Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ethnography, Contextual Interviewing, and Participant Observation: Desiging Technology-Supported Interactions and Experiences in Ubiquitous Spaces

Ethnography and contextual interviewing strategies are important components in designing usable, useful products, services, interactions, and interfaces. It is apparent to me that many companies do not spend enough time on this component. Too many people must endure negative, even annoying technology-supported "user experiences" as they go about their daily lives.

Hopefully, these negative user experiences were not designed intentionally!

So how do we stamp out these problems?

I came across a very informative video that I'd recommend viewing for those of you who have an interest in user-centered design, user-driven design, usability, or user-experience design. The video provides specific examples of how to conduct user-centered interviews and ethnographic observation, highlights the importance of connecting with the user/customer/client, and includes a discussion about participant observation.

The video was created by Gabriel Biller and Kristy Scovel, graduate students from IIT, the Illinois Institute of Technology. They focused their video on a no-tech product - jeans, to highlight their key points.

The thirty minutes spent viewing the video will be well-spent.

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.

I learned about participant observation techniques when I was involved in social science field research years ago, and similar techniques when I was learning about conducting home visits and observations when I was a graduate school psychology student, and more recently, in my HCI-related courses.

There is much to be said about the power of observation.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has been involved with ethnographic research and contextual interviewing related to off-the-desktop applications and technologies.

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