Interview with Shadowing creator Jonathan Chomko

In advance of Shadowing launching this week, I asked Interaction Designer (and one half of the project creation team) Jonathan Chomko about his thoughts and hopes for the project.

What does Shadowing ask about life in the city?

Shadowing acts as a reminder that we share the city with many others, and offers a chance to interact with these people who walk the same paths as us. It nudges us to connect with those that share our spaces, and in doing so raises questions around anonymity and community, and which we value more.

What have you learnt about designing experiences for cities?

We’ve learnt that there are many existing rules and regulations that need to be designed for, or bent, as well as a whole set of reliability requirements to work with. On a higher level, the design needs to work for everyone, and accommodate for all types of behavior. I think the real learning will happen once we see what people do with it.

How do you think that Shadowing relates to questions about surveillance culture, privacy and connectedness in public space?

In our initial thinking we didn’t consider the surveillance reference, but that has grown to be a strong element of the piece. We’re using the same technology as CCTV,  and our application exposes it’s gaze, so it’s clear the reference is there. I’m sure we’ll get some flack for adding even more surveillance devices to UK streets, but it would be great if that energy is directed to more nefarious CCTV applications than Shadowing.

The right to privacy will also be questioned, as we are assuming compliance by the act of walking underneath a lamp.

In terms of connectedness, we’re attempting to link people who share the same spaces, so our bias is to connection – but whether this is will be realized is another question.

What attracted you to the Playable City concept?

The concept of the Playable City is interesting because it is an opportunity to present another reality for technology in public space. As the tagline goes, the Smart City is full of technology that biases towards increased productivity & efficiency, while the Playable City biases towards elements more human, such as play, interaction, intrigue. This perspective, as well as the opportunity to embed a work into a community, and see how it is used over the long term, creates a very unique and attractive opportunity.

Shouldn’t people just be able to make their own fun in cities? Doesn Playable City feel rather organised?

Yes, people should! We’re not trying to organize, rather we see Shadowing as a tool, a toy, to be used in any way. We’ve been careful to design the software to make it more like a chalkboard than a game. It is our hope that it will be used in a friendly and playful way, but the design is open to many different use cases.

What’s been the most scary part of this project?

Designing a collage of hardware that will fit in a lamp head was quite a challenge, and there we many unknowns around the physical element of the build. But after a good deal of hacking and sawing, we’ve found a solution that’s both robust and attractive. The team at Watershed has been wonderful, and has helped alleviate fears around the more bureaucratic elements of the project.

What at this point are you most excited about?

I’m really excited to see how people use this. I’ve got my own ideas around what might happen, but I look forward to visiting all the lamps, once set up, and see what’s hidden in the light.

What do you want people to feel when they interact with shadowing?

Beyond the surprise (and hopefully joy) of their local lamppost evolving into something entirely unexpected, I hope that people feel a sense of connection with those with whom they share their spaces.

In two months you will be the owner of a great collections of shadows. What will you do with them?

I’d love to see them all walk together, noah’s ark style, one by one in a long procession of shadows. That would be a nice thing to see.

What next for you two?

I’d love to see Shadowing pop up in another city, to see the differences in usage. In the near future though, I plan on taking a bit of a rest. Matthew’s just come back from Burning Man, so I’m sure he’s full of inspiration for our next project!