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    Designer as Ethnographer: A Study of Domestic Cooking and Heating Product Design for Irish Older Adults

    White, P. J. (2012) Designer as Ethnographer: A Study of Domestic Cooking and Heating Product Design for Irish Older Adults. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    In many ways, the design of domestic cooking and heating products reflects the zeitgeist of Irish culture throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. From domesticity to materialism, these products have evolved to meet fundamental human needs within the home. Concurrent with this, the methods and processes designers use to create domestic artefacts have evolved and changed. The emergence of Design Ethnography illustrates an evolution where Design has appropriated an established method of Anthropology for its own particular objectives. However, the integrity of the ethnography practised by designers has been criticised by many, e.g. Dourish questions whether it creates forms of “discount ethnography” (2006, p.548). The designer ethnographer has different objectives to the anthropologist and the particular principles, methods, and understanding of design ethnography have not been fully elucidated for use by professional designers. Bichard and Gheerawo observe “…if anthropologists and ethnographers appear to be becoming designers as such, then perhaps designers should allow themselves to reflect on their ‘field’ and ‘work’ more as anthropologists and ethnographers”(2011, p.55). The identification and construction of a design ethnography, epistemology, and methodology that is distinct from, while respectful of that of anthropology, is required. Design ethnography has been heralded for its ability to investigate future complex issues for humanity, and to produce powerful, democratising, and radical effects (Plowman, 2003). Meeting the demands of a growing older population will be one of these future complexities. Ireland is rapidly becoming an ageing society with its population living longer in ill health (McGill, 2010). 89% of older Irish people would prefer to live at home rather than in institutional care (McGee et al., 2005). Therefore developing healthy environments in which they grow old must be a priority. Particular attention must be given to the design of domestic products that provide older people with basic daily requirements. Domestic cooking and heating products offer basic health and wellbeing needs in the form of nutrition and heat. Prior to designing these products a deep understanding of older people’s needs must be determined. To achieve this, empathy and sensitivity are essential (Newell et al., 2010). Comprehensive field studies such as ethnographies are important in gaining understanding and eliciting true user insights (Seidel, 2009, Newell et al., 2010) This thesis contributes to two domains. Firstly, it identifies and develops an understanding of the essence of design ethnography, and a process by which designers can harness ethnographic methods for the purposes of design practice. Secondly, it provides an example of a designer ethnographic approach to product design for older people, producing insights and product design requirements for cooking and heating products. The research involved design ethnographic fieldwork over twelve months within the homes of forty older adult participants across Ireland and from various socio-economic groups. Personas, design requirements, and concepts were produced, which allowed the researcher to reflect on the role of design ethnographer and inform future practice. Insights into product requirement were deep and far reaching, revealing important and diverse health and wellbeing needs to be addressed for older people in domestic products. A methods and process framework is formulated for conducting future design ethnography, from fieldwork and data analysis to design practice.

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
    Keywords: Designer; Ethnographer; Domestic Cooking; Heating Product; Irish Older Adults;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Business
    Item ID: 4740
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2014 15:05
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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