Design Implications

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As described above the need to establish privacy in a public place is salient and

has to be considered in the design of IT. From the observations it is clear that

people are making an effort to conceal some of their actions from the public.

A user of an artifact should be able to adjust the publicness of her use, thereby

making it possible to exclude other people present. This could conflict with

another need for privacy, the need to be left alone without being looked upon

as strange or offensive.

• A user of an artifact should be able to adjust the publicness of her use; it

should be possible to display use without revealing the content of the


People also attempt to create private areas in the public place. These areas

need to be visible to others, to be understood as private spaces. IT could

enhance the possibilities for communicating this will to create a private space.

Because of the need to communicate activities, IT use should be visible and

interpretable to others so that the users will be allowed sufficient private space

to engage in the use. For example, a person reading a book is recognized as

someone being busy and inattentive to what is going on in the public place (e.g.,

Goffman, 1963). This in turn leads to that this person is treated with certain

consideration; the inattentiveness of the reader is an accepted excuse to not

involve in the physical and social negotiations going on. The use of IT has to be

as visible as reading a book to be able to establish this same respect. The best

would be if it should be possible to display activity without revealing the content

of the activity. The possibility of being attentive in the space while focusing on

a private activity would also be a field that would be valuable to explore.

• IT use should be visible and interpretable to others so that the users will

be allowed sufficient private space to engage in the use.

• IT could include the possibility of being attentive to what is going on in the

public place while focusing on a private activity.

Adapting to Change

Conditions for waiting change, and people have to adapt to these changes. In

our observations adaptation was accomplished by using artifacts in different

ways, or by changing the level of attention paid to an activity. In this section the

main attention will be given adaptation to temporal and social change.

When waiting to travel, altered temporal circumstances means differences

between expected, real and experienced time as described earlier in the

chapter. It might also mean actual changes in timetables. One example of how

this affects the behavior of people can be seen below. The excerpt is taken from

the airport, where many people brought laptops, but usually did not bother to

take them out of their bags:

A loudspeaker call informs the people waiting that their plane is an

hour delayed. The call makes a lot of people engage in activities.

A man opens his laptop. There are no tables in this part of the hall.

Two people dig out a book each from their bags, and start reading.

A second man takes up his newspaper. A third man starts to look

at paper copies of a Power Point presentation. He is in company

with another man who then starts to use his Palm Pilot.

The increased activity shows that people had made the estimation that the time

remaining before boarding was too short to engage in any time-consuming

activity. With a whole hour they can do things such as work with their laptops,

look over a presentation, read a book. The “extra” hour makes it unnecessary

to be paying much attention to the environment, and being prepared to board.

The changing temporal element alters the prerequisites for waiting and shapes

the activities.

Social change also creates a need for adaptation. Being alone or being together

affects the way people act and how they are understood in a public place.

Persons in company were usually less engaged in individual activities, and

tended to focus less on artifacts. This excerpt shows one difference between

being together and being alone. The woman’s way of acting is clearly more

active when alone than when together with the man.

A woman and a man in their twenties, with a hotdog each,

approach the travel information display and stop near it. He looks

at the monitor, and she looks at him. Then he turns his head

towards her, but they keep standing towards the monitor. They eat

their hotdogs and talk to each other. Then the man walks away,

and the woman is standing alone. She turns, picks her hair, turns

her entire body and looks at a wastepaper basket, and then she

walks towards it. After throwing something she returns to her

“spot,” and arranges her hair in a ponytail. She walks towards the

platforms, her company returns and they continue past the platform

towards the square.

She is standing quite still while he is with her, she holds her position and focuses

upon her company. When he leaves she immediately starts to engage in different

activities, minding her hair, throwing away trash, etcetera. Her primary focus

while alone is probably her activities, but an effect of her actions is that she

appears busy to others. She is in constant motion while alone, and displaying

her activities to the public, using the wastebasket and her hair ribbon as tools

that help communicate that she is busy.

Being together in a public place also means displaying that togetherness by

physical direction and conversation. This can be difficult since it can interfere

with other important things such as showing respect towards the accompanying

person when he/she is busy with something that doesn’t concern the together332

ness, i.e., if someone in company has to attend to a matter of more private

character. Being together is a mutual accomplishment that requires an effort.

This is evident sometimes when one person receives a phone call, or attends to

something more or less private. When someone with company engages in a

private activity, the social situation changes for the other person. The other

person(s) usually helps their company to establish privacy for the activity and

usually engage in an activity themselves. The excerpt below exemplifies this in

an interaction between a man and a woman:

Woman and man in their thirties walk side by side at the same pace.

He is talking on a mobile phone. They stop and he is still talking.

She is facing away from him on and off. She looks around. Shifts

her weight from one leg to the other. Arranges her clothes. She

starts to walk and he comes along with her, side by side.

She is not looking at him all the time, but appears busy attending her own

business, doing different activities. Her behavior is similar to the behavior of the

woman left alone by her company — she is physically very busy. The difference

is that she does have company, and is attentive to him. This makes it easier for

them to accomplish “togetherness” again when he finishes the phone call.

Design Implications

The situation can easily change while waiting; people sit down next to you, your

company attends to a phone call and your train can be delayed. These changes

are important in the use of artifacts as well as in social encounters, and must

therefore be considered in design. As described in the case of people at the

airport, an estimation of the waiting time is made before choosing what activities

to engage in. IT supported activities should be suitable for different spatial,

temporal and social contexts so that the user can choose what would be an

appropriate activity depending on the current situation. For example, five

minutes waiting while standing up allows a phone conversation but does not suit

working with a laptop. However, the findings presented also suggest that the

use of artifacts should be designed so that they are adaptable to changes, not

only supporting a variety of suitable activities.

• IT should be suitable for different spatial, temporal and social contexts.

• IT should also be designed so that it is adaptable to changes, not only

supporting a variety of suitable activities.

One main activity as a group is being together and interacting. However it is

accepted for a member of a group to attend to a private activity that excludes

others in the group. When this happened the other parties displayed that they

have something else to do too, besides waiting for the “busy” party. Examples

of such things observed are: picking up your own phone if someone else in the

group gets a call, starting to read if someone else starts to read. However, the

common activity when in a group is to engage in interaction. Implications in this

case could be that services or devices are given the ability to be shared within

the group [as Weilenmann (2003) also suggests], or by making joint activities

able to adapt into single activities when one of the actors is unable to proceed.

• IT services or devices should be designed to be shared within groups and

should ease the transition between common and individual activities and


It seems also as if it is important that the use of artifacts can easily be

discontinued and then just as easily resumed. Places for waiting are vivid and

you are easily distracted from any activity that you might engage in. It is also an

environment where many people want to, and choose to be aware of what is

happening around them. This in turn suggests that artifacts designed for such

environments should support the resumption of use after interruption.

• The use of IT should be easy to discontinue and then just as easily


Appearance and Activity

Even though people sometimes seem to be going out of their way to appear

“busy,” it is common and accepted to just be still and look around while waiting.

However, many of your actions are visible to others. Meaning that the other

actors within the context will interpret every activity that is observed. The

visibility of activities is a useful outcome for the people waiting, or even that the

interpretation might be of more interest than the actual activity engaged in; this

since many people tend to display their activities clearly to the others present.

This means that not only the activities themselves but also the interpretations

that observers make of these activities are important.

Many people in places for waiting do things that at a glance looks like they are

active doing something, but when studied for an extended period we found that

the displayed activity might not be the focus of the person. Such things are:

looking at tickets for an extended time or reading the same page of a paper over

and over again while looking at people passing by. Sometimes people are

making an effort to make an active appearance at stations and airports. This is

most evident with people who are alone. Sitting down can facilitate the active

appearance since many activities are easier to do when seated. Being interpreted

as occupied with something might serve several functions in the public

place for waiting. Doing things can prevent people from making contact with

you since you are visibly busy. However, no claim is made that activities in the

public place mainly focus on the appearance. We have no reason to believe that

the interpretations of most activities are the main reason for engaging in

activities, but they are an outcome that seems to be appreciated. The three

excerpts below show how artifacts frame the interpretation of activity as well

as how the outcome of activities can be understood as positive to the actor.

This first excerpt displays a sequence where the focus of the actor goes from

reading her paper to other activities but still providing the visual cues to be

understood as someone reading a paper.

Woman in her early twenties is reading a newspaper. She puts it

down and looks at people instead. She seems to pretend to read;

she looks at the same spot on the same page in her paper for a long

time, and doesn’t turn pages. She bites her fingernails, and wiggles

her foot. Then she turns three or four pages in a row. She looks at

the advertisements for movies, and is more focused on the paper,

appears to be more interested. Three men in her age line up for the

cash dispenser, and she stops looking in the newspaper and starts

observing the three men.

The woman is holding her paper as if she is reading it; it is the activity that she,

to a by-passer, is engaging in since the by-passer only will observe her activities

for a short period of time. However, not turning pages, biting her fingernails, and

looking at men, shows that it might not be what she is focusing on. The

newspaper makes her appear more engaged in an activity than she actually is.

She would probably not care of appearance if she were in a more secluded

space. This indicates that her actual goal with the activity is to provide any

possible observer with specific input for interpretation.

It is not only focus, but also temporality that indicate the possibility of “willfully”

appearing busy. The next excerpt shows how the interpretation of activity

changes depending on the temporal extension of it.

A man, approximately thirty years old, is reading a magazine. He

picks up his train tickets. He looks at them for almost ten minutes,

turning them and watching them closely.

For an observer this man is busy studying his tickets, and for certain this is the

only visible activity that he is engaging in. Engaging in the activity indicates to

a bypasser that this is a person about to travel and that he is busy preparing for

his travel, which leads to him being less available for interaction. What is

specifically interesting with the excerpt is that the interpretation of the activity

is highly dependent of temporal aspects. What is understood when observing

a persons activity is, as shown, highly dependent on how long the person is

observed. In the context of places for waiting, the case often is that observers

are passing by. This means that they will only be able to observe the activity of

each other for short periods of time.

In the excerpt below, spatial direction becomes the tool for interpreting the

activity of this man.

A middle-aged man with a rucksack and a plastic bag is appearing

to study the travel information; his face is directed towards the

travel information display. He is however still standing in the same

spot after three minutes.

The man is looking at the information display for several minutes. During this

time no information is updated and there is only information on the arrival and

departure of five trains. This indicates that the need for information isn’t the only

cause for him to stand there. The spatial direction frames his activity showing

a by-passer that he is doing something (checking the train times), making his

activity socially acceptable. Activity can be a strategy to appear busy to other

people. The travel information displays are not only used to check departures

and arrivals, but also to have something to physically relate to, a place to stand

and something to read, a place of reference.