4. Methodology


Within interaction design, ethnographic methods have been adopted to inquire into specific contexts, especially with a focus on social organization and individual cultures, and on gaining insights from the subjects’ points of view. Often, the output of an ethnographical study are insights that emerge from interactions between inhabitants and the researcher rather than from attempts to objectively analyze inhabitants’ statements; ethnographers view their fieldwork as a communicative practice between themselves and inhabitants.


Where ethnography typically involves methods used to capture and communicate aspects of people’s daily lives, design ethnography focuses on those aspects that are particularly relevant and interesting in relation to the design and development of new products (Salvador, Bell and Anderson 1999). Richard L. Baskerville and Michael D. Myers describe three ways that design ethnographic research can be carried out: ethnography for design (E4D), ethnography to study design (E2D), and design ethnography. E4D uncovers requirements and design goals from studying, for example, the behavior of people, e.g., through observation or interviews. E2D studies designers and how they carry out their work. Design ethnography builds on these two by including generative methods in addition to descriptive and analytical methods. This necessitates a correspondence with the environment in question by, for example, introducing a design artifact. In this way, design ethnography is oriented towards the future and typically involves a process in which people are engaged with design conceptualization, visualization, and prototyping. The results of the process say something about both current and future situations (Baskerville and Myers 2015).


Since our study revolves around sound in homes, the soundscapes might be considered mundane by participants. Lanzara (2016) suggests that a researcher of such an environment can deliberately alter certain elements, such as enhancing something that is usually unnoticed, to introduce a discontinuity. Any resulting descriptions or representations of the environment can reveal new opportunities for elements otherwise considered uninteresting. Soundwalks help uncover mundane elements of soundscapes in homes that can later be manipulated in order to generate non-extant situations that possibly point to future technological opportunities and constraints.

The time frame of the soundwalks presented here are typically shorter as compared to those practiced in other ethnographic studies. Soundwalks outside can be long, while in a home setting the physical constraint posed by the size of the rooms leads to less walking. Nevertheless, the physical movement in space gives rise to or prompts reflection.

We did not expect any significant changes in participants’ daily lives during the study period. We carried out the study in order to identify situations in homes in which sound zone technology could potentially offer support or value. To this end, we structured our study into three parts. The first two parts were aimed at understanding and enabling participants’ awareness of their sounding environments, whereas the third part was aimed at conscious reflections about sound zone technology through interactive communication with the researcher. The methods included an ear cleaning exercise, two types of soundwalks, and in-situ interviews. Both soundwalks were guided by participants, with one including the interviewer, while the other was carried out by participants alone.


In Figure 1 we provide an overview of the three phases of the study: a first and second soundwalk, followed by a discussion of new technology concepts. This presents how participants move through a temporal process in which they 1) reflect on immediate sounds that 2) trigger memories of similar or related sounds that 3) ultimately aid them in articulating future scenarios for sound zones in their homes. In other words, we extended the soundwalk method to include reflections between participants and interviewer about future and possible designs. 

The interviews consisted of mainly open-ended questions such as: “Describe typical situations in this room and which sounds you associate with those situations.” Participants were thus invited to attach sounds to narratives, a strategy similar to the narrative interview (Bauer 1996) where the aim is to reconstruct the interviewee’s memories in a structure provided by themselves instead of the interviewer. We used this approach as inspiration, choosing not to provide any terms for referring to sounds other than those stated by participants.

4.1 Soundwalk #1: Qualitative Listening in Motion

Following soundwalk methodologies that include recorded interviews (see Section 2), our first meeting with participants included a recorded walk through their homes. This was structured in a way similar to the study by Oleksik et al. We initiated the soundwalk by asking participants to draw a floor plan of their home. Then we gave them blank post-it notes and a pen and asked them to guide us through each room. Upon entering a room, we asked participants to listen for immediate sounds, inspired by the ear cleaning exercise described by Schafer (1994) and Westerkamp (2011) and with the aim of guiding a person in consciously attuning to a soundscape. They were then asked to write down the sounds on the post-it notes and attach them to the floor plan.

Following the soundwalk, we asked participants to describe daily life in each part of the home. This also involved asking them to recall which sounds they associated with specific situations. We did not ask participants to record the sounds they described throughout this phase. Instead, the interview was recorded by the interviewer.

4.2 Soundwalk #2: Recording and Assessing Sounds

In between the sessions with the researcher, we asked the participants to make a self-guided soundwalk during which they recorded sounds in their homes, subsequently categorizing the sounds into good and bad, thereby needing to think about what makes a sound pleasant to listen to or not. This naïve categorization was a starting point for the second interview. The participants were provided with a guide that explained how to upload the sounds to an Evernote folder shared with the researchers, and they were instructed to also attach short descriptions of the sounds. We asked participants to attend to parts of their soundscape in order to establish an understanding of the whole by considering the individual parts in connection to each other. Participants were free to record at their own pace. This meant that the recording could be carried out on different days and at different times during the day. Participants made the assessment as a guiding element in choosing which sounds to record.

Figure 1: Study method overview