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PhD project

The fall of 2010 will be my last semester on my PhD project entitled “Staging Interaction Design for Public Environments”.

The objective of my PhD project is to investigate (as seen from primarily a dramaturgic and phenomenological perspective) how concepts and approaches from dramaturgy (drama studies) can inform the field of HCI and contribute to a new perspective on interaction design (meaning new perspectives on how to design, as well as on the design itself and the experience of it), and thus expand the design potentials.

In Computers as Theatre (1991), Brenda Laurel compares the experience of interfaces with the experience of theatre, and states that “... both deal with the representation of action. Drama (…) incorporates the notion of performance; that is, plays are meant to be acted out. A parallel can be seen in interface design” (Laurel 1991, pp.14-15).
When looking at the broader field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) this could apply to more than just (traditional) interfaces, since the interfaces have pervaded into all sorts of physical and mixed reality environments. This makes the link between theatre and computing even more relevant in the present day, not least due to the emerging experience economy (Pine & Gilmore 1999), which has induced an increased focus on how to design the user experience and accordingly which means to utilise in order to stage these experiences. In the same respect, I find that drama – and in my case more specifically, staging, bears some similarities to interaction design, as they both deal with the representation of action, and with an orchestration and framing of different elements that stages the user experience.

I propose that dramaturgy can indeed contribute with a new relevant perspective on Human-Computer Interaction design when analysing and designing for physical interactive environments, as it brings new correlations between elements of the physical environment into focus, and it puts the roles of the user, participator, spectator, and designer into focus.

The role of the designer of public environments is to invite the user to engage in the staged interactive environment. The designer can utilise various means and effects to set up the stage for the user experience. However, staging can only guide, not dictate how the user’s experience will be. Staging is about how the designers intend the users’ experience to be. It is about how to design or stage/orchestrate the physical interactive environment as a scenography to be experienced by the users.