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The problem of using naturalistic studies to inform design: Activity theory as a means to bridge the divide between a study of teenage mobile phone users & design.

Taylor, Alex S. (2003) The problem of using naturalistic studies to inform design: Activity theory as a means to bridge the divide between a study of teenage mobile phone users & design. Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey (United Kingdom)..

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This thesis addresses the problem of using qualitative descriptions produced from naturalistic field studies to inform the design of interactive technologies. Specifically, it describes the use of a conceptual framework conceived to bridge the divide between naturalistic field studies and design. The presented framework is based on activity theory and its foundations in cultural historical psychology. The thesis begins with an overview of the trend amongst researchers and practitioners to use naturalistic studies in the human-computer interaction and computer-supported collaborative work design fields. It focuses on the use of such studies in mobile device design. In doing so, it outlines the problems faced in drawing on the naturalistic descriptions produced from fieldwork studies to inform design. From a review of existing design approaches, activity theory is shown to offer several characteristics that may be useful in modelling naturalistic descriptions for the purposes of design. The thesis describes the theoretical underpinnings of activity theory and its relationship to design. This is followed by a closer inspection of the activity theory framework. It is revealed that the framework lacks a systematic means to incorporate naturalistic descriptions. An expanded conception of the framework is thus described that draws on some elements of ethnomethodology to orient naturalistic descriptions so that they are commensurate to activity theory's nomenclature. As a proof of principle, the application of the expanded framework is undertaken using the results from an empirical investigation of teenagers and their use of mobile telephones. Two interpretations of the fieldwork data are presented; one indicates that teenagers use their mobile phones to participate in the social practices of exchange and the second views the use of phones as contributing to localised forms of subversion. Both interpretations are modelled using the framework and subsequently used to outline a number of design implications. To conclude, the thesis summarises the overall success of the expanded activity theory framework. It is suggested the framework has sufficient means to model naturalistic descriptions but in practical terms it is likely to be overly demanding. It is argued that the need to adhere to the overarching theoretical framework is impractical in workaday design. An alternative toolbox approach is proposed that is able to draw upon some of the methods made available in activity theory. An argument is also put forward to draw on more general forms of sociological inquiry for the purposes of design.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions : Theses
Authors :
Taylor, Alex S.
Date : 2003
Contributors :
Depositing User : EPrints Services
Date Deposited : 09 Nov 2017 12:18
Last Modified : 20 Jun 2018 11:52

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