Magic Symbols: Reclaiming our Increasingly Bewildering Shared Spaces

Session Title

Magic Symbols: Reclaiming our Increasingly Bewildering Shared Spaces


Jorge Arango

Session Type: Presentation

We humans have an innate drive to layer meaning onto our physical environments. We want to receive mail, so we nail numbers on our homes. We want patrons in our restaurants, so we hang signs on their facades. We want to sell sugared water, so we put up billboards. We feel oppressed, so we tag subway cars with graffiti. We want to get home, so we label our roads. The result: urban environments that are ever more information-dense, complex, and disorienting.

The advent of practicable augmented reality platforms gives experience designers the tools to make our use of shared spaces infinitely better or worse. In order to do the best job possible, we need to develop a critical understanding of 1) how we’ve been applying meaning to space thus far, and 2) our motivations for doing so.

This presentation will offer a whirlwind tour of Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere (“the sphere of human thought”) and its diverse manifestations in physical space throughout history, starting with the 16,000 year-old Lascaux cave paintings, and leading up to the complex, layered signage systems of our hectic 21st century megalopolises.

We will be exploring the following questions:

* How (and why) have we labeled shared spaces thus far?
* Are maps and territories converging? (What will this do to maps? What will it do to territories?)
* What are some civic-minded, responsible ways of using our newfound superpowers?


For the past 15 years, Jorge has helped organizations in Central America to make more effective use of interactive media. He was one of the first information architects in this part of the world, and founded BootStudio, one of the first web consultancies in the region. He is also an active member of the international UX community, and has served as an advisor, director, and president of the IA Institute, as well as managing editor of Boxes and Arrows.

He is trained as an architect, and aims to design shared information spaces that reflect the classic Vitruvian goals of durability, usefulness, and beauty.


  1. Elia Nelson
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I would love a whirlwind tour (or any kind of tour, really) of Teilhard de Chardin. I am also intrigued by your question about map/territory convergence and curious about where you are going with that.

  2. Posted September 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Really intriguing stuff, Jorge.
    Cannot say much more than that without actually starting a looOOooong discussion, but I surely hope you have a chance to touch upon the concepts of rhythm and space / time (you mention Lascaux) and existential space as the base for topology and the concept of place in information spaces. Hu. It’s late and I’m getting boring. Ways to go, looking forward to this.

  3. Posted September 21, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

    @Andrea: part of the challenge in putting together this presentation is going to be to keep it focused. There is so much ground to cover here…

    BTW, I would welcome a long discussion with you about this.

  4. Posted September 25, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    This sounds really interesting. Much of the work I do involves understanding how to leverage emotional responses to capture attention, and I think you’re on the right track with this talk, as the emotions we assign to people, objects and events are what give those things meaning. Very interested in seeing this presentation.

  5. Posted September 27, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    This sounds terrific. I was never well versed in Teilhard, but what a relevant connection! Hope I get a chance to see it.

  6. Alberto Attia
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    This topic will prove relevant for quite a while. ThereĀ“s a Borges short story where a map of an empire was being built on a scale of a mile to the mile…how would that affect the noosphere?

  7. Posted September 28, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Thanks for your comments, this is very encouraging feedback.

    @Alberto: the Borges reference is spot-on.