Implications for design and ethnographical studies in HCI

A good read this afternoon: Dourish, P. 2006. Implications for Design. Proc. ACM Conf. Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI 2006 (Montreal, Canada).

The article criticizes the canonical papers (in the field of Human-Computer Interactions) which reports results from an ethnographic study with a final section called "implications for design". The normative epistemology of the HCI field makes it mandatory (as the author mentions "the absence of this section tends to be correlated with negative reviews"). In this paper, Paul Dourish wants to explore "the ways in which the “implications for design” may underestimate, misstate, or misconstrue the goals and mechanisms of ethnographic investigation". To him, this focus is misplaced and researchers are consequently missing the point of how ethnography could benefit to HCI research.

Some pertinent excerpts (with regard to my work + research interests):

ethnographic methods were originally brought into HCI research in response to the perceived problems of moving from laboratory studies to broader understandings technology use. (...) The term “ethnography,” indeed, is often used as shorthand for investigations that are, to some extent, in situ, qualitative, or open-ended. (...) a corpus of field techniques for collecting and organizing data (...) often been aligned with the requirements gathering phase of a traditional software development model [a good connection here -nicolas] (...) In reducing ethnography to a toolbox of methods for extracting data from settings, however, the methodological view marginalizes or obscures the theoretical and analytic components of ethnographic analysis.

But Dourish does not want to say that ethnography is useless to find implications for design, he'd rather want to show it's not only meant to bring out this kind of contribution. And this is very interesting:

Ethnography provides insight into the organization of social settings, but its goal is not simply to save the reader a trip; rather, it provides models for thinking about those settings and the work that goes on there. The value of ethnography, then, is in the models it provides and the ways of thinking that it supports. Ethnography has a critical role to play in interactive system design, but this may be as much in shaping research (or corporate) strategy as in uncovering the constraints.

Why do I blog this? while considering the global framework for my PhD thesis, I have in mind this kind of ideas; especially when it goes to the contribution to the HCI field. However, even though I try to include some mixed methodologies, my work is more quantitative-dominant, on top of which I use ethnographical methodologies (for instance for results triangulation).