Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making technology fit users

Ethnographic studies and NFL coaches ...

"When Lovie Smith calls in plays from the sidelines during Bears' games, the television cameras showcase that he converses through a Motorola headset.

Motorola pays a fee for the right to furnish National Football League coaches with headsets, so it is critical that the equipment not only functions well, but also looks comfortable to the millions of viewers watching at home.

The practice of ethnography was written into Motorola's game plan to achieve those objectives.

Ethnography is a field of anthropology that studies human activities and interactions through rigorous fieldwork. When Motorola was developing prototypes for the headset, it engaged the product design firm Herbst LaZar Bell in Chicago and its ethnographers to study how coaches were using and responding to the new technology.

"There was a ton of ethnographic research where our firm went to NFL games and hung out with the coaches," said Martha Cotton, vice president of research for HLB, which also has offices in Boston and Los Angeles.

Cotton, who joined HLB a year ago, is a veteran in the growing field and has led ethnographic research projects for clients including Yahoo!, Nokia and eBay.

While applying ethnographic research to the workplace dates back to the factory floors of the 1920s, corporations began spending real money on this approach about a decade ago.

... "Technology is an enabler that allows people to do what they need to do, but you need to look at behavior first," she said, recalling the companies that spent millions of dollars on failed Web sites that emphasized gadgetry more than guidance during the first wave of the Internet boom. "I counsel my clients not to assume that technology equals innovation."    (Continued via Chicago Sun Times)    [Usability Resources]

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