Design Ethnography

This masterclass builds upon and continues a strong trajectory of masterclasses at ECSCW that have focused upon the use of ethnography and qualitative methods in the context of design (cf. previous masterclasses and tutorials conducted by Dave Randall and Mark Rouncefield almost since the very beginning of ECSCW).

The masterclass will begin by working from the premise that there is a range of observational strategies that might be adopted to examine various aspects of human practice for the purposes of design. The class will start off by looking at how the interest in understanding human practice first arose in systems design, notably at Xerox PARC and the Centre for CSCW at Lancaster University. It will also briefly look at the sociological and anthropological origins being drawn upon within design when engaging in studies of human practice, especially in so much as these have resonated on into existing approaches to ethnography. The central part of the class will examine and discuss some of the principal approaches to observing what people do that have become a part of the HCI and CSCW landscape. It will also assess the various pros and cons that might be seen to attach to these various approaches and invite discussion of what these approaches might ‘mean’ for the would-be ethnographer. The third part of the class will examine practical approaches to conducting design ethnography on the ground and will draw upon the presenter’s personal experience to explicate what it takes to do ethnography for systems design in detail. The final part of the class will discuss the presentation of study outcomes in ways that are relevant for design, again drawing upon the organiser’s own background in having to do this to serve a variety of disparate interests.

This will be a half-day masterclass that will be divided into four core sections:

  • The antecedents of ethnographic approaches in design
  • Alternative ways of approaching observations of human practice for design
  • The application and pursuit of ethnographic approaches on the ground
  • The articulation of findings for design

At the conclusion of each section there will be time devoted to Q & A for attendees to discuss certain elements in more detail.

Organiser: Peter Tolmie

Peter Tolmie has worked as an ethnographer and ethnomethodologist on numerous CSCW and HCI-related projects since 1997. He started his career at the Centre for CSCW at Lancaster University, before being recruited to work as a Research Scientist at Xerox Research Centre Europe’s Cambridge laboratory in 2000. He has therefore been closely involved in the development of ethnographic approaches in the CSCW community and is considered one of the senior figures in the field. He moved to XRCE’s sister laboratory in Grenoble in 2002, where he became Area Manager of the centre’s Work Practice Technology Group before becoming a freelance consultant in 2006, working on projects in both academia and industry. He became a Senior Research Fellow in the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham in 2010 and moved to the University of Siegen in April 2017, where he is now Principal Research Scientist in the Information Systems and New Media group.

He has conducted a wide range of ethnographic studies for design across numerous domains over the years, including: small businesses; home environments; gaming and mobile-based artistic experiences; musical performance and music production; secretarial work; outdoor leisure pursuits; museums and galleries; the TV and film industries; bid management; healthcare professionals treating breast cancer; and journalism. He has also been published widely in both journals and conferences in the domains of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Ubiquitous Computing and Human-Computer Interaction, is the author and co-author of a number of books that explore the relationship between ethnographic work and design, and is an active reviewer for many of the major computing conferences and journals and regularly serves as an associate and sub-committee chair.