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

Friday, February 24, 2006

New MIS-2 Mobile Study Released

We have released a new report:

Axup, J., & Viller, S. (2006). Co-creating New Mobile Devices for Groups During Field Trips: MIS-2 Study, ITEE Technical Reports (No. 460). http://eprint.uq.edu.au/archive/00003610/

This is the second iteration of the MIS-1 study. The new study introduced mobile prototypes and more observers into the same study structure as used previously. The studies aim to understand the behaviour of the Australian backpacking community and investigate how to introduce new mobile technologies into existing social systems.

Here is the absract:
The second iteration of the Mobile Information Sharing studies (MIS-2) aimed to validate results from the previous study and to introduce mobile low-fidelity prototypes in a natural tourist activity. Seven foam prototypes with fictional functionality descriptions were carried and used by backpackers during the course of a tourist field trip. The trip consisted of walking through a city centre to a boat, taking a boat cruise, walking around an animal park and then taking the same journey back to their hostel. Backpackers added features and discussed these devices in a workshop. Variations to previous research methods included increased use of digital cameras and the use of three simultaneous observers for ethnographic observation. A repetition of the previous social pairing activity was conducted which explored different types of social ties with more participants.

Study results include a rich understanding of travel conversation, in-situ effects of mobile device usage, and verification of research methods. Subgroups of participants within the study didn’t communicate much between each other and provided an interesting case of backpackers failing to connect even though they desired to. A field trip representing a typical tourist activity produced a number of situations where mobile device features were requested by participants. The social pairing activity produced some useful information for participants and provided design recommendations for social pairing systems. 11 design requirements for mobile travel devices were generated from observations and discussions with backpackers. Additional analysis produced 23 proposed product features. Recommendations have been made for improvements to the study design and methods for future mobile group research.

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.