This design experiment was part of the Akerselva Digitalt research project, under CONTACT

Role: lead researcher


Idunn Sem, Engagelab, UiO

Ole Smørdal, Engagelab, UiO

Sarah Lowe, Graphic Design, University of Tennesee

8008579476_4d2ca9ca0c_bCivic engagement in cultural heritage communication, dialogue and learning is a field that continues to grow and acknowledge the potential of participatory involvement in design. In this experiment everyday users strolling along the Akerselva river in Oslo city were involved in small-scale experiments with the photosharing mobile platform Instagram. We had to take into consideration the social semiotics and relations between spatial and signifying practices to engage everyday users in participatory design, considering social technologies as design material.

The design experiment with Instagram was performed in two stages, each with a different focus; A digital phase where we established an Instagram user called @akerselvadigitalt, and explored how images from the museum archives could take a meaningful role in relation to the semiotic conventions of the streams in Instagram.  And a physical phase, where we explored how experiences with Instagram may be made analog within a physical location at an event along the river. This in the form of cards with QR-codes and IPADs hanging in trees at the river providing access to the online stream published by @akerselvadigitalt. Both experiments were undertaken across a two-month period in September and October 2012. The photo shows one of the installations close to Seilduken where people explored the stream, given access by a mobile wifi .

The experiment highlight how concepts from cultural studies are helpful tools to set up design experiments that relate to existing cultural and social practices, and how these may be essential for engaging broader and unspecified groups of urban users. Also, the experiment made us re-consider the relation between user and designer in projects completed in public settings, and direct our focus on designer as participant. One challenge was to use existing everyday practices of categorization and folksonomies rather than the formal ones from museums, and to involve conceptions of what kind of spatial practices people use in everyday mobile and social activities – and also, what is in it for them.

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