QUESTION - How can a physical space support mobile phone use?

I think it's time to start asking some questions before I attempt any answers for this project. Again, the general themes include: mobile phones, children, museums, learning, play, design, and public space, among others. I'm exploring how to design "mobile learning spaces" - which I will probably need help defining soon. Today though, I'm going to temporarily put aside a few of these themes and ask:

How can a physical space support mobile phone use?

I believe that we often approach mobile phone interactions and designs from the phone's point of view, or from a user's point of view (there is nothing wrong with these perspectives of course). We think of mobile phones as being small and adaptable to any situation or place. We always have the phone in our pocket, and can access our social network or information just by taking it out, and making a call, or browsing the web.

What if we switch perspectives for a moment and think about the place's role in this interaction? There are some obvious factors - a noisy space such as a concert or party would restrict at least the audio functionality of a phone. Other spaces have social limitations. In a movie theater for example, you might run into some trouble making a call. I'm ultimately looking to design museum spaces that support children's use of mobile technologies, but lets think a little more broadly to begin with. I've pasted some of my initial thoughts below - How can a physical space support mobile phone use? What dimensions of a space effect the use of a phone? Do you have thoughts or intuitions to add to my brainstorm list? Please record them in the comments section below (and don't be shy)!


Space Factors:
  • noise levels
  • privacy
  • safety (dangerous place?)
  • light levels (see screen)
  • multi-tasking (ex. driving car)
  • lack of information (no map? use phone)
  • social disturbance (ex. movie theater)
  • reception/ signal strength
  • co-presence (why call if they're within earshot?)
  • physical barriers (walls)
  • waiting places (ex bus stop)
  • confusing space (hard to find or meet someone)
  • social norms (ex. rude in a restaurant)
  • exciting phenomena (rather send picture from concert than classroom)


  1. It strikes me in looking at the list that there are several types of factors on this list and I think that organizing them will bring forth new ideas. For example you have some things listed that are characteristics of space when it interfaces (with the environment (i.e. light through the window) and with people - noise.

    there are other factors that are about people and their response to space like privacy and safety - individual and social issues play a big role in this. There are space issues that we know impact these such as enclosure, visibility in and outside of the space your are in.

    there are other factors that are socially constructed, some with obvious practical needs (your movie theater example). Others intregue me- why does it bother someone to have me talking on a cell phone next to them but not having a conversation. (someone must have researched)

    Multi-tasking - from the current research it would be more like inattention or distraction. There would be a space issue that could be parrallel that is the spaces ability to divert attension.

    I have to stop now but would like to play with the list some more

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