Mikael Vesavuori

Jun 11, 2017

6 min read

User Experiences in Non-Places

This week I wanted to pick out some (lengthy) quotes from a favourite book of mine: Marc Augé’s classic Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Augé is an anthropologist who originally published the book in 1992 but it is just as pertinent now as it was then. The Guardian summarizes the book by writing

I find the quotes interesting (and illustrative of Augé’s tone and approach) as they reflect on deeper levels of text and graphics — in a wider, more experiential and political manner — than what is currently brought up in the evolving conversation concerning (especially) UX writing.

The quotes are here illustrated by photographs I have taken around the world that I believe tell something very similar. Most of the photos were taken as part of artistic research I did back in 2013–2015, surrounding “new” types of spaces that are neither landscapes (as traditionally understood) nor public cityscapes. My goal was to better understand the ongoing transitioning into a new world that is far beyond the human scale, where monumental scales and ambitions confront very human behaviors, like flocking, trends and movements. Photographically, they become manifested as ideologies and visions that are neither apocalyptic nor utopian, but instead strange, beautiful… even haunting, just like how The Guardian describes Augé’s book.

The humble text string has, by its tone of voice and communicative clarity, tremendous power–perhaps the ultimate power if one is to believe thinkers like Foucault and Althusser. Even if the technical apparatus or device might be complex the interaction model will, without a doubt, weave a net of power relationships between the user and the device’s intention (or Dasein if you’re into ontological design). At the very least, I believe it is important for us within design to remember the larger implications and contexts that our manifestations partake in and how we wish to support them.

Child looking back at us, in the midst of a blaze of mobile photo flashes at Disneyland
Sign in subway, with text reading: “Be aware of illegal photo taking — Report crime”

For me, this book has given me both insight and lots of questions concerning how and why non-places are what they are: simultaneously (possibly) democratic, open, soothing, safe–while being also always the very opposite of those. One needs to look no further than contemporary politics and rhetorics to see how these spaces were never intended (and cannot be upheld as) to be private, humble spaces but always an indistinct middle-ground of private, open, social and privatized concerns. With more spaces becoming these transitional types of spaces, we ought to look for how to connect people in meaningful ways, lest we want more old-style VR solitude on top of already hollow social spaces.