Mobile cultures – ARTS2091
Lecture 2: The walkthrough method for analysing apps
Part 1 – Considering an app’s context
Dr Michele Zappavigna
m.zappavigna @unsw.edu.au
Apps are semiotic technologies
• semiotic technology
• “a technology that is designed for meaning making and
has meaning-making potentials built …[into it] through
various semiotic modes (e.g. layout, texture, colour,
sound, etc.) on its interface” (Zhao et al, 2014: 72)
• configurations of technical affordances interacting with
the discursive functions of multimodal resources
Based on Zhao, Djonov & van Leeuwen (2014), Zhao & van Leeuwen (2014)
software design
Designer
design practices
& principles
image creation
User
field practices,
communicative
purpose etc.
image sharing
User
field practices,
communicative
purpose etc.
Semiotic
Artefacts
Semiotic
Practices
Instagram
app
Instagram
image
Analysing apps
The walkthrough method
• Light, Burgess & Duguay (2016)
The walkthrough method
1. Identifying and describing the ‘environment of
expected use’ of the app:
• vision
• operating model
• modes of governance
2. Systematically ‘walking through’ the app:
• app registration and entry
• everyday use
• discontinuation of use
Example: Mush
• An app for connecting
‘mums’ who want to
make friends with other
mums
https://www.letsmush.com/
“An app’s vision involves its purpose, target user base and
scenarios of use, which are often communicated through the
app provider’s organisational materials… An app’s vision tells
user what it is supposed to do and, by extension, implies how
it can be used and by whom.” (Light et al., 2016: 9)
Vision
• How is the app presented in the app store and on it’s
website?
• How does it position itself through discursive
representation (verbiage, image etc.)?
• Is there materials from other sources involved in this representation? e.g. company
blogs, marketing materials, press releases etc.
• Are logos, colour schemes, images etc. derived from these sources visible in the
app interface?
Vision
Operating model
• business strategy & revenue sources à underlying political and economic
interests
• How is the apps revenue generated?
• direct payment?
• in-app purchases?
• selling personal data?
https://www.letsmush.com/privacy
Governance
• “how the app provider seeks to manage and regulate user
activity to sustain their operating model and fulfil their vision”
(Light, et al., 2016:10)
• What kinds of rules and guidelines does the app enforce?
• What kinds of boundaries are there on user activities?
• Which kinds of users are allowed to use the app?
• What kinds of restrictions are detailed in the app’s Terms of Service
(TOS)?
• What kind of restrictions are imposed by the app’s platform?
Activity
• Pick an app that you haven’t used before.
• Go through the registration process etc.
• See if you can figure out:
• vision
• operating model
• governance


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