1. Overview

In a project dedicated to researching transitional spaces through three lenses, we where asked to study a chosen space through (1) scientific and(2) ethnographic methods. Below you will find a walkthrough of the second section of the project; research rooted in the ethnographic tradition.

In contrary to the first section of the project where the goal was to deconstruct the transitional space into objective observable characteristics, the goal in this section was to bring light to us as researchers and the interrelationship between us and our objects of observation. This means that we broke the distance to our research objects, inviting them to tell their own thoughts of the space.

1.1 The reserach group

The research group consisted of the same sub-group created in the first section of the project; myself, Huang Deng, Charles Denton and Jhilika Kumar.

1.2 Choosing space and methods

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The project was built in such a way that prompted for us to use the same space as the first section, this means that we used the same transitional space (Starbucks). This time however, we had two instances of transitions. One was the transitional space of the line (from waiting to ordering) and the second the seated people whose transitions where connected to their shifting between tasks (multi-tasking).

For choosing of methods, we turned once again to the book ”Universal methods of design: 100 ways to research complex problems, develop innovative ideas, and design effective solutions” (Hanington & Martin, 2012). We documented all suggested methods in a Google Drive folder which also contained detailed information about each method. This allowed for us to see the characteristics of the methods as we went on with our discussion on which three to choose.

The methods we chose in the end where ”Contextual Inquiry”, ”Participant Observation”, and ”Interviews”. We chose these based on what was feasible in the context of waiting line and the scope (timeline) of the project. It is worth to mention that many of methods on our list where similar, interlinked or had pieces of each other within each-other. Our choice was to choose the methods that would give as much information as possible to us from several angles of the space.

2.Methods used

2.1 Contextual Inquiry and Interviews

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Contextual inquiry was used with great success to observe the space as a whole (line and it’s surroundings as well as the people in it) to bring out important characteristics as well as showing underlying (sometimes invisible) structures.

Me and another group member observed people in line while making notes of their environment (sounds, people, interior objects) as well as their own behavior (gaze, movements, apparels etc). We carefully communicated the people we had observed with the our other team members who would approach and interview the same people at the end of the line (while they where waiting for their order).

The interview questions had been written down in advance and where always addressed in the same way in order to keep the frames for the questioning the same for all participant. They where semi-structured and allowed for flexible detours in conversation.

The questions asked where:

  1. Are you an undergrad/master’s/ Ph.D. student?
  2. Which department are you from?
  3. Why are you at Starbucks?
  4. Where are you coming from? Where are you going?
  5. How often do you visit Starbucks?
  6. Are you planning on staying at Starbucks? For what purpose? Approx. how long?
  7. Do you have a class/work nearby?
  8. Do you have tests this week? How does a trip to Starbucks fit into your schedule?

All observations where written down in detail and saved on our Google Drive which we could quickly and check to see if we where all on the same page with the research objects.

2.2 Marginal Participant Observation

We did a marginal participant observation on visitors seated in direct connection to us. The different seating arrangements where since earlier documented in our ergonomic analysis and used as a base for us to spread out and observe based on position of the observed. Each group member observed a person for 15 minutes and took detailed notes on activities, surroundings etc.

3. Conclusion

Screenshot of all result documents in Google Drive.Ethnographic methods proved themselves to be quite detailed and broad when used as observational methods, with the use of interviews they became even more comprehensive and interesting.

All methods where documented with codes to show who was observed etc. so that we later could discuss and analyze the data. For instance, as we where going through our material we read results from each method out-loud as the others in the group compared the notes on the other method results to see if there where any interesting insights. The parts that stood out to us, for instance where the observation and interview of same person showed contradicting information was highlighted as data for future investigation.

There is a broader scope on the research compared to the scientific research — showing that research is complex and can’t really be measured only in numbers for conclusion making. We have a base of further knowledge of the space now for further ingestigation for next stage of our research using our research  to create a problem framing and eventually suggesting improvement of the transitional space.

References
Hanington, B., & Martin, B. (2012). Universal methods of design: 100 ways to research complex problems, develop innovative ideas, and design effective solutions. Rockport Publishers.