Skip navigation

Richard Coyne

Richard Coyne is Professor and Chair of Architectural Computing, University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age: From Method to Metaphor (1995), Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real (2001), and Cornucopia Limited: Design and Dissent on the Internet (2005), all published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

Sociable Spaces and Pervasive Digital Media

How do pervasive digital devices--smartphones, iPods, GPS navigation systems, and cameras, among others--influence the way we use spaces? In The Tuning of Place, Richard Coyne argues that these ubiquitous devices and the networks that support them become the means of making incremental adjustments within spaces--of tuning place. Pervasive media help us formulate a sense of place, writes Coyne, through their capacity to introduce small changes, in the same way that tuning a musical instrument invokes the subtle process of recalibration. Places are inhabited spaces, populated by people, their concerns, memories, stories, conversations, encounters, and artifacts. The tuning of place--whereby people use their devices in their interactions with one another--is also a tuning of social relations. The range of ubiquity is vast--from the familiar phones and hand-held devices through RFID tags, smart badges, dynamic signage, microprocessors in cars and kitchen appliances, wearable computing, and prosthetics, to devices still in development. Rather than catalog achievements and predictions, Coyne offers a theoretical framework for discussing pervasive media that can inform developers, designers, and users as they contemplate interventions into the environment. Processes of tuning can lead to consideration of themes highly relevant to pervasive computing: intervention, calibration, wedges, habits, rhythm, tags, taps, tactics, thresholds, aggregation, noise, and interference.

Design and Dissent on the Internet

The network economy presents itself in the transactions of electronic commerce, finance, business, and communications. The network economy is also a social condition of discontinuity, indefinite limits, and in-between spaces. In Cornucopia Limited, Richard Coyne uses the liminality of design -- its uneasy position between creativity and commerce -- to explore the network economy. He argues that design, with its open-ended and transgressive explorations, provides a new way to think about the world of commerce; design’s inter-territorial precinct, its in-between condition, offers a way to frame the problems of the Internet economy -- for profit vs. for free, private vs. public, security vs. open access, defense vs. permeability.Design, says Coyne, has a natural affinity with the edge condition and the position between polar opposites. Edgy design starts with an idea, brings to mind its opposite, and then works with what emerges from the friction between the two. The designer of a Web portal, for example, might take on the problem of security by focusing on the limits of permeability. Design is edgy, and risky, argues Coyne, in the same way that breaches in network security are risky. In Cornucopia Limited he examines the threshold between conditions exemplified by the boundary between design and commerce. Coyne uses five metaphors of design to develop his argument: the household (in economics, historically opposed to the market), with its relationship to the street mediated by various portals; the machine, rampant and glitchy; the game, competitive but simulated; the gift, precursor to commerce; and the threshold. The threshold condition, Coyne says, is the site of edgy design and a portal into the new. The threshold, he argues, provides the most potent metaphor for understanding the liminal dwellers of the network economy.

Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real

This book explores the spectrum of romantic narrative that pervades the digital age, from McLuhan's utopian vision of social reintegration by electronic communication to claims that cyberspace creates new realities.Technoromanticism pits itself against a hard-headed rationalism, but its most potent antagonists are contemporary pragmatism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, surrealism, and deconstruction--all of which subvert the romantic legacy and provoke new narratives of computing. Thus the book also serves as an introduction to the application of contemporary theory to information technology, raising issues of representation, space, time, interpretation, identity, and the real. As such, it is a companion to Coyne's Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age: From Method to Metaphor (MIT Press, 1995).

From Method to Metaphor

Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age puts the theoretical discussion of computer systems and information technology on a new footing. Shifting the discourse from its usual rationalistic framework, Richard Coyne shows how the conception, development, and application of computer systems is challenged and enhanced by postmodern philosophical thought. He places particular emphasis on the theory of metaphor, showing how it has more to offer than notions of method and models appropriated from science.

Coyne examines the entire range of contemporary philosophical thinkingincluding logical positivism, analytic philosophy, pragmatism, phenomenology, critical theory, hermeneutics, and deconstructioncomparing them and showing how they differ in their consequences for design and development issues in electronic communications, computer representation, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and multimedia. He also probes the claims made of information technology, including its presumptions of control, its so-called radicality, even its ability to make virtual worlds, and shows that many of these claims are poorly founded.

Among the writings Coyne visits are works by Heidegger, Adorno, Benjamin, Gadamer, Derrida, Habermas, Rorty, and Foucault. He relates their views to information technology designers and critics such as Herbert Simon, Alan Kay, Terry Winograd, Hubert Dreyfus, and Joseph Weizenbaum. In particular, Coyne draws extensively from the writing of Martin Heidegger, who has presented one of the most radical critiques of technology to date.