Findings and Implications for Design

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Our main finding concerns how the behavior of people in public places for

waiting is framed by the place, the time spent in the environment and the social

need to behave appropriately. The waiting area is in some aspects changeable;

the behavior of people affects it and frames the setting. It changes according to

temporal cycles, during the day, the week and the year. Some hours the place

is more crowded and others more vacated. This affects how people position

themselves in the place; for example, how close to each other they sit. Another

variance can be noted in pace; during rush hour people tend to walk faster and

head more directly than during midday and evening. The amount of people and

the tempo affects the passability, the interaction and, consequently, also

people’s activities.

Being in a public place means being exposed to other people. People interact

and form their actions aware of others sharing the same public place. In the

following three sections we describe how people establish private spaces and

adjust to the public space, how they adapt to change and finally how actions are

visible and how this shape activities. In each of the sections we also show how

the findings can and should influence the design of IT.

Creating Privacy

One main aspect of being in a public place is that strangers can observe your

actions. Being in an environment surrounded by unknown and not yet trusted

people might call for sheltering some activities from observation, creating a

private space in the otherwise public place. Private space, in this case, means

that one specific individual, having a privileged access to this space, occupies

some of the public space (physically, visually or acoustically). This is accomplished

by indicating to others that this space is “taken.” The alteration from

public to private was evident in the use of artifacts, including public artifacts

such as cash disposals and travel information displays as well as private artifacts

such as cash cards and bags.

Creating a private space means changing the social setting for the activity,

adapting oneself to the environment by lowering voice while on the phone,

indicating activity but not revealing any content of the conversation, like turning

away from a group while getting an incoming call or leaving a bench when the

phone rings. It can also mean using artifacts to physically change the room. Two

different situations presented below exemplify two ways of creating a private

space: a woman sheltering her belongings and thereby creating a secluded

private space and a man spreading his belongings and creating an area in which

others are not supposed to enter.

This excerpt shows sheltering:

A woman walks by. She’s got her purse in front of her and

somewhat to her left side. She’s covering the opening of the purse

with her gloves in her left hand and with the arm. She picks

something out of the purse with her right hand and looks at it, still

covering it with her left arm and gloves.

Her behavior is an indication that she is aware of the possibility of being

observed. She is protective of something, her property per se, or something that

might be revealed if someone saw it. She shapes her artifacts to a shelter by

hiding the purse with hand and gloves. She creates a small, secluded area, a

private sphere in the public space. Her behavior shows an awareness of the

features of publicness, of the possibility of being watched.

Another way to create a private space is to rearrange the physical room. One

thing that was observed was how luggage was used as a point of reference.

People place luggage around themselves, not piled, neither leaning against each

other, but dispersed with space between. This enlarges the traveler’s private

physical space while waiting. This is exemplified with this young man.

During rush hour a young man with a lot of luggage is standing in

an open area outside the station near the platforms. He is standing

in the area that people use to walk in and out of the station, but he

isn’t close to a corner or keeping out of the way, he is standing in

an open area. The placement of the bags makes him appear to

stand on a calm island while people around him are moving.

When he puts down his luggage he alters the social and physical setting. The

placement of the bags means that he enlarges his private space. The bypassers

are obliged to allow him more space than they give each other; they are closer

to one another than any of them are to him. The bags become a means to

communicate his decision to stand still in an area designed for walking from the

trains to the other people passing by. The others accept the altered place; he

is not run into by anyone. Instead the flow of people changes direction. He

manages to communicate his intention to stand there to the people observing

him. In essence he creates a personal space for himself in the larger public space

of the station.