The city is my homescreen

How design practice can work better for people, services and cities together, and not simply individuals.

25 min readFeb 2, 2019


Ed. This paper was written to accompany a speech I gave to open the ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces 2018 conference in Tokyo, November 2018. It was published in the accompanying Wikitopia project’s publication. Thanks to Wikitopia organiser and Sony Computer Science Laboratories’ Yuichiro Takeuchi for comments, and for letting me share here. The title, and key metaphor, of ‘the city being my homescreen’ came from a conversation with Patrick Keenan at Sidewalk Labs. To cite: Hill, D. (2018). The City is My Homescreen. ISS 2018 — Proceedings of the 2018 ACM International Conference on Interactive Surfaces and Spaces. DOI 10.1145/3279778.3281756

Everyday situations

The smartphone is the device of our time, just as the car was for the time before. There is an argument to be made that it is the most successful product of all time, at least in terms of sales volumes, of total revenue, of cultural impact. Capabilities, almost unimaginable to previous generations, are now at hand almost all the time – under our fingers, in the street, at home, at work, always around us. At least for most of us.

Many of our daily interactions have become organised around that glowing homescreen. Everything from the mundane, like calling a cab, to the life-changing, like starting a relationship, pivot around those glowing icons nestled in our palm. And these discrete, quotidian, tech-enabled interactions combine to shape the city itself; again, just as the car did. Writing a generation before the likes of Uber and Airbnb would emerge, the architect Ralph Erskine would have had different things in mind when he wrote, “it is the everyday situations that are important and that shape the major part of our lives and our cities.” Yet his point that it is these workaday interactions that define our cities, rather than ‘grand projets’, continues to ring true.

And so the smartphone, as the most obvious manifestation of the broader tech sector, is shaping the way we live and interact with each other, and thus our cities and habitations. And it is becoming clear that this is not necessarily all good.



Designer, urbanist, etc. Director of Melbourne School of Design. Previously, Swedish gov, Arup, UCL IIPP, Fabrica, Helsinki Design Lab, BBC etc