6. Concluding Remarks


The value of ethnographic studies lies in the rich, analytic descriptions. Using the soundwalk method, it is possible to initiate an abductive, reflective process with participants that not only leads to descriptions of the currently experienced soundscape but also enables discussions about potential future situations. This supports designers in establishing opportunities and constraints when designing technological solutions for sound zones. In this paper we have formulated a strategy for enabling an abductive, reflective process based on the concepts of temporality and abductive synthesis. We have also provided examples of the insights gained from doing so. Even though we have focused on homes, this strategy can potentially be valuable in other contexts where participants have established a sense of place through experience.


The outset for our study was sound zone technology, a technology that offers users new ways of modifying and listening to sounds. Current implementations of sound zones do not lead to isolated areas of sound but, rather, to a maximization of a particular sound in a particular area. In other words, the sound is still present throughout the space. This means that the resulting experience can be a number of co-occurring situations that overlap to different degrees. Such fluidity between sound experiences are a reflection of the dynamics of the activities, which are connected in various ways rather than completely isolated from each other.


We found that both soundwalks aided us in ways we intended within the study methodology and process and enabled unexpected discussions. We also found that the embodied nature of the soundwalks supported the final discussion about sound zones. Soundwalks can be carried out in various ways. We have used elements of existing methods for recorded soundwalks in two different instances, first, as a guided soundwalk, integrated with an interview, and second, as an individual recording task. We have confirmed previous research (Oleksik et al. 2008; Baharin et al. 2013) that this method is useful for studying domestic soundscapes and for encouraging participants to engage in a way that is reflective rather than reactive.


We added to the extant research on soundwalks by extending the implementation of soundwalks to support design ethnography. This was illustrated in Figure 1, with reflections on future scenarios. We used the method to investigate sound in homes. In an extension of previous research methodologies, we included participant responses at the beginning of the synthesis process. Our findings show that the soundwalks aided this process by giving participants practice in articulating narratives around particular sounds. Through the narrative descriptions, individual sounds were linked to each other. This formed a basis for discussing how technology might be employed to intervene in situations where several sounds are present at the same time. For this particular study, the discussion with participants came to focus on how the soundscape as a whole could be controlled and changed with sound zones. Asking participants to categorize sounds as good or bad supported their abilities to move between reflections on individual sounds and the soundscape as a whole. In particular, connecting individual sounds to narratives enabled these reflections. In other words, soundscape awareness was heightened by using soundwalks by having participants focus on individual sounds. For the development of sound zones, this means that different configurations – based on how individual sounds fit with specific situations – can be conceptualized.


In addition to being more aware of their soundscape, the second interview also took the particular sound recordings participants had made as its point of departure. Future research could develop this contextualizing aspect by focusing more on elaborating the activities involved in making the sound recordings, e.g., by including diary entries. The discussion on whether or not to include a sound in an already existing soundscape will be highly dependent on the situation. For example, the sound of a coffee grinder can be pleasant as part of a morning ritual, but it can also be annoying when trying to sleep. Therefore, supporting a discussion that includes the overall situation, in addition to labelling particular sounds as wanted or not, will help to clarify the dynamics of a sound phenomenon, over time, as opposed to simply labelling discrete sounds. Ideally, future research could extend this approach to soundwalking with a focus on the context in which sounds emerge.


Freely discussing how sounds could possibly be controlled without allowing the conversation to be restricted according to current technological constraints led to several new potential technological directions to go in. We steered the discussion towards the concept of sound zones; however, given that the technology is not yet fully developed and could not be experienced by the participants, we relied on an abstract understanding in which more possibilities and fewer constraints existed. Future work could include investigations into how different representations of technology might be used to enable discussions about soundscape management and interventions.




The authors would like to thank all participating households.