into groups. The task was, first, ary objects for the analysis.
to classify the objects according to some commonal-
ity and then to give each group a title. We partici- This process of converting the clay pieces into
pated in the classification task as facilitators. Collab- cards was time consuming but it facilitated meaning-
oratively with the participants we went through the ful discussion in our group and it helped to familiar-
pieces on the table one by one repeating the title and ize with the material. First there is the fact that the
asking suggestions for grouping them. Together with pieces lost their tangibility aspect the moment we

started working with pictures and not any more with
three-dimensional objects. Second the fact of choos-
ing a small piece of text that describes the piece is
arguable. Since some times it was not in this piece
of description where meaningful hints appeared but
in the discussion that follows. Also, in some cases
other participants were adding features or comments
to the piece and we chose to leave attached in the
card only the comments made by the author of the
piece. We know that all these decisions influenced
this analysis.

We gave pseudonyms for the workshop partici-
pants. Participants described themselves, their inten-
tions and their personalities through these pieces. For Figure 3. Diagram 1.
example, Hanna associated the small cat with love
(Figure 2). For her it was important that the work of The presentation skills are related to the fact that a
guiding was done with love, with an interest in the guide “has to be clear”, manage the complexity and
job and activity that was performed. The piece also the shortages that an exhibition might have, and be
showed the ability of the person to make a small, able to explain one piece in connection with others.
precise cat out of clay. Moreover, seeing the cat as
a representation of love was a personal construction, The guide has certain emotional characteristics as
not a straightforward connection. “love for the thing she is explaining” [2], interested-
ness, humor, personality, presence in the moment and
subconsciously connection with the theme. Another
point was the notion that the guide has to be able to
make connections between knowledge and experi-

The issues undertook in the workshop concerning
the situation of being in a museum guided tour were
the importance of the dialogue between the guide and
the person, the flexibility of the guide in talking about
different topics related to the exhibition, “even about
technical description that someone could be inter-
ested in”. This flexibility is connected to the idea that
the guide should not have a fixed speech but could
Figure 2. ”Cat”. change it according to the audience. Another point
concerning the situation was that the conformation of
The picture above depicts one possible connection the group of listeners shapes the visit, and therefore
between clay pieces and the oral speech that accompa- naïve questioning is either exhibited or inhibited.
nied them. There are a variety of relations that appear
in these cards. A cube, for example, has a perceptual There were other features that came out in the dis-
and cultural liaison with the semantic meaning of the cussion, features specifically related to the exhibition.
cube. Everybody understands the cube as a simple These were represented in some of the clay shapes
form. Anniina put a cube on the stage, adding that for as well. A guide could also address these problems
her the cube means clarity. Anniina chose one char- although they were not direct characteristics of the
acteristic of the cube and associated it with the mes- guide herself. For the participants the artist’s pres-
sage she wanted to give. On the other hand, the card ence in the exhibition and the connection between the
with the “Cat” shows a personal connection between artist and the piece were relevant issues. Moreover,
the metaphor chosen and the explanation. the participants highlighted the importance of having
some touchable elements that could be explored in an
Diagrams exhibition. Finally, they added that sometimes they
have an unconscious assumption that they are not
With the purpose of making an interpretation of the able to move, so they avoid going and even trying.
pieces, we did two diagrams that describe the results For representing this idea, Kalle used the metaphor
for each workshop. First of all, after the workshop, of the threshold.
we made an affinity diagram using the cards with the
aim of answering the question of what is a good guide In the case of the second workshop the first re-
like. Based on our diagram (Figure 3) we found some grouping of cards produced a thematic diagram.
characteristics that visually impaired people found In this diagram we identified four groups. We also
important: presentation skills, emotional or human found pieces out of the context of the workshop, or
features and awareness of the context in which the not addressing the question asked.
guide is immersed.

A) Accessibility issues were divided into two sub-
groups: the kinesthetic accessibility (relating to mov-
ing around, including the body actions in the exhibi-
tion) and the sensory accessibility. In the sub-group
that related to kinesthetic accessibility they proposed
as features of a good exhibition: absence of obstacles,
possibility of movement even with wheelchair, moti-
vation for body movements as hanging, swinging and
touching and clarity of the exhibition’s route. In the
sub-group of sensory accessibility touch and smell
were highlighted as important factors in the enjoy-
ment of an exhibition.
B) Atmosphere and emotions. They pointed out
Figure 5. “Funny and with personality”
that the whole atmosphere in the exhibition influenc-
es emotions. They suggest that the ideal atmosphere
In contrast, in others there was a direct connection
for a museum is cozy. Other topics such as shame,
as in the “Right hand”. (Figure 6)
security and having enough energy for visiting the
whole museum arose in the discussion.
C) Concrete ideas such as having an exhibition that
includes moments of relaxation and moments of ex-
treme experiences.
D) Positive experiences in other museums such as
the Natural Science Museums and the Provincial mu-

Secondly we did another regrouping of the cards
(Figure 7). This time we had the relationship between
the clay pieces and the oral descriptions in mind. We
separated the cards between sensory and arbitrary
features. Ware defines these concepts in the follow-
ing way: “The word sensory represents symbols and Figure 6. “Right Hand”
aspects of visualizations that derive their expressive
power from their ability to use the perceptual process- Moreover there were some cases where there was
ing power of the brain without learning. (…) On the no literal relation between the metaphor chosen
other hand, arbitrary defines aspects of representa- and the description. This is the case of the “Horn of
tion that must be learned, because the representations Wealth”, a piece that has certainly cultural connota-
have no perceptual basis.” (Ware 2004, 10). One ex- tions.
ample of a sensory piece is “Cat” and an example of
an arbitrary piece is “Talking heads”. (Figure 4) There are other cases in which pieces and meanings
attached to them were not so straightforward. Some
of them are used as metaphors, as in the case of the
“Brush and palette”. Jouko said that the piece repre-
sents “the presence of the artist” in the exhibition.

In the case of the second workshop most of the clay
pieces were sensory material and within this group
there is a majority of metaphors used as a way to
present their ideas.


Figure 4. “Talking Heads” Participants found that they could make the pieces
easily and could express their ideas through them.
In the case of the cube, the relation between the They told us that in some cases the pieces appeared
piece and the oral description works smoothly. More- first and then they tried to connect it with the idea
over, there are other meanings implied, but not ex- they had.
plicitly shown like simplicity and easiness.
Some of the participants opened themselves up, pre-
Within these two groups we found that some of the senting emotions. We would seldom have imagined
pieces have a personal and innovative way of asso- such issues as loneliness, shame, position in the soci-
ciating the oral description with the pieces. See the ety, religion and spiritual issues to come up in groups
case of “Funny and with personality”. (Figure 5) of people that have not necessarily met before.

Figure 7. Diagram 2.

Material encourages people to talk, and works as ceived the second workshop group as too big and
an inspiration for thought. We have still some open heterogeneous. The participants had different age,
questions that we would like to explore in the future: background, visual impairment degree and other dis-
How thought and physical activity interact in these abilities. How did their identity define their participa-
cases? How emotions become visible through mold- tion? We think that we need a long-term engagement
ing, or working with materials? with this group in order to understand their needs not
only as visually impaired persons but as people with
Clay as medium was a good choice because it their own background and identity. These two work-
gave enough flexibility and made it possible to pass shops were not enough but they gave us some hints
pieces around. In this way all the group members of the kind of dialogue that we wanted to have with
could touch them, enabling sharing and understand- this particular community. In the future the axis of
ing. Passing around the pieces was only applied in this dialogue will challenge the perception of emo-
the second workshop. This generated a lot of small tion and space for the visually impaired.
side conversations within the group, since the person
passing the piece was explaining the piece to the per- We realize that the way we collect material af-
son receiving it. fects the results we obtain. Thus, it is necessary to
reflect on the approach used for collecting material.
The atmosphere was quite different since in the The tasks presented to the participants were well de-
first workshop the participants were more engaged fined but open-ended. In this way people could ex-
into a common discussion. In the second one there press themselves ingeniously. The categorization of
were constant side conversations. This might be due the clay pieces forms the basis of this analysis. The
to the amount of the participants and the workshop’s approach was chosen for both the collection of re-
program and atmosphere. search material and for analyzing it. These diagrams
served to clarify our interpretations and enabled us
Participants were concerned to leave a piece, and to present them in certain order. On this topic Bertin
make a valuable contribution but were not commit- has the opinion that graphics make visible the notions
ted to listen to the rest of the group. This caused that of discussion, reasoning and understanding. (Bertin
some objects were overlapping in their meaning. 2000/2001, 11).
This means that eventually there were two different
objects standing for the same meaning. Even some The material gathered is inspirational material that
objects were repeated, such as the boats or the men. will be used in the next phase of Äänijälki, when we
That resulted in two objects representing the same plan to implement it in Ateneum. These are also out-
but standing for different things. comes gathered for the later design of suitable and
accessible interventions in other museum spaces.
Something that was particular for the second work-
shop was that there were some clay pieces and com-
ments that were not at all connected to the question. Notes
We constantly asked the participants how do they
connect their piece to the museum exhibition, and in [1] Sound traces.
some cases we did not get a clear answer.
[2] The English quotations referring to partici-
In the case of the second workshop we also felt that pants’ speech of this paper are all our translations
there was lot of interesting insights that could not be from Finnish.
undertaken in depth because of lack of time. We per-


Thanks to Lily Diaz-Kommonen that is always help-
ing and encouraging us in our work. We want to espe-
cially thank all the participants of the workshop and
the staff of Ateneum. Thanks to Arla Institute. Thanks
to M. Luhtala and T. Laine who were in charge of the
video documentation during the workshops.


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