Do we want to be citizen or customers.

Article: Knight, M.  (2008).  “Do we want to be citizen or customers.”  CNN. Retrieved on 21 June, 2008.


In this interview, Joseph Rykwert, an architectural historian, offers his view of the city and the transitions it has gone through.

He points out that most people don’t like the new building and skyscrapers being constructed, often mocking them with sexual connotation. In the past skyscrapers symbolized the energy within an urban environment, yet as more and more are being built, buildings are now more of an eye sore.

He talks about how gates communities and certain buildings (whether they are under high security or are just constructed to be uninviting) cut through public space, taking away a section of the city.  The need for gated communities is a recent phenomenon, and is a reflection of the growing inequalities of our society. He comments that tall buildings built after the 60’s don’t do a good job of integrating with the streets.   Their entrance halls have become less and less welcoming, characterized by tighter space, less public displays, and more security.  This is because the streets were no longer viewed as a safe place, which was reflected in the design of the building.

Finally, Rykwert talks about how Dubai and Celebration in Florida segregate our society even more.   The high income or affluent parts are surrounded and supported by the low-income areas where the workers live.   This type of segregation turns denizens into customers rather than citizens.   I think what he means by customers is one that no longer actively participates in the development and improvement of the city, but instead just mindlessly consumes what is provided.

On concept:

– Joseph’s point about the rise of the awareness of securities and the segregation of society seems to have many parallels with open source software.  Open source is one that encourages people to poke around and improve things.   It encourages people to navigate and explore. Proprietary software are like closed off building and communities that treats its user as consumers instead of participants.  On the other hand, you can build communities around closed software if you provide a public venue for them to communicate.   A few ways this can be done is providing a blog to communicate with the customers, or maybe even allowing customers to provide content.  In any case, for certain products it seems worthwhile to think of ways to make the product more open and social.

On interaction:

– If we think about the city as a website, then the high security (or gated community area) is probably a login page or a check out page.   Usually these sections are designed to convey a sense of security, which sometimes breaks the flow from the design of the website.  I wonder what is the balance between security and flow in this case?

On interface:

– Joseph talks about what an less welcoming building entrance looks like – tight space, not facing public areas, less viewable displays and more security.   I think these characteristics hold true for less inviting user interface a well.  An inviting user interface has good spacing between elements, lots of free space for you to do your work, and displays enough visual cues  for the user to know how to navigate/interface with the product.

  1 comment for “Do we want to be citizen or customers.

  1. April 26, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    A small note: Castles, estates, monasteries, religious complexes (even at the times of Ancient Egypt), palaces, etc. all were meant to segregate the “riff-raff” from the “good people.” So there’s not much new is the ideas of the gated communities (tall or flat). Our attitude about gated communities have changed, thought…

    On Concept: I see your point about open source, but some open source communities function better then others. Why?I think the ideas of “gated” communities might be explored more in product design. What makes something exclusive? Why would people want to be members? How can we get members who are productive citizens? What social scaffolding needed?

    On Interaction: The questions are always: “What are the goals? What are the needs and wants of the users and the creators? And are these goals aligned?”

    On Interface: The entrance might not be inviting, but people still want to live there. So what need does this interface fulfills? Moats, high walls, turrets, guns, doormen, bright search lights, etc. all serve a function, fill a need.

    Interesting points!

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