From Ethnography to Interface Design

From Ethnography to Interface Design

Jeni Paay (Aalborg University, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-871-0.ch001
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This chapter proposes a way of informing creative design of mobile information systems by acknowledging the value of ethnography in HCI and tackling the challenge of transferring that knowledge to interface design. The proposed approach bridges the gap between ethnography and interface design by introducing the activities of field-data informed design sketching, on a high level of abstraction, followed by iterative development of paper-based mock-ups. The outcomes of these two activities can then be used as a starting point for iterative prototype development—in paper or in code. This is particularly useful in situations where mobile HCI designers are faced with challenges of innovation rather than solving well-defined problems and where design must facilitate future rather than current practice. The use of this approach is illustrated through a design case study of a context-aware mobile information system facilitating people socialising in the city.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Paper Prototype: A paper representation of a system design, able to simulate operation of that system, which is independent of platform and implementation, and can be used for brainstorming, designing, testing and communication of user interface designs and for identifying usability problems at an early stage of the design process.

Affinity Diagramming: One of the techniques of the contextual design process, used during data interpretation sessions to group related individual points together, creating a hierarchical diagram showing the scope of issues in the work domain being studied.

Rapid Ethnography: A collection of field methods to provide designers with a reasonable understanding of users and their activities given a limited amount of time spent in the field gathering data.

Paper-Based Mock-Up: A representation of a specific design idea that is built from simple materials such as paper and cardboard, keeping it cheap and understandable, but making it a physical representation of a design idea for a final system, good for envisioning future products in the very early stages of the design process.

Ethnography: A collection of techniques used for gathering and organizing field materials from observational studies, involving detailed observations of activities within their natural setting, to providing rich descriptions of people, environments and interactions.

Expert Audit: A field reconnaissance done by an architecturally trained observer maping the presence of various elements of the physical environment and making subjective categorizations based on the immediate appearance of these elements in the field and their visible contribution to the image of the city.

Contextual Design: A collection of techniques supporting a customer-centered design process, created by Beyer and Holtzblatt (1998), for finding out how people work to guide designers to find the optimal redesign for work practices.

Design Sketch: A graphical representation of a concept or design idea on a high level of abstraction. It should be quick, timely, open, disposable, un-detailed, and informal, and is usually hand-drawn on paper.

Grounded theory: A theory based analytical approach, which takes a set of data collected using ethnographic methods and provides a set of specific procedures for generating theory from this data.

Content Analysis: A qualitative research technique for gathering and analyzing the content of text, where content can be words, meanings, pictures, symbols, ideas, themes, or any message that can be communicated, to reveal messages in the text that are difficult to see through casual observation.

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