BLOG: Moving Beyond Mobile

22 November 2013

The Design in Action team at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) have been working within the fields of emerging digital technologies and their potential applications. Our team is led by Professor Simon Biggs and includes myself (Debbie Maxwell), Diego Zamora, Karl Monsen, and (till recently) Hadi Mehrpouya (see end of page for bios). Areas we’re studying include the rapidly changing arena of mobile development and HTML5 web apps, digital fabrication and 3D printing, sensor-based virtual environments and remote networks and their social applications and design implications.

As part of Design in Action, we’ve been talking to a few of the key players in both academic research and the tech scene and are very pleased to announce that we are leading on an event in February, the inaugural Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Chiasma. Combining the high-profile Scottish ICT industry, academic research and the importance of tourism and cultural heritage to Scotland’s economy, our team developed the call for the Beyond Mobile Chiasma.

To help provoke and direct conversations, we took our early ideas (see photo below) to meetings with key contacts to try and gauge how appropriate our thoughts were and to sense-check our understanding of new tech within the context of tourism and cultural heritage, particularly with respect to Scotland’s existing expertise and tech start-up environment.

Specifically, we invited comments on:

    • the context of tourism and cultural heritage in Scotland and the technological landscape relating to this;
    • some of the technologies that might be considered to be moving ‘beyond mobile’;
    • what the ‘beyond mobile’ concept might mean, that is, the growth of multi-channel media, across platforms and from screen-based to physical objects, and;
    • what types of disciplines and backgrounds might be appropriately targeted to feed into this debate.

Whilst the discussions that followed were varied and sometimes divergent, it rapidly became clear that the concept of Beyond Mobile in connection with Scotland’s tech and tourism industry provokes rich debate and would be both timely and an ideal topic for our next Chiasma.

ictBlog‘Quick and dirty’ discussion prompts used in early conversations

Excitingly, however, as is often the case with early thoughts and initially speculative concepts, our discussions raised a whole raft of questions. For instance, conversations spun into considerations of what a tourist actually is? Do we include local residents or visitors to Scotland or the UK? There are clear societal as well as economic benefits in encouraging locals to become more engaged and aware of the opportunities on their doorstep. Should we focus on rural or urban settings? Outdoor (e.g. archaeological sites or national nature reserves) or indoor (e.g. art galleries and museums)? Permanent, temporary (e.g. festivals) or transient (e.g. airports, bus stations) sites? The technological challenges and commercial opportunities vary across these spaces.

And then there were discussions around issues of scale, from focusing on individual smart buildings, to smart villages, through to smart cities? B2B, B2C or even B2G?

Tourism is of vital economic importance to Scotland (for example see more here in this report by Visit Scotland [pdf]), worth £4.2bn a year, drawing on its rich natural and cultural heritage; whilst Scotland’s IT & Telecoms industry contributes over £3bn total Gross Value Added. The rise of smartphones and mobile Internet devices and wearable tech (think Google Glasses) herald a shift from a heads down to heads up set of interactions with technology (as Dave Slocombe notes).

Scotland’s universities have been leading the way in Smart Tourism, and Blended Spaces, and the rise of the Internet of Things (e.g. Tales of Things), and the work of dot.rural and GSA’s digital design studio all form part of the research base.

Through Beyond Mobile we want to explore how new digital technologies can interface with tradition. Can 3D printing offer a unique and tangible memento of a visit to rural Perthshire, for instance? How might NFC (Near Field Communication) or Apple’s iBeacon enable unobtrusive digital interpretation and promote local businesses? How might the values of traditional storytelling or ceilidh culture be embedded and shared via digital technology to promote a richer understanding and long-lived connections for visitors (hailing from both near and far) to the Scottish landscape? Importantly, how might these ideas have commercial impact, helping to secure their place in Scotland’s future?

To make this happen we need a mix of enthusiastic people from a range of backgrounds, and happily that mix is starting to come together. So if you’re interested in being part of this story, don’t worry if you’re not a programmer or software developer, drop us an email or complete the short application form and hopefully we’ll meet up at Beyond Mobile!




Professor Simon Biggs leads the DiA team at ECA. Simon is an artist who works with advanced digital media, interactive systems, distributed networks and digital poetics.


Dr Debbie Maxwell, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, is interested in the ways that people reshape and interact with technology, using storytelling and design principles to prototype and test digital tools.


Diego Zamora, PhD candidate, is interested in consumerism and identity, DIY culture and gamification; he is exploring the interrelations between 3D printing technology and craft.


Karl Monsen, PhD candidate, is interested in open source software, the gendering of technology, social enterprises and geolocative mobile applications; he is researching collaborative software design.


Hadi Mehrpouya, Research Assistant, is a computer programmer, game developer and artist, specialising in developing immersive, interactive digital experiences.