3. Framing the Research



That ‘tick, tick, tick’ has a bit of childhood to it, don’t you think? It’s like being at grandma’s house. It would be extremely annoying if I suddenly started to listen to it, but at the same time, it’s very cozy. There are some sounds where you think: “They’ll always be there. I’ll always notice it if it’s gone, but otherwise, I don’t hear it.” I notice it when it’s silent. (Tina, living in a semi-detached house in a rural area; our translation)


Within psychoacoustics and sound studies, soundscape research has mainly focused on investigating urban environments or workspaces. Even though people spend most of their time in their homes and have listening experiences specific to that environment, a gap for soundscape research in homes still exists. For interaction design research, developing a smart home has long been a focus. Typically, though, this research focuses on one particular type of media (a smart speaker system), and not the soundscape as a whole. The study by Oleksik et al. shows that a holistic approach can provide further insights into how practice and technology can fit together. To help the reader understand homes as assemblages of soundscapes, they map various categories of sounds according to how they are described, managed, and experienced – individually and socially. Our study aims to build upon this initial understanding of homes as soundscapes by including participants in developing new technologies and concepts.


Within interaction design, initial understanding of a problem is typically built on by developing new technological ideas and concepts that can support existing and new practices related to sounds in homes. Oleksik et al. conducted the concept development in the form of a workshop following the interviews with participating households. We suggest that another direction to take is to include participants in the following process and subsequent synthesis of the mapping of sounds. This leads us to the third research question: How can the soundwalk method be used in a study with the aim of engaging participants in the design of a specific type of technological intervention into their soundscape? To this aim, we offer two perspectives on soundwalks in design ethnography as a theoretical framework for enabling participants to reflect upon future situations in their homes: temporality and abduction.


3.1 Temporality

Sound is consciously experienced perpetually but also intermittently. Listening is a continuous activity, and users can engage with sounds through, for example, music-playing devices several times within a short period of time. With temporality providing the framework, we see that managing a soundscape occurs throughout a set of (inter)actions in which a person adapts sound to fit an environment or situation or adapts the situation to fit the soundscape. The temporal aspects of (inter)actions have, however, not attracted much attention within interaction design research until the last decade (Huang and Stolterman 2011). This research primarily reviews temporal patterns of isolated interactions users have with digital systems, whereas our concern involves a continuous experience since participants are always listening or making a choice to not listen.


Reflecting upon a soundscape, familiar or not, can be supported using the soundwalk method. However, the sounds encountered during the soundwalk might only be present during specific times of the day or even a year. This does not mean that a discussion about non-present sounds cannot be prompted. The opening quote of this section demonstrates that the narratives participants recount regarding immediate sounds often lead to (sonic) memories. These narratives assisted participants in later reflections as regards future technological interventions. Interaction design relies on the understanding that interactions are shaped by multiple temporal aspects, more than merely the speed of interaction. The temporal form is shaped at different levels, for example, at the individual level, when someone interacts with a design, or at a societal level, when individuals engage with each other through a design (Vallgårda, Winther, Mørch and Vizer 2015). Prompting an awareness of sounds and the articulation of sonic memories brings listeners in relationship with the soundscape at hand. In other words, there is a relationship between synchronous and asynchronous listening in that reflections on present sounds are coupled with previous experiences as well as expectations.

3.2 Sensemaking, Abduction and Design Synthesis

An abductive sensemaking and synthesis process typically takes place following the soundwalks. Researchers reflect on and structure gathered data to discover meaning in the form of opportunities and challenges. For a synthesis process to occur, the elements that will be considered need to be externalized, for example by writing them down or by drawing them. We suggest including participants in such an abductive process with the goal of discovering opportunities for designing soundscape interventions.

When compared to deductive and inductive logic, abductive logic is most effective in guiding researchers to the most likely explanation to a specific phenomenon (Kolko 2010). Within deductive research, a solution is offered within the theoretical premises, and correlated testing, of a study. For inductive research, arguments are formed from experiences and then structured to offer evidence that a theory is true. An abductive approach can be applied in design ethnography through identifying the opportunities and constraints of a problem context, prioritizing specific areas of and angles on the problem and, finally, connecting these areas and angles and defining patterns in the gathered data. First, the initial frame is defined. For our study, this included establishing current experiences of soundscapes in homes and defining how sounds and activities in these experiences are dependent on each other. Second, a reframing process takes place in which a designer introduces a change into the area of interest. This can be carried out as a provocation that challenges the current situation. To this end, different ways of presenting the gathered data affect which connections in the data can be formed. During this step, the data gathered from a soundwalk can be processed and presented in different ways. Consequently, a study should also include different strategies for articulating new patterns after, for example, introducing a new concept or idea for a piece of technology. This approach does not necessarily stipulate that designers and researchers should not perform further synthesis once engagement with participants has ended. Rather, we argue that introducing a specific concept for soundscape intervention and discussing it with the participants creates order and direction for the continued process.