October 06, 2004

Taking a longer view...

I briefly attended a user-centered design seminar thingy yesterday, and one of the things that came up was the increasing acceptance of the importance of ethnography in design research. More and more companies are "getting" that they've got to observe people and better understand what they do, how they behave, etc.

As a UCD nerd, I think this is great. But listening to this discussion, I wondered if we're going far enough.

As someone who got a B.A. in anthropology, and who lives with an archaeologist, I fear we're giving ethnography short shrift. We're cherry-picking a few methods, applying them in a rapid fashion, and patting ourselves on the back for "understanding people."

Our research tends to be so problem-focused, and so user-oriented, that we lose sight of the situated-ness of our designs. Not just situated in a context (whether it's domestic or commercial) or within a group, but within a larger, more complex, social fabric.

I think it's a shame that we study users for 2-3 weeks, get all pleased with ourselves, and move on. We ought to be cultivating relationships with our subjects, and engaging with them for weeks, months, even years. (Sadly, such opportunities aren't really in the consultant's purview -- here's to hoping organizations recognize and address this need.)

I was thinking about this because at this design event, some of the participants were commenting on what, for them, was a new idea -- that users make products meaningful for themselves. This was in relationship to obviously-tailorable products like del.icio.us or upcoming.org. But it was disappointing that these folks didn't recognize that "users" having been adopting and adapting products forever, and they've definitely been circumventing designers' intent since the beginning of mass production.

The class I took last semester on Information and Society had some wonderful readings on a subject called the Social Construction of Technology, which is an approach for understanding how the meaning and use of designed objects shift and evolve over time for quite a while before they become established. We also read some work on "configuring the user," the follies of which danah addressed a while back.

I think as more and more tools get more and more explicitly social, we're going to have to reach beyond snapshot ethnography in order to truly understand use, meaning, and value, and that designers who pay attention to this ought to be able to have longer-term successes... ones that might require more investment, but ones that could truly pay off.

Posted by peterme at 11:09 PM | Comments (10)

Datapoint: Starbucks Wi-fi

For what it's worth:

Yesterday morning I had a work-related breakfast meeting, and wanted to do so in downtown San Francisco. Torrefazione was suggested, but I opted for Starbucks -- because of the wi-fi. And then I bought a coffee and scone there. I'm surprised we're not seeing more collaboration between Starbucks and Kinko's -- that office away from the office thing is a very powerful draw for Laptop Nomads.

And in the end, I hardly used the wi-fi. It was more the having access to it.

Posted by peterme at 08:29 AM | Comments (2)


See Me Travel
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
Archives from June 13, 2001 to January 2003
Archives from before June 13, 2001
Recent Entries
Taking a longer view...
Datapoint: Starbucks Wi-fi
Subscribe to my feed:
Powered by
Movable Type 3.2