2.4 Simonsen, J. and F. Kensing (1998): "Make Room for Ethnography in Design", ACM-SIGDOC Journal of Computer Documentation, Vol. 22, No. 1, February, pp. 20-30.

The article is a commentary to an article by Gail Bader and James M. Nyce: "When Only the Self Is Real: Theory and Practice in the Development Community" (printed in the same issue of ACM-SIGDOC Journal of Computer Documentation, pp. 5-10).


Cultural analysis, especially in its ethnographic form/variant, has been applied for some years now within the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), the Human Computer Interaction (HCI), and the Participatory Design (PD) communities. These communities attract academics and practitioners, who are concerned about the use-quality of computer based systems. Never the less, Bader and Nyce argue that cultural analysis "will probably not play a significant role in the development process at the least as it is presently defined." We argue that since the design and use of technology is socially constructed, cultural analysis will only play a role if its proponents strive to make room for it. The argument builds on our own experiences, being computer scientists who have integrated an ethnographic style of working with the design of computer based systems, and on the experiences of colleagues within the above mentioned communities. Some of us have gained our experience from projects in private and public organizations, and those of us also working in academia have included ethnographic techniques in our teaching. Such initiatives represent alternatives neglected by Bader and Nyce, whose assumptions seem to be that the role of cultural analysis is limited to assessments of a development process, to enlarging our understanding of the social nature of development and use, or to providing feedback to developers. We argue that ethnography can play a more proactive role within design.