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Mobile Community Design
Research and design information for mobile community developers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bodystorming and brainstorming

This paper explores the usage of a technique called bodystorming for assisting in concept development for ubicomp systems. They begin with an interesting discussion of context. Researchers first looked for universal context attributes, but this was not very helpful. "Today, however, many researchers would agree that a more worthwhile approach is to determine the contextual attributes for each application individually."

They discuss a variety of user-centred models which they indicate have three stages: 1) observation 2) documentation 3) design. They indicate that many of these methods are time-consuming and complex and still manage to provide innacurate descriptions of context or requirements. They introduce 'bodystorming', which is a brainstorming session done in situ. It can also be thought of as contextual brainstorming. This paper presents it as being a tool used by designers and industry partners to formulate new product ideas. The in situ sessions try to solve a 'design problem' which has been formulated from previous work with users. The ideas generated in-situ are then reviewed in a design session, often back in a more stable environment. Sometimes props or acting are used to envision scenarios in-situ.

While I greatly sympathise with the desire to do studies in natural environments, this method does not use real users. One of their 'design problem' descriptions discussed an elderly woman needing to remember product ingredients she was allergic to while examining lables on products. The design question formulated was "How could technology help elderly people in remembering product information?" Two questions come to mind: 1) Will 30-something male designers and industry executives be able to know the needs of an elderly woman? 2) Does she really want to remember this information, or does she simply want to determine if the product is safe for her? Thus, this method is not particularly user-centred, it is environmentally-centred. It also uses design questions with inherent bias, which should probably be iterated extensively with users to determine if they are accurate or need reformulation. The intentions for the method are good, but it would have be used with other methods to counteract its weaknesses.

The study does present an interesting taxonomy of how activities or locations are innaccessible:
- physically: some locations are private
- cognitively: requiring long involvement to be understood
- socially: where observing changes behaviour

Oulasvirta, A., Kurvinen, E., & Kankainen, T. (2003). Understanding contexts by being there: case studies in bodystorming. Personal Ubiquitous Comput., 7(2), 125-134.
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