Criteria for mediated presence

It is a currently diversified field, spanning media space research, cognitive science, (tele-)presence research, interaction design, ubiquitous computing, second-order cybernetics, and computer-supported collaborative work.[7] With the proposal that its discourse is characterized by the separations of disciplinary boundaries, and that architecture, design and artistic practices are insufficiently represented, I argue for a transdisciplinary design-led approach, where presence research meets architectural design and incorporates tools and strategies derived from related visual practices. This is the background to my own contribution and proposal that presence design is distinguished as a separate field (Gullström 2010).[8]

It is a major concern within presence research to distinguish specific criteria for mediated presence.[9] One of its main contributors, Wijnand IJsselsteijn, proposes a presence theory that acknowledges that a spatial relationship is established when mediated presence occurs. This presence theory ‘assumes that for presence to occur, we first must direct our attention to the media environment at hand. Second, the environment itself needs to have spatial extent, putting requirements on its immersive qualities in terms of necessary depth cues, field of view, etc. Third, the ongoing construction of our sense of place is based on a limited number of ‘reality tests’. If what is ‘out there’ responds in a fast, consistent and reliable way to our real-time sensorimotor probing—transforming appropriately as we move our heads and bodies, changing predictably as we interact with elements of the immersive environment—this will establish a basis for our perception of being part of the environment’. (IJsselsteijn 2004: 165) To explain why a mediated space that is ‘low on visual realism’ also can enable an experience of presence, he points to the role of active perception on behalf of a user provided ‘our sense of place is continuously and reliably supported by robust, real-time sensorimotor correlations’. (Ibid: 166).
What I draw from IJsselsteijn’s research is that spatial design plays a significant role in the process in which presence and trust are established: what he refers to as ‘reality tests’ (Ibid: 165). As part of negotiating trust and presence, a user will attempt to establish the spatial relationship between the space in which s/he finds herself (i.e. a real space) and the remote spaces represented, e.g., on a wall (virtual space). In summary, mediated presence involves the following functions:
1. Attention on behalf of the remote participant who is about to experience mediated presence;
2. The environment itself needs to have spatial extent and immersive qualities allowing a user to understand the remote location (depth cues, field of view);
3. an ongoing construction of a sense of place has to be triggered;
4. feedback from the remote environment should be swift, consistent and reliable in response to real-time sensory motor probing. A concluding remark from another study similarly points towards the relationship between presence research and architectural design: ‘experiencing presence requires the reproduction of the physical features of external reality; the possibility of interaction and free action, and the creation and sharing of the cultural web that makes meaningful—and therefore visible—both people and objects populating the environment’. (IJsellsteijn and Riva 2003)
Hence, my own design-led research was not needed to further confirm that a sense of presence can be achieved in mediated spaces, but rather to address what the contribution from architectural design entails; and how the combination of spatial and technical design that supports remote presence and mediated dialogic interaction may be refined, by the integration and application to different contexts of work and learning.

Note 7: Presence research is a recently established field and primarily formulated from the perspectives of cognitive science and communication technology. Lombard and Ditton’s seminal article from 1997, “At the Heart of it All: The Concept of Presence”, provides an important conceptual framework by summarising the contribution from researchers from cognitive science, neurology, virtual reality and computer graphics (Lombard & Ditton 1997).
Note 8: Nevejan (op.cit.) similarly provides a design perspective.
Note 9: I do not go into detail about how to measure the experience of ‘mediated presence’. To develop scientific measures has been a primary concern of the broad and interdisciplinary field of presence research, partly hosted by the International Society of Presence Research (ISPR). It is complex because it involves psychological processes and ISPR recognizes that “researchers face significant challenges in developing valid and reliable measures of presence” (http://www.ispr.infodownloaded090618). Two general approaches, subjective and objective measures, have informed the ‘ISPR Measures Statement and Compendium’, available at:

Charlie Gullström