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Observation Assignment

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The goal of this assignment is to develop the habit of detailed observation of what people physically do when they use the kinds of technologies we're developing. In order to develop good physical interfaces, you need to know how people use existing ones. Do learn this, it helps to observe carefully, and to limit your assumptions as to what the person's intentions are while you're observing.

Counting Daily Uses

To begin with, take a one-hour hour walk or ride around the city. Try to travel as far as you can from your start and get back in an hour, this will give more variety. Take note of every time you see a person using a digital device. This could be anything from buying and using a Metrocard on the subway to playing video games in an arcade to making cell phone calls to using an ATM to swiping an ID at the gym. With each action you note, take note of:

  • location and time of day
  • apparent intent of the actor
  • time taken for the action
  • number of people involved
  • motor skills needed (hands, legs, seeing, hearing, etc)

Collect your notes on your blog. Do this in pairs, with one person observing and the other keeping notes. Alternate roles as well.

The goal of this stage is to notice how many everyday technology interactions we experience that we're largely unconscious of, and what it takes to do them. In many cases, the success of these transactions depends on the lack of attention we have to pay to completing them. The goal of most of these moments is not to use a technology, but to reach some other goal.


We will discuss these observations in class. Be prepared to be called on. Regardless of whether you're called on in class or not, make sure your notes are online for your classmates and instructor to read and discuss.

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