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Title: Artful systems : investigating everyday practices of family life to inform the design of information technology for the home
Author: Swan, Laurel M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2725 588X
Awarding Body: Brunel University
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2010
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The research in this thesis was motivated by an interest in understanding the work and effort that goes into organising family homes, with the aim of informing the design of novel information technology for the home. It was undertaken to address a notable absence of in-depth research into domestic information and communication technology in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). To that end, this thesis presents an ethnographic study of everyday routines in thirteen family homes. Following an established tradition within HCI and CSCW, the study applies qualitative fieldwork methods as a means to investigate and interpret the empirical materials. Periods of extended observation and semi-structured interviews with the thirteen families over a three-year period form the basis of the empirical material. The materials are analysed using a hybrid perspective composed of a combination of influences from the study of material culture, to interaction analysis and ethnography. The hybrid analytical perspective draws out insights regarding the families’ mundane practices and the artfully devised solutions they use to organise daily life. Four household activities and artefacts are given specific focus: (i) household list making, (ii) the display qualities of refrigerator doors, (iii) the organisation of household clutter, and (iv) the devising of bespoke solutions in organising home life. Broader findings include the observations that people tailor solutions to meet their needs, that optimum efficiency is not the pre-eminent determinant in what method or artefact people choose to organise themselves and their homes, and that homes determine their individual characters in part by how everyday tasks and organisation are accomplished. In short, the personal qualities of these mundane practices are part of what makes a home a home. These findings are used to elicit implications for information technology design, with the aim of encouraging designers of domestic technology to be aware of and respectful towards the idiosyncratic nature of the home, and, wherever possible, to design in such a way as to allow the technology to be appropriated for families’ bespoke tailoring. To evaluate and address this point, two design projects, one on augmented magnets and another on a “media bowl”, are used to develop and test out this approach. Both projects are critically examined to reflect on the efficacy of the design approach and what lessons might be learnt for future studies and design exercises. The combination of detailed ethnographic fieldwork on family homes combined with the development of experimental design projects is intended to deepen the understanding of the mundane behaviours and everyday routines of family homes, in order to better inform the design of information technology for the home.
Supervisor: Perry, M.; Love, S. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ethnographic study of domestic practices ; Mundane domestic routines