Monday, March 10, 2008


by: Binding Designs, LLC

Ethnography Summary

Ethnography is, basically, the study of human behavior in their natural environment. “The Role of Ethnography in Interactive Systems Design” is an article that focuses on ethnography in the realm of designing interactive systems. Studies on humans, in their natural habitat, offer deeper information than in a mock environment. Societies, or organizations, should be used as a basis for design because societies and organizations are not always the same as one another. An interface should consider the different aspects of different classifications of users. The layered approach is used to allow people with more knowledge to control more advanced features allowing beginners to use the system. The professional can access places that the beginner can not. Different cultures should have different interfaces with access to the same features on the same levels just having the interface mold to the different characteristics of that culture. Each culture, or different classification of users, should, based on their experience, have access to all layers of a system equally. The only aspect in a system that should be changed is the interface which should be bent to fit around the characteristics of the class of users. That is, the pieces of a system that interact with pieces of other systems (the masking interface) should be the only pieces subject to change. The non-interactive pieces (the underlying functionality) of the system should not change.

The key to design with respect to ethnography is to make the situation focus on how it is in the “real world” disregarding made up environments. It is used to realize the best way to make a system highly successful in interaction. System is not specifically used to refer to computers in this context. It is more general focusing on systems as any structure that follows the laws of physics. Applied to human-computer interaction, it is the design of computers that interact with humans in their natural environment. All of the human factors would have to be taken into consideration and these factors can be better obtained while studying humans (just another system) acting in their natural environment. Since humans create computers, it is just one system (humans) interacting with another system (computers). Computers are designed to match “our world” and the way humans would interact the best, would be an environment that is most like our world. Or, an environment created better than “this world”. “This world” is referred to as humans interacting with everyday non-computer objects or “our world.” It is not exactly clear what the difference between a machine and computer is, but machines were created much before computers. Humans have adapted, in the human evolutionary sense, to using machines. This is referred to as early as cavemen and their primitive tools as being machines. Humans evolved, physically changed, to a species that uses tools, machines and computers.

“Naturalistic observation is the act of observing humans in their natural environment while they are unaware of being watched. In a way, this could be tied into ethnography because both processes involve the observation of subjects (in this sense, humans) while in their natural atmosphere. Psychologists use this technique when other methods of experimentation are not feasible. For example, naturalistic observation is used when a study on preschool children and how they interact with each other is being done. The children will not act naturally if known they are being observed. The same could be said for the science of ethnography. Humans, and any other mammals, will always act differently if they are aware of being observed. This is called, in psychology, the role of being the ‘good’ or ‘faithful’ subject. The ‘good’ subject will answer, or act, in ways that he/she thinks will be pleasing to the experimenter; or in this case, observer” (Baker 2006).

No comments: