"The science of ethnography is an ideal tool to designing mobile phones"
People often confuse what they want with what they need when it comes to consumer products. Manufacturers try to collect this information through interviews, but observing users’ behavior in their natural environment can provide better insights. The science of ethnography can be an ideal tool to learn how teenagers use mobile phones and to help shape designs to cater to them.
Last year, a team of researchers went to a sixth-form college in England and for five months observed the way a group of students used their mobile phones. The researchers used these observations, along with periodic interviews, to come up with a concept for a 3G mobile phone that addressed their findings.
The researchers came to the conclusion that mobile phones were not only used as tools for transmitting and receiving information, but were also used as tools to establish and maintain the status of social networks. Mobiles facilitated the “obligations of exchange.” In particular, students have a social contract with each other to give and accept “gifts” in the form of text messages. The gift’s value is derived in part from the message’s content, but it also comes from the fact that the gift was given at all, regardless of its content.