As I described in one of my previous blogs, I am part of an inter-disciplinary research team at Fresno State University. Our team is comprised of three computer engineering students, a business student, and myself, an anthropology student. As part of their senior project, the engineers are developing a proto-type piece of technology. Our team is developing a voice-activated remote control and part of our research efforts are focusing on how to differentiate our product to make it more desirable and user-friendly than those already on the market.
As part of my research for the project, I’ve done participant observation with three different research subjects, observing remote control use. When I first began the project, remote control use seemed like something that was so very basic and mundane. I did not know what to expect because this was my first time doing this type of research. All of my previous research was conducted in public spheres. I was nervous about entering these individual’s homes, and wondered whether my observations could produce any useful data that would benefit the team’s project. However, I decided that the best way to go about it was to just jump right into it with the goal of observing the activity and environment as if it were the first time I had witnessed anything like it.
Currently I’ve completed three of the five planned observations and I have been pleasantly surprised at the results. Since I went into the environment not knowing what to expect and deciding on just writing every detail I could observe, each observation session actually ended up resulting in data that inspired new ideas for our team to research regarding product design, capability, and service. During the initial observation session I left with the research subject a design activity in which they used various shapes put together with Velcro in order to represent their ideal remote control design. This activity ended up creating valuable discussion with each of the research subjects which also inspired ideas for our product design. For example, after each of the subjects created their remote control designs they proceeded to explain each part of their design and its function. All three research subjects described their designs as simple, despite the fact that all three varied greatly in the number of functions and in the technological complexity that would accompany a true proto-type of their design. Using these three research subjects as examples, we were able to get a small glimpse of the vast amount of differences that product users might have.
While the project is still on-going and there is much work to be done, I believe that the experience of doing this type of observation in a more intimate setting (an individual’s home) has given me more confidence in doing this type of research. It will be interesting to see what further research will inspire.