Ethnography in design

As a linguist investigating communicative patterns and language use in technologically mediated communication, I very much enjoy trying to apply my findings to inform interaction design. As part of my seminar on multitasking on Tuesday (November 21 at 1.15 pm CET), I will illustrate the role that I believe ethnography and linguistics might have in the design process by referring to my most recent study.

There seems to be an interesting conflict between those who think that ethnography cannot inform design and those who view it as a valuable tool in the design process. In his recent thesis, Mikael Jakobsson describes this dispute and refers to how those arguing against ethnographic research have mainly focused on how the subjective and context-dependent findings of these types of qualitative studies cannot be generalized. He counters this by arguing that context-dependent findings can be of importance in that we can get situated and thorough explanations of the actual meaning of phenomena, which we can never get from quantitative studies. Another discussion of the conflict is found in this paper by Magnus Nilsson on the role of ethnography and workplace studies in CSCW.  

Questions like these I hope to discuss further on Tuesday. Please join us! If you cannot make it to HUMlab, the seminar will be live streamed and you will be able to interact via a text chat. The links will be posted here in the blog on the day of the seminar.

My abstract is available in the extended entry.

Abstract for HUMlab seminar, November 21 2006

Multitasking is not a new phenomenon. Human beings have always been capable of juggling different communicative activities semi-simultaneously. However, in recent years, the phenomenon has received unprecedented interest, as technological devices have taken multiple engagement to new levels. Most current research on multitasking tends to focus on cognitive aspects of the phenomenon, and only a few examples discuss its socio-communicative effects. This is where my research may hopefully contribute.

In this presentation, I will give a review on literature on the topic of multitasking, ranging from popular science articles to scholarly perspectives and research findings. Further, I will report on results from a small-scale pilot study in which it was investigated how a multitasking informant in front of her computer navigated between communicative channels, and how communication media and communicative choices affected conversational patterns and language use. I will also discuss implications for design and especially how linguistics and a focus on communicative affordances can inform the design process.