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I543 Interaction Design Methods Spring 2014

The Stories of Mundane Technologies Kerri Zhang

Diary studies Subject’s background information: C. Male, 23, undergraduate student Chosen artifact: Water cooker Description of the artifact: It's a silver cookers and the bottom part is pitch black. I bought it at the Kijkshop because my old water cooker was broken. I use it when I want to make coffee or tea for myself which is at least two times a day. I also use it if I need boiled water quickly.

Event-contingent protocol Subject reports each time he uses the water cooker.

Day 1 Time

Why did you want to use it just now?

7.44 PM, 13th of Feb 2014

I wanted to make some coffee because I was feeling sleepy and a little bit thirsty.


What did you do with it? Tired What happened? I was feeling a little bit tired after reading through my material from school and I was yawning a lot, so I decided I could use some coffee. I guess I was also looking for an excuse to just stop with my school work for a little bit and do something else.

I first filled the water cooker with some water until it was at half of its capacity and I turned it on. After I turned it on I prepared my cup and coffee. The water wasn't done yet so I decided to make something to snack too. After I finished making my sandwich I looked at the red light to see if it was turned off. It was turned off and this indicated to me that the water was cooked. I poured the water into my cup and I was able to enjoy my delicious cup of hot coffee. Felt anything different this time? I had a little bit of a problem with pouring the water in the cup and it spilled next to it. I think it is a little bit broken near the top. I'm not really sure though and I can't be bothered to test it so I will wait to find that out the next time I use my water cooker. I have to say that this problem has happened before this day too.

Day 2 Time

Why did you want to use it just now?

7.20 PM, 14th of Feb 2014

I was feeling hungry after walking my dog so I decided to have a quick snack. Since it was already late in the evening I decided I didn't want anything too big and that something small would suffice. I looked through my refrigerator and there wasn't anything in there that I had an appetite for. I realized I still had some noodles left in the cupboard so I decided I would eat some noodles.

Mood Enthusiastic What happened? I was feeling hungry because I didn't eat enough during dinner and I ran a little bit with my dog. Enthusiastic because my present got delivered to my girlfriend and I received notice of that from UPS and I couldn't wait for her to check it out when she got home. This all happened while I was in my room and taking off my coat (the coat was on because I just came in from walking my dog)

What did you do with it? First I grabbed my water cooker and poured the water in until it was at around 1/4th of the capacity. I put it back on the electrical part and turned it on. Afterwards I got my noodles and I prepared them. I waited until the cooker gave me the "tkk" sound that implies it is ready and I poured the hot water into my cup of noodles. I stirred my noodles and waited a while before I finally began eating them. Felt anything different this time? Well, unlike yesterday I was able to pour the water in the cup without actually spilling the water. I feel good about that because that means I don't have to buy a new water cooker. I am still doubting if it has something to do with the quantity of water that I put in it or that I just operated the water cooker in a bad way yesterday. Once again I don't really care about it that much to actually investigate further and I just continued my day.

Day 3 Time

Why did you want to use it just now?

9.30 PM, 15th of Feb 2014 Mood

I was really thirsty and I was under the opinion that I already drank too much soda today. I was looking through my refrigerator to see what else I could drink and then I suddenly remembered that I got some very delicious tea as a gift from my girlfriend’s mom so I decided to just drink that.

Neutral, not particularly feeling anything

What did you do with it?

What happened?

As usual I grabbed my water cooker and I poured the water in until it was at around 1/4th of the capacity. Normally I put in more water if I plan on making a hot drink, but I remembered that I didn't spill my water yesterday when it was at 1/4th of its capacity. Anyway, I turned the water cooker on and I went on to find the box of teabags and to get myself the cup that I left in my room. I came back to the kitchen and I could hear from the sound that it was almost done cooking. I waited a little bit for the specific sound that implies that it is done and I poured the water into my cup with the tea bag.

I was sitting behind my computer talking to some friends on Skype about our plans for tomorrow and I suddenly realized that I was thirsty. Also, I was feeling a little bit cold because I came in 15 minutes ago from taking my dog out for a late walk.

Felt anything different this time? I feel kind of good because once again I didn't spill the water like 2 days ago. Also I decided to look at my water cooker better now and I didn't see anything that is broken on the outside. I figure the spilling of the water had something to do with the way I poured it 2 days ago.

User profile •

From the three-day diaries, I took a guess that the subject likes to stay up late because he either has coffee/tea or noodles/snack at night, which means he won’t go sleep soon. This lifestyle was confirmed through the following interview.

The subject doesn’t plan much. He would rather be in the situation, check out what he has in hand then make the decision. He mentioned in two days that he wanted to eat/drink something but he didn’t really plan to have something specific. He would decide after he went to the kitchen and went through the refrigerator first. This habit on some level indicates that he embraces ad hoc.

The subject adapts himself to changing circumstances. He adjusts the strategy to use his water cooker. He usually puts more water than he actually needs in the water cooker because he thinks the top is a little bit broken and he will spill some water. After he found out that he didn’t spill the water when he put ¼ of the capacity, he did the same the next time.

The subject likes to discover patterns. After he succeeded pouring the water out without spilling when he only put ¼ of the capacity of the water cooker, he concluded that spilling of the water maybe have something to do with the way he poured it.

He likes dogs.

Artifact profile Types of artifacts

Artifacts as mediation

I listed the artifacts the subject mentioned in three categories:

In the kitchen(same place as water cooker): Water, cup, coffee, sandwich, refrigerator, noodles, tea, teabag •

Out of kitchen: School material, coat, computer

Pet: Dog (I don’t consider him as an artifact, but he is a big part of the subject’s everyday life.)

Human beings mediate their activity by artifacts (Bannon & Bødker, 1991). The artifacts have no meaning in isolation. They are given meaning when they are used in praxis. In this particular case, the water cooker itself doesn’t do anything until the subject needs it at a specific situation. And because of this water cooker’s own features, it decides a particular way in which the subject uses it, such as he has to pour ¼ of the capacity or else he will spill. The things in the kitchen establish the ecosystem of the water cooker in use. They have influence on what kind of lifestyle the subject has and what interruptions that subject will have while he is using the water cooker (like making a sandwich). People are always multitasking. Cooking water is no exception. Other artifacts constitute part of the subject’s everyday life and mediate it in their own ways too. They motivate the subject to use the water cooker. For example, school material makes the subject want a cup of coffee. So he needs to use the water cooker.

Mundane technologies Mundane technologies mentioned C (the subject) focuses on water cooker in his kitchen for the diary studies this time. And in his diaries, he mentioned other mundane technologies such as refrigerator. How to support her/his routines? C usually makes tea/coffee at least twice a day. This water cooker is an essential tool in this activity. He may need hot water for different reasons and the product of the hot water later change the situation of him consequently. For example, he uses water cooker to make hot water for noodles and noodles alleviates his hunger. How does she/he maintain a sense of community through the interaction with mundane technologies? Are there ways that s/he maintains a sense of community without technology? In the diaries, the subject didn’t mention how he uses the water cooker to mediate the interaction among his family. Through interview, I gained extra information that he sometimes makes tea for his mother too. And when he cooks, he serves the whole family. The water cooker is very often used. Without the water cooker, he still can boil water on stove. But without technology, he can’t make hot water anymore. Consequently, he can’t cook or make tea for himself and his family. It’s hard to maintain this part of life. But family is always there. How are these ordinary technologies embedded in the environment? The water cooker is placed in the subject’s kitchen where other ordinary technologies like sandwich maker are placed too. They are put there because of their usage and the subject’s convenience. Most of the times, the subject needs to do something else in the kitchen while he is waiting for the water to be done. So all the tools he may need are mostly organized in the kitchen. The technology itself is hidden and the subject just needs to plug in, turn on the switch and wait for the signal.

Design implications Potential design implications of the next generation of mundane technologies in the context of Internet of Things that facilitate social action and interaction in home. • •

Mundane technology should support multitasking and make it easier. People always multitask especially when they are in the kitchen. Cooking hot water, making sandwich and baking cupcakes can happen at the same time. Currently, people still need to calculate the time themselves and make a better plan to use the least time to do the most errands. Therefore, design for multitasking and help people to schedule can be beneficial and useful. In the context of Internet of Things, artifacts in the kitchen can be connected and remotely controlled to provide an easier environment for people to perform.

• •

Self-awareness embedded in domestic design. Weaving technology into our everyday lives can be realized through embedding technology into ordinary objects. Many examples have been developed in which everyday objects are computerized to integrate them into specific computer supported tasks, including popular scenarios such as intelligent meal preparation with computerized kitchen gadgets (source: Hence, augmenting everyday objects and make them “smart’ is promising. Coffee machines knows when to make what kind of coffee for which person at home. Toaster pops bread out when its owner comes out of shower in the morning. Embedding self-awareness of everyday objects can save people’s time and energy and provide seamless experience in everyday lives.

Reflections • •

Participant recruitment. The quality of the results depends on the participants since the diary is bound to the expressive ability of the writer. This is especially true for a study with a lot of open-ended questions. You also have to achieve a high level of participant commitment to obtain sufficient and reliable diary entries (source: For this assignment, I first recruited an elder woman who works as a cook. She couldn’t be at her workplace every day so I couldn’t check her diary. At first I wanted to adjust the diary according to her response, but this idea failed eventually because she didn’t come to work on Saturday or respond to my texts/calls. I immediately recruited another participant after that. Backup plan is always necessary.

• •

Making subject to understand instructions. A diary study often requires detailed training sessions to ensure that participants fully understand what needs to be reported, how, and when. Still in the first participant’s case, I explained to her about mundane technology and what’s the purpose of diary studies. She was very willing to listen to me but didn’t understand well. Eventually, she decided to write about her computer. I felt really frustrating because I didn’t know if it was my explanation was weak. But things went better with the second participant.

• •

Don’t annoy your participant too much. It’s just from my personal experience. I kept thinking about why I lost contact with the first participant then I figured there’s a possibility that I annoyed her too much, appearing at her workplace every day and messaging her to check. So, find a balance is really important.

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