Products of the Networked City: Exploring and Revealing the Materials of Networked and Computational Infrastructures
This thesis investigates the relationship between networked cities, hybrid products and interaction design. The networked city describes an urban environment saturated with connected sensors, always-on mobile devices and tangles of computational and networked infrastructure that together produce torrential amounts of data. These circumstances are giving rise to new forms of interactive products which I label hybrid products. The networked city is realised and experienced through an emerging breed of products that are assemblages of data, connectivity, computation, software, and physical and spatial presence. Through the designing of such products, interaction design practice is central to shaping, articulating and constructing our understandings and notions of what the networked city is and might become. However, the technological infrastructures of the networked city are opaque, convoluted and poorly understood, yet our everyday lives and interaction design work are increasingly conditioned by them.
Through explorative and practice-based design research projects I investigate the interrelated issues of a) what the networked city entails for the discipline of interaction design, and b) how practices of interaction design may take part in forming new and alternative perspectives and understandings of the invisible structures of the networked city, both for design practitioners and the wider public. This as been realised through a range of design projects that engage hands-on with the technological infrastructures of the networked city, yet work towards a communicating and mediating output in the form of epistemic artefacts such as products, visualisation, photography and films. These include projects that visualise fundamental technologies such as WiFi and GPS, and the design and infrastructural unpacking of playful networked products. Through a diverse interdisciplinary analytical framework I argue that the networked city may be understood as and through heterogeneous and complex socio-technical design materials. These materials are conditioning, shaping and abstracting design work in various ways, and are in need of a critical investigation, articulation and creative exploration through design. I lay out and develop how a discursive design practice may contribute to such cultural articulations. I present a range of tactical means through which such undertakings may be enacted in order to generate understanding, agency and creativity in the context of the networked city.
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