20 October 2011

Google’s ethnographic studies on device use

Be the first to share

Matias Duarte
In a long interview, Matias Duarte, Android’s head of user experience, explains how Google conducted deep user ethnographic studies to understand how people were using their smartphones and other devices.

What is the soul of the new machine?

This isn’t a design or product question. It’s a philosophical question. What is this thing? What is it supposed to do? How will it do it? How do we get there? […]

This question sparked deep user studies at Google on mobile phone use, what Matias described as “Serious baseline ethnographic research which hadn’t happened before.” He tells me that the company spent a great deal of time and effort watching how and why regular people used their smartphones. Not just Android phones, but all smartphones. The company even had employees “shadow” users, visiting them at their homes and workplaces to watch how they interacted with their devices. Matias wouldn’t share numbers, but intimated that the study was a significant undertaking.

“A lot of what we found confirmed what I thought for years. At Danger, we had this idea that smartphones were not for a certain kind of person. They were for everyone. Smartphones were the way phones were supposed to be.”

“What we heard from everyone we talked to in the study was that they love these things [smartphones], they are a part of their lives. They’re incredibly passionate about them. They can’t live without them. That was awesome. But we also heard a lot of things we didn’t like to hear.”

“With Android, people were not responding emotionally, they weren’t forming emotional relationships with the product. They needed it, but they didn’t necessarily love it.”

Matias says that the studies showed that users felt empowered by their devices, but often found Android phones overly complex. That they needed to invest more time in learning the phones, more time in becoming an expert. The phones also made users feel more aware of their limitations — they knew there was more they could do with the device, but couldn’t figure out how to unlock that power.

Read interview

(summary article)

Be the first to share
26 November 2015
50 important customer experience stats for business leaders
Esteban Kolsky is a customer strategist, researcher, keynote speaker, and a consultant (analyst for 15 years, 8 years with Gartner). He believes that research has become a commodity and value has shifted from discovery to …
26 November 2015
How Nissan’s using anthropology to make autonomous cars safe
What happens when robot cars meet complex social interaction, like head nods, horn honks, or even road rage? Dr. Melissa Cefkin "is here to teach autonomous cars how to behave". A design anthropologist based at …
26 November 2015
How brands design customer experiences of the future
In today’s digital age, consumers expect more from the business they support and the products they purchase. Consumers, Macala Wright writes, not only expect great brand experiences, they believe they’re entitled to them. This is …
11 November 2015
Blackphone 2 review: privacy and great usability
Guardian writer Samuel Gibbs writes that the second edition of the Blackphone by security and privacy company Silent Circle is a step up in usability and is surprisingly easy to set up and use, even …
10 November 2015
Why service design is luxury’s new battleground
Ana Andjelic writes in AdAge that most legacy luxury brands are failing at delivering service, especially online: The fact that most legacy luxury brands fail to successfully create and deliver service is unfortunate. The business of …
10 November 2015
For years, Apple followed user-centered design principles. Then something went wrong.
Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini are taking their gloves off and accuse Apple of abandoning the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, proper mapping, appropriate use of constraints, and, of course, the power to …
5 November 2015
Customer journey mapping is at the heart of digital transformation
Digital technologies such as analytics, mobility, social networks, cloud computing and the Internet of Things are making old ways of working redundant and forcing companies to transform. According to Raman Sapra, global head of Dell’s …
5 November 2015
[Conference] Design & The City, Amsterdam, April 2016
Design & The City explores citizen-centered design approaches for the smart city. Central theme is the role of design(ers) to create opportunities and practices for citizens, (social) entrepreneurs and policy makers towards more liveable, sustainable and …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

13 October 2015
Experientia report: Design for ageing gracefully

Design for Ageing Gracefully Rethinking Health and Wellness for the Elderly: Public Services Asian Insights & Design Innovation, DesignSingapore Council October 2015

29 September 2015
[Experientia book] Ethnography on elderly health and wellness

As we age, we increasingly depend on public services and the community for support. Well-designed public services can greatly affect the lives of the elderly and their experiences of healthcare. Experientia collaborated with DesignSingapore Council on understanding how the elderly interact with public services and how we can look towards improving their lives with design. […]

2 July 2015
Getting citizens involved in protecting fragile energy environments

A new project funded under the FP7 European Commission framework is getting citizens involved in testing new tools for reducing energy consumption during peak loads, in the hope that its pilot program will set the new state of the art for protecting locations with fragile electricity supplies. One of France’s most fragile regions The Provence-Alpes-Côte […]

5 May 2015
Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록 in Design 4 Disaster

Design 4 Disaster features an engaging illustrated safety manual for ship passengers, a personal project by Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록. After the Korean ferry accident last year, Yuluck (who is Korean) wanted to find a way to make safety manuals more interesting to read. He spent one year designing an interactive safety guide […]

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
See all articles