Research Projects

In my work, I bring the related themes of place and digital technologies into collision with recurrent topics of global concern. Since the 1990s I have addressed artificial intelligence, technoromanticism, e-commerce, sound, emotion and now nature.

Nature is on the side of the independent, the hopeful, the free, the good and the healthy. Some digital device users think that technology gets in the way of direct access to nature. It is as if relentless connectivity, work stress, boredom, and poor health burden the urban dweller. So, we look to nature to deliver the opposites of these conditions.

It is easy to succumb to the view that nature is what is left in the crucible of human experience purged of bothersome technology and artifice. From this observation I launch into an investigation into the nature-artifice divide and situate it within the world of digital networks, with an emphasis on semiotics, the communicative structures within all things, according to the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce and his followers.

I explore attunement, biophilia, big data, bio- and geo-semiotics, bio-hacking, biomimetic design, nature games, zoo-space, refuge, numinous nature and myths of self-reliance. This work in turn builds on my analysis of mood and emotion in the digital age, including a focus on melancholy, and the sonic metaphor of tuning, continuing a trajectory of investigation into digital cultures, online commerce, the senses, sound and environment, from positivism to hermeneutics and phenomenology.

The work is significant in that it provides a pragmatic framework for design that is original and critical, and that avoids either over-hyped enthusiasm or disdain for digital technologies. See

  1. Mobility, Mood and Place: a user-centred approach to design of built environments to make mobility easy, enjoyable and meaningful for older people This is a collaborative project supported by the EPSRC/AHRC/SRC/MRC scheme Design for wellbeing, Ageing and mobility in the built environment.  Recent research shows that remaining active is a vital component in healthy ageing and that exercise provides protection against mental decline in old age. People are more mobile if they live in an appropriate environment, one that is safe, accessible and has good services. To date, much guidance has focused on overcoming barriers in the environment, such as steps without handrails or poor quality lighting. Removing such barriers is important but this approach alone will not encourage people to be more active. We need to understand the positive qualities that encourage people to go out, remain mobile, and give them pleasure into very old age. Our proposal builds on growing evidence that mood and emotion influence people’s willingness to be active, which is in turn influenced by the experience of different environments – the ‘mood’ of one place versus another. The project is based in ESALA, involving Catharine Ward Thompson (lead), Iain Scott, Richard Coyne. Other Co-Is are Niamh Shortt and Jamie Pearce (Geosciences), Gillian Mead (Clinical Sciences), Ian Deary (Philosophy Psychology & Language), Neil Thin (Social and Political Science), Jenny Roe (York University), Peter Aspinall (SBE, Heriot-Watt), and Anthea Tinker (Gerontology, King’s College London). Grant Ref: EP/K037404/1 £1.5 million over 3 years.
  2. SFC SPIRIT project, Moving Targets: New models for new media audiences in the creative media industries, led by the University of Abertay with the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art: £1.2 million over 3 years, starting Sep 2010. Partners include BBC Scotland, Clash Music Group, Dynamo Games, TAG Games, Tern TV, Winterwell Associates and Skillset Scotland. The PI at Abertay, and Project Leader, is Gregor White, the PI at UoE is Richard Coyne and the PI at eca is Simon Biggs. Mark Wright, and Bev Hood are Co-Is. Brent MacGregor is consultant on the project. Paul Harris chairs the Advisory Board.
  3. 2006-8 £328,298 AHRC AH/E507654/1 Branded Meeting Places: ubiquitous technologies and the design of places for meaningful human encounter, PI, with Williams, FEC, Research staff employed: James Stewart, Mark Wright, Henrik Ekeus (description, final report).
  4. 2005-6 £51,000 AHRC 112333 Inflecting Space: Correlating the attributes of voice with the character of urban spaces, with Parker and Nelson, Research staff employed: Ray Lucas.
  5. 2005-6 £10,000 AHRC Composition, design and practice-based research (collaborative research training provision), Research staff employed: Jenny Triggs.
  6. 2005-6 £51,575 EP/C513878/1 Orienting The Future: Design Strategies For Non-Place (Design for 21st Century Cluster) PI, with 4 others, Research staff employed: James Stewart, Dermott McMeel.
  7. 2004-6 £37,296 University of Edinburgh, Principal’s E-Learning Fund, Dynamic resource base for e-learning in the creative professions, research staff supervised: Henrik Ekeus
  8. 1997-8 £130,000 EPSRC Multimedia component and product libraries for network-aware computer-aided design GR/L06041, with John Lee

Some PhDs supervised by Richard Coyne at the University of Edinburgh

Extracted from Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA) (out of embargo)

University of Sydney PhDs

  • Sally McLaughlin
  • Ki Byung Yoon