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Physical + Digital=The new reality of space

We are increasingly occupying virtual worlds and public spaces at the same time. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Haags Uitburo.

As a kid I remember watching science fiction movies and being amazed at how seamless and effortless technology appeared in every day “future” life. The technologies were as simple as Star Trek communicators or walls that recognized you and your preferences, but the boundary was blurry between physical and digital worlds. For much of my youth this was fantasy, but today I find myself operating more frequently in digitally dominated versions of physical space—spaces that I used to think were there for designers like me to create. The ubiquity of technology combined with contemporary society’s growing connectivity is creating a collective familiarity, if not an expectation, for spaces that seamlessly integrate with social media, big data and individual preferences. While not exactly the future imagined by science fiction, the future is now. This invasion of technology is fueling a new generation of designers, versed in consumer technologies, to rethink the consequences of meshing physical and digital space to create an experience that combines the best both worlds have to offer.

This movement from singular to simultaneous experiences challenges a traditional definition of place as a single location. If consumers desire to occupy a physical and virtual destination at the same time, this also changes what it means to be present. It prompts design questions about digitally enabled physical experiences, and how they will affect the future of stores, offices, parks and other public and private spaces.

Designers need to utilize our unique understanding of physical space and human experience to explore how we can create and redefine place within the paradigm of PolySocial and augmented realities. Physical places will remain reliant on tangible materials such as bricks, steel, glass and concrete. But we now have to take into account the nature of augmented places, whose experiences transcend the built environment and are enabled by technology; discussing how designers trained in physical space contribute to designing augmented places with the purpose of truly benefiting the physical environment they occur within.

I have been invited to speak about this topic on a panel at South by Southwest (SXSW), the largest interactive, music and film event of the year. Every year, thousands of music fans, film enthusiasts, gamers, bloggers and other industry leaders descend upon Austin, Texas, for this unique festival. Topics discussed range from Web design and social media to activism and gaming. Slots for panel discussions at the festival are coveted because there are very few forums in the country that draw such a diverse crowd of leaders from the various creative industries.

SXSW embraces crowd-sourcing as a means of letting the public vote on what speakers will receive slots on the panel sessions. People like you now have the opportunity to filter the ‘wow!’ ideas from the ‘meh.’

The panel I have been invited to participate on is called “Culture & Context: Making Augmented Places,” and it deals with the increasing convergence of digital and physical experiences. The panelists include: Sally Applin from the University of Kent at Canterbury and the UK Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing; Gaia Dempsey from daqri; and Gene Becker from Samsung.

We need your votes and comments! Click here to vote and comment now! Here’s all you need to do:

  1. Click here to register for a free SXSW account (it takes 30 seconds)
  2. Once registered, visit the Culture & Context: Making Augmented Places above
  3. Give us your “thumbs up” so your vote is counted
  4. Make sure to comment on the panel and add your 2cents (or maybe more!). Comments are a critical part of the selection process

Vote, comment, and spread the word! Voting will last through Friday, August 31. Thanks and feel free to email me your thoughts on this very pertinent topic.

Shawn Gehle addresses convergences of seemingly disparate entities and the consequences these convergences hold for physical space as part of the Los Angeles office’s multi-disciplinary studio. His diverse experience, including professional practice and teaching, coupled with his insatiable curiosity about the physical world make him an invaluable resource on emerging materials and technologies within the studio. Follow him on Twitter at @shawngehle.

Reader Comments (3)

Sorry to mss the voting deadline. I agree that this is a burgeoning area to be explored and leveraged by designers in order to create meaningful interactions in all types of spaces
Yes, this is a very exciting arena. The impact of virtual content in physical space will transform they way we look at and experience everything. For furniture companies the ability to inform the curious is huge.
09.4.2012 | Unregistered CommenterShawn Gehle
Fascinating topic! The design of digital space between the built environment and interaction/experience. Architecture is not merely an idea to create information on the surface – rather, the relationship between that information and surfaces. Although digital culture dramatically affects the places we live, work and play, the way design is still the same idea: to create an appropriate space which responds as much as possible to its requirements.

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