1. Scientific Research

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

The research group

The group consisted of a group of 6 students who together was asked to identify a transition space and thereafter split into two sub-ggroups. Before doing so, we where also asked to discuss the methods which we where going to use in each sub-group — this was done so that there was a range of methods used. In this way we could see the groups’ different takes on the space through the usage of different methods.

My sub-group consisted of four people; myself, Huang Deng, Charles Denton and Jhilika Kumar.

Choosing space and methods

Before meeting with the group of 6 students I used book ”Universal Methods of Design” (Martin & Hanington, 2012) to try to find methods that would fit in to the description of traditional scientific methods. I found the task quite hard, due to the inclusive methods used in the book. In the case of this assignment it was bad news for me, but in general it is something to celebrate of course.

Images from initial notes on methods

I chose to suggest the methods ”Grafitti Wall”, a distant version of ”Participant Observation” and ”Observation” to the group. I chose the methods based on what I found most distancing the researcher from involvement with the research objects the most, but that at the same time allowed for systematic recording of the environment, people, behaviors, objects and events.

When the large group of 6 students met we started by discussing three spaces of interest; (1) Starbucks Coffeshop on the Georgia Tech Campus, (2) space within elevators or space around elevators and (3) Mural walls. The two latter where my ideas. The idea around the murals was connected directly to a the Outerspace Project 2018 where murals where being created all over Atlanta by artists. I was interested in seeing how people interacted and/or behaved around the creation of these walls. I also found it interesting to look at older murals in the city to see movements around these. The idea of the murals was voted down by the group due to its time constraints. The elevator and Starbucks idea where then looked at in more detail. We chose to go with Starbucks since we found the cons on the elevator space to be to great (invading space of others, not being able to record or document movements, affecting the people within the space too much etc.)

Large whiteboard with space pros and cons.

After choosing our transitional space; the Starbucks coffee shop at campus (a transitional space for students and their various motivations for entering that space) we went on to deciding which methods to use. Some of the students pitched their suggested methods and from deciding on the first ones we preferred working on, groups emerged. The following image shows the suggested methods.

Methods used in the Scientific Research

a) Participatory Observation and Observation

My sub-group decided to go with the Marginal Participatory Observation where we blended in with the environment ”as a natural observer of an activity” (Martin & Hanington, 2012: p. 124).

The method allowed for us to put ourselves in the same environment we where about to do research on. Experiencing the space helped us immerse ourselves with the environment (sounds, interior design, furniture etc) while doing the research.

The Observation method, similar to Participatory Observation allowed us as researchers to attentively look at the objects within our space, people, their behaviours, design of objects such as tables and chairs etc.

Through our observing we had systematic observation data of the space and objects and people within in. As we did the research, a theme of multitasking appeared to us which we decided to further investigate by focusing our methods to it.

b) Behavioral Mapping Sheet showing the behavioral mapping.

As the project’s focus got shifted and multitasking became a central focus, some of the group members suggested a shift also in methods. As the initial idea of Graffiti Wall (set up for people to write down their thoughts on the space) was shown to be ineffective (the staff would not let us have it set up in the space), we started doing a systematic mapping of behaviors connected to specific sections of the space. We marked out the sections with numbers and divided these amongst ourselves to observe. Each group member observed a person by a specific table in a section for 10 minutes which resulted in the following mapping of behaviors.

Result of behavioral mapping

The results of the detailed mapping showed us an overview over the tasks of each table and person under observation. This in combination with the ergonmic analysis gives us further investigation points; for instace does the fact that some tables size are smaller than others have an impact on the results of acitivities?Overview of digital post-its showing result of behavioral mapping.

c) Ergonomic Analysis

As part of the result of the observational analysis, Ergonomic Analysis became a building block to understanding the space of our research. The various seating designs and arrangements was recorded and presented according to the image below.

2.3.1 Initial floor sketch

Space and numbered tables.
1 – 2: High bar tables with 4 seats
3 – 4: Low tables with 1 seat
5 – 7: Low tables with 2 seats
8: A long table with 12 seats
9 – 13: Low tables with 2 seats
14 -17: Low tables with 1 armchair each

Conclusion – Scientific Research

It is  quite evident how the use of the scientific methods can be used in ones advantage  within any project. With an openness and systematic tools of observation and recording I would indeed use these methods for instance to get basic information about for instance a space of reserach. I would of course use the ”findings” to further go in to depth and invite the people within the space to test hypothesis lifted during my my initial research. This is what my group has done in the second part of the project where we use (ethnographic methods).

2. Ethnographic Research

Below you will find a walkthrough of the second section of the project; research rooted in the ethnographic tradition of the same tranistional spaces discussed above.

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.

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.

Choosing space and methods

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.

Methods used in the Ehtnographic Research

a) Contextual Inquiry and Interviews

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.

b) 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.

Conclusion – Ehtnographic Research

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.

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