gives us access to this huge, rich…
set of feedbacks and insights that
are valuable in design.”
In reaction to perceptions that
the research community would
react negatively, we found that
authors generally limited report-
ing self-design in their papers.
As Dan Cosley said, “You know,
from a sort of very tactical point
of view, there are people who
just will not accept the idea of
experimenting on and designing
for yourself, and…if your goal is
to reach those people, then self-
design is kind of self-destructive.”
Researchers used a variety of
tactics to circumvent expected
negative reactions. For example,
Kellogg’s team interleaved stories
of their own use with those of oth-
ers to make it clear they had not
relied only on their own experi-
ences. Several respondents sug-
gested following up with broader
user testing, even when they
thought this was unnecessary. A
few respondents, however, report-
ed that full disclosure, at least for
motivating system design, resulted
in little negative reaction.
The widespread practice of
design seems a lost opportunity
for HCI to connect the worlds of
research and practice. The experiences of our experts suggest best
practices, not only for engaging in
autobiographical design, but also
for developing reliable knowledge
based on it.
In many situations, autobiographical design can provide
detailed, nuanced, and experiential understanding of a design
space. This can be done early in
the design process to tinker with
an idea, over extended periods of
time (from months to years) to
learn about long-term adoption
and real usage, and when it might
We thank our interview participants
for their contributions to this article.
This work was supported in part by
NSF grant IIS-0847293 and by Intel
Research through the Intel Science
and Technology Center for Social
Computing. This article is based on
“Autobiographical Design in HCI
Research: Designing and Learning
through Use-It-Yourself,” by Carman
Neustaedter and Phoebe Sengers, in
Proceedings of DIS 2012, (June
otherwise be difficult to deploy a
design because of technical complexities. Genuine usage is hard
to come by in the early design
stages through typical user-centered design practices, but can be
accessed through autobiographical
design. Such genuine usage supports reflection-in-action [ 6] and,
as argued by our respondents,
allows researchers to draw on
intuitions and nuances of experience that escape formal analysis.
Yet, as our results show, there
are clearly also situations when
autobiographical design is not
appropriate. It is not easy to apply
when a system already exists
to meet users’ needs, or if the
designer is not directly involved
with technology-building. It does
not prove that a system can or will
be widely adopted. Neither does it
establish generalizability. To see if
a design works for others, it can be
helpful to conduct broader studies
using other methods.
As with other methods, doing
autobiographical design well
requires a degree of rigor. By
rigor, we do not refer to scientific
rigor or to scientific method, but
rather to careful, critical reflection on one’s work processes and
respect for the unique hallmarks
of quality of autobiographical
design research. Such hallmarks
that emerged from our interviews
include an extensive period of
genuine, intensive use, measured in months or years (though
shorter time periods of intensity
could still be valuable); surprises
in usage that lead researchers to
rethink or further develop initial
design conceptions; improvements to design driven by specific,
documented incidents of use; and
careful articulation of the impact
of design decisions on experiential
qualities of the system in use.
1. Boehner, K., Sengers, P., and Warner, S.
Interfaces with the ineffable: Meeting aesthetic
experience on its own terms. ToCHI 15, 3 (2008).
2. Judge, T.K., Neustaedter, C., and Kurtz, A.F. The
Family Window: The design and evaluation of a
domestic media space. Proc. CHI 2010.
3. Neustaedter, C. My Life with always-on video.
Electronic Journal of Communication. (2012).
4. Höök, K. Transferring qualities from horseback
riding to design. Proc. NordiCHI 2010.
5. Snodgrass, A. and Coyne, R. Interpretation
in Architecture: Design as a Way of Thinking.
Routledge, London, 2006.
6. Schön, D. The Reflective Practitioner. Basic
Books, New York, 1984.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Carman Neustaedter is an assis-
tant professor in the School of
Interactive Arts and Technology at
Simon Fraser University and
director of the Connections Lab
Phoebe Sengers is an associate
professor in information science
and science and technology stud-
ies at Cornell University, where
she runs the Culturally Embedded
Computing Group. Her research
interests include critical
approaches to sustainable HCI and humanities-
and-arts-based HCI methodology.
November + December 2012
© 2012 ACM 1072-5520/12/11 $15.00