Digital Ground

Digital Ground

Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing

By Malcolm McCullough

A theory of place for interaction design.





A theory of place for interaction design.

Digital Ground is an architect's response to the design challenge posed by pervasive computing. One century into the electronic age, people have become accustomed to interacting indirectly, mediated through networks. But now as digital technology becomes invisibly embedded in everyday things, even more activities become mediated, and networks extend rather than replace architecture. The young field of interaction design reflects not only how people deal with machine interfaces but also how people deal with each other in situations where interactivity has become ambient. It shifts previously utilitarian digital design concerns to a cultural level, adding notions of premise, appropriateness, and appreciation.

Malcolm McCullough offers an account of the intersections of architecture and interaction design, arguing that the ubiquitous technology does not obviate the human need for place. His concept of "digital ground" expresses an alternative to anytime-anyplace sameness in computing; he shows that context not only shapes usability but ideally becomes the subject matter of interaction design and that "environmental knowing" is a process that technology may serve and not erode.

Drawing on arguments from architecture, psychology, software engineering, and geography, writing for practicing interaction designers, pervasive computing researchers, architects, and the general reader on digital culture, McCullough gives us a theory of place for interaction design. Part I, "Expectations," explores our technological predispositions—many of which ("situated interactions") arise from our embodiment in architectural settings. Part II, "Technologies," discusses hardware, software, and applications, including embedded technology ("bashing the desktop"), and building technology genres around life situations. Part III, "Practices," argues for design as a liberal art, seeing interactivity as a cultural—not only technological—challenge and a practical notion of place as essential. Part IV, "Epilogue," acknowledges the epochal changes occurring today, and argues for the role of "digital ground" in the necessary adaptation.


$41.00 X ISBN: 9780262134354 290 pp. | 8.5 in x 9 in 42 illus.


$23.00 T ISBN: 9780262633277 290 pp. | 8.5 in x 9 in 42 illus.


  • ...[A] way to think about how we might intelligently respond to the computer kudzu without letting it take over the garden.

    Michael J. Crosbie

    Architectural Record


  • Like it or not, our physical environment is beginning to fill with embedded and ubiquitous computing devices. Are we attending sufficiently to their design and to their effects on our lives? How will they change our traditional notions of architecture? Questions largely ignored because they are too difficultor too painful—to answer are confronted head-on in McCullough's thoughtful and provocative essay.

    B.J. Novitski

    Managing Editor, ArchitectureWeek

  • This is one of the most thoughtful books in the emerging field of interaction design. It is well argued and solidly grounded in both the literature and experience of computing. McCullough provides a powerful explanation for why design—and interaction design in particular—is emerging as a liberal art of the twenty-first century. Digital Ground is important for the professional designer, the student of design, and the general public.

    Richard Buchanan

    Carnegie Mellon University

  • In Digital Ground Malcolm McCullough elegantly summarizes the past and present relations between architecture and computing, and constructs a solid foundation for future interaction between the two fields.

    Casey Reas

    Interaction Design Institute Ivrea

  • Malcolm McCullough's book charts a significant, unexplored terrain confronting architects and society at large. Pervasive computing is embedded, networked, ubiquitous, and capable of not only sensing and processing, but acting as well. This new form of computing holds the potential to restructure physical space and our relation to it, and McCullough provides an articulate and readable introduction to this new world, both promising and troubling. Digital Ground is a solid, early contribution to what will quickly become an important field of study for architecture, planning, and urban design.

    Dana Cuff

    Professor of Architecture, University of California, Los Angeles