CMNS 354 Week 6 Lecture

Ethnography as a methodology for studying design practices.

Lecture exercise: Fictional script of someone going through the design situation I am currently studying:
Albert wakes in a cold sweat, groggy and fighting to become alert. Was it a dream, or did he really hear a noise? He glances at his bedside clock that reads 3:47am, and then around the room for something to grab as he goes to investigate. As he picks up the bat he feels a little silly, what if it’s just the neighbors cat again? But what if there really is a threat, what if someone is breaking into his house. He’s lived in the small apartment that backs onto an under-used alley for almost four months. He left his previous home after a theft, and the experience has put him a little on edge. This is the second time Albert has woken this way in this week. He wishes he had some kind of security system for peace of mind, but he is broke and his land lords don’t want to split the cost. Also, who knows how long he’ll be able to stay here until he moves again.

What if in another scenario the character has a security system, but takes it for granted and doesn’t bother to set it every night.

Or, what if they felt it was unnecessary to have a security system, and that their neighborhood was safe enough. Maybe if they were paying for one as a utility they would resent having to pay for a service they didn’t feel they needed. What if their landlord wanted the system more than the tenant, to protect the landlord’s property.

Ethnography: we should focus on not being afraid to focus on the way of life of a particular people. Include the physical and social features of a place. Notice the features of the place that are required to adequately recognize the details of the thing we are studying. ex/ if the weather is at all related to the thing we are studying, it is relevant to the situation.

hat kinds of places related to our design situation give meaning to the situations we encounter in everyday life.

Ethnographies of infrastructure. Infrastructure in (Star, 2002) are essentially lash-ups, “the boring things” = the stuff that is so boring that we take it for granted. By turning our attention to the boring, why it is kept boring, we can begin to look behind the scenes of how design situations are structured. There is human work that goes into making sure we don’t have to pay attention to it.

Path dependency and lock-in. Ex/ why do we still use the QWERTY keyboard though we no longer use typewriters that required the QWERTY solution? Because it’s easier not to change, not to disrupt path dependency. Similar to Skeuomorphism but not quite, because the keyboard still does have a very distinct function, it is not simply decorative. Path dependency has more to do with why we approach using an object of design in a specific way.


Breaching experiments: messing with the order that structures social order. Ex/ questioning any implied meaning “how is your girlfriend feeling” “do you mean physical or mental”. One experiment was to pretend they were foreign somewhere, or to pretend to not know how to pay for something at a store. By questioning everything, people get annoyed because you are disrupting agreed upon conventions for social interactions.

Fred: “Ethnography on steroids” making experiments break down rather than waiting and observing the natural order of things. Ethnomoethodology can be a strategy for exposing lash-ups.

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