Historical analysis as a design tool

In "Historical Analysis: Using the Past to Design the Future", Wyche and her colleagues shows how history can be valuable for ubiquitous computing research; namely, that it can employed to provided insight and methodologies in the same vein as anthropology or philosophy. They point out in what respect historical analysis is relevant:

  • sheds new light on recurring cultural themes embedded in domestic technology, and by extension, ‘smart homes.’ Questioning these themes has the potential to lead designers to rethink assumptions about domestic technology use. For example, rather than using “ease of use” as a guiding principle, elders described difficult, yet enjoyable aspects of housework that technology removed
  • exploring the past helps us understand who we are today and where we are going. For ubiquitous computing, historical awareness can deepen designers’ understanding of the context they are designing for.
  • history can spur designers’ imaginations by revealing the contingency of the present situation, rendering it less obvious and inevitable
  • using history to defamiliarize the present supports designers in envisioning future domestic life less constrained by present-day cultural assumptions embedded in technology
  • Like ethnography, history forces designers to become more aware of their preconceptions about a topic. Because of its ability to defamiliarize the present, history can be a powerful recourse for inspiring innovative computational devices and systems."

They apply this approach to domestic technology use with some interesting techniques such as scrapbooking or the the use of personal histories of technology use (asking people to remember the first time they use a certain technology).