Research /

Actor Mapping

Identifying who is involved in or affected by a media architecture intervention

Traditionally, when designing digital products like software applications, the focus was on users as those that would interact with the final product. Over time, this scope was expanded to also include others, who may not directly interact with the product but either have an indirect stake or may be indirectly affected. We refer to this wider group of entities as ‘actors’. In many cases, we can distinguish between primary and secondary actors. For example, viewed through a human-centred design lens, when designing software for health practitioners, doctors and nurses might be the primary actors. But the experience of the patient is also indirectly affected by the software product, making them a secondary actor. As another example, viewed through a project management lens, the client paying for the design of a new product may represent the primary actor. Other entities that have to be considered in the process, such as marketing, legislative authorities and so on, make up the secondary actors.

We can use the same notion in media architecture during the research phase to identify who is involved in or affected by an intervention. This is useful to contribute to the long-term success of a media architecture intervention. For example, if the local community was not adequately considered, there may be a backlash when the intervention is rolled out. Time spent on mapping out the actors and engaging them in the process will pay off later. It is therefore important to include a time and cost allowance for this in the initial project scoping.

The method can also be used to bring additional perspectives into the process. For example, this may involve working with First Nations peoples to explore how the media architecture intervention can respond to or highlight cultural traditions associated with the site.1 The Digital Bricks project (p. 86) illustrates how considering these perspectives can inform the design of a media architecture intervention.

The method further provides a mechanism to consider non-human perspectives by mapping out the non-human entities that may be affected by or that could benefit from the intervention.2 For example, light-based media architecture interventions may have an adverse effect on nocturnal animals.3 Identifying non-human actors can also provide a source for design inspiration. For example, visual images of ecosystems were used as content in the Aukio project (p. 110) as a way to connect people walking through a busy airport with nature. As another example, the Monarch Sanctuary building facade designed by Terreform ONE used media architecture to raise awareness about species extinction through amplifying live images of monarch butterflies nesting inside the green facade.

Method Steps

  1. Create a mind map and record all the entities that are involved in the media architecture project using a black pen. This might include the building owner, local businesses, local residents, the organisation funding the project, etc. To create your mind map, write down your topic in the centre of a sheet of paper or whiteboard. Then draw a connecting line and write down the entity. Repeat this for all entities, always starting from the topic in the centre. You can also further break down an entity by adding branches extending from that entity.

  2. Look for invisible actors, i.e. those that are not actively involved or directly affected, and add those to the mind map using a blue pen. These might be traditional owners of the land, local community groups, homeless people, etc. Draw these entities in the same way, as branches extending from the topic in the centre.

  3. Record any non-human entities that may be impacted by the intervention, such as native animals and plants, nearby trees, parks, rivers, etc. Add those to the mind map using a green pen and the same approach as in the previous step.

  4. Test your actor map for any potential gaps by showing it to others, e.g. your project team members, client, etc. Keep expanding your mind map by including any actors you may have missed.

  5. Record the interests and perspectives for each actor you have already mapped out by using a red pen. For example, the building owner wants to raise the building’s value, attract visitors and keep maintenance costs low; local residents want to avoid being disturbed by light at night; native insects are looking for a place to nest.

  6. Carry out interviews with representatives of your actor group or experts who can speak on behalf of your non-human actor to test and expand the interests and perspectives recorded in the previous step.

  7. Use your actor map as a source of design inspiration and keep testing your intervention against the recorded interests and perspectives.