Notes from Paul Dourish presentation at CHI

I ran across this very insightful notes about Paul Dourish paper presentation at CHI2006 (the one that critiques the "implications for design" in ethnographical studies in HCI). I blogged the paper few months ago and was looking forward reading what people could say about it.Here is what interest me a lot:

Relationship between technology and practice: the common view is that ethnography will uncover problems that design can fix. This assumes that the world is problematic and can be fixed by (technological) design. A better approach would to have a broader view of practice, including how technology is put to use (and adopted, adapted, repurposed, and appropriated), how people create new circumstances and consequences of technology use, and how technologies take on social meaning. To formulate practice as "deficient" or "needing to be fixed" presupposes a lot, and also puts design outside of the domain of the ethnographer (...) the absence of implications for design shouldn't disqualify an ethnography -- they're a poor metric for evaluating ethnographic work.

This also connects to the discussion I had last week with Liz Goodman from Intel: valuing conversations between ethnographers and designers.

One of the proposed use of ethnography is indeed to understand how people themselves produce design ideas (a la De Certeau). This is nicely exemplified by the research done by the Nokia design people in this paper: Chipchase, J., Persson, P., Aarras, M., Piippo, P., & Yamamoto, T. (2005). Mobile Essentials: Field Study and Concepting. Presented at DUX 2005, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA, November 3-5, 2005. Retrieved May 1, 2006.

Genevieve Bell from Intel also tackles this issue in her work; her take is that ethnography is more than finding users' requirements, it could help understanding the cultural assumptions that underlies people's activities (at work, at home...) to refine the design space.

Why do I blog this? I like this stance, the fact that ethnographical studies does not have to be systematically coupled with design, and also that situations, issues or problems that would found, should or can not be necessarily solve with technology. I definitely don't like to see technology as the systematic world's problems solutions.

Related: more about this issue is addressed by technotaste.