Affinity Diagramming

or the KJ method

Affinity diagramming is a conceptual organizational exercise that can have numerous benefits for problem solving in team environments. Ideas are not only identified by a group, but then explicitly categorized and grouped. Enumerating instances and aspects of cultural phenomena—and categorically naming them—identifies trends and highlights differences. A phenomenon, whether it is a behavior or a problem or both, is best understood when the interlocking parts of the system can be made explicit.

History and Theory

Affinity diagramming was developed by Jiro Kawakita over the course of fifteen years while he was conducting ethnographic research in the Himalayas. Its popularity in Japanese management culture spread primarily through its introduction at the Free Campus University, at which Kawakita was a professor (Scupin 233-234). The KJ Method is the application of affinity diagramming, or the formalization of verbal/written procedure. Kawakita’s proposition suggests a connection between unstructured observations and scientific hypothesis testing or experimental design, which heretofore was arcane and non-specific (10).


“An affinity is built from the bottom up by first grouping similar observations, labeling them, then building larger groups out of these small groups” (Beyer 30).  Team members—ideally a group of several—will follow three steps to create the affinity, and additional step of analysis or reflection. Scupin describes the steps as label making, label grouping, chart making, and analysis (235). The following descriptions for each step are an amalgam of the KJ Method as described by Hoerl & Snee, Scupin, Kawakita himself, as well as experienced by a tutorial given by Professor Kristian Kloeckl at Northeastern University in October of 2016.

I. Label Making

Assemble a group of several participants. Hand out pieces of paper, big enough to write a sentence or phrase on, to each participant. Post-It® notes work as well. Clear a board or wall or a table to act as a canvas. Label the center of the canvas with the problem/phenomena concisely. Allow each participant to brainstorm ideas, concepts, objects, actors, interactions, behaviors, emotions, or related phenomena associated with the target problem/phenomena. As a participant thinks of an idea, they write it on an individual piece of paper, verbalize it to the group, and adhere it to the canvas in no specific place. Do such until the enumeration begins to slow down.

II. Label Grouping

Then, the team begins to group the ideas on the canvas by whichever criteria seems rational. The team does this simultaneously and silently. Participants are encouraged to group, regroup, split and combine papers on the canvas despite another participants opposing groupings. Once a distinct amount of groups emerges—or participant consensus or attention fatigue sets in—the grouping phase is over.

III. Chart Making

Once the groups of paper have been established, participants begin to devise titles or categorical names for the groups of labels. In discussion of titles, individuals can propose titles that restructure, or oppose the groups of labels made in the previous step. If any phrase or concept is perceived as an outlier, it is helpful to have the author explain the experience that led them to include this. Often these clarifications lead to the outlier being fed into an existing group, or expanding another grouping’s title. Once every grouping of concepts has a title, larger structural questions should be asked: do certain groupings fall completely within others? and do certain groupings share common traits with other label groups? Arrange the chart utilizing structural visual metaphors, such as inclusion/subset, opposition, or union.

IV. Analysis

No affinity diagram is complete without analysis. Kawakita recommends an analysis that is both concise and smooth (12).  A verbal and or written explanation guides the team in distinguishing the interpretations from the descriptions. It reduces the complexity of the enumerated labels into a form that is manageable and consumable by parallel participants, or amateurs, or clients (Scupin 236). The analysis can begin to explore what labels are causes and which labels are effects. Additionally, the analysis can provide guiding structural vocabulary for a team enacting a solution appropriate for a context laid out in the affinity diagram.



I. Label Making


Participant members Irene De La Torre, Jessie Richards, and Andrew Tang produced this affinity map under the facilitation of Patrick J. O’Donnel. The behavior explored was the “Pedestrians Crossing the Street,” ultimately fulfilling a larger study of waiting in urban contexts. Enumeration of actors, technologies, places, concepts, behaviors, interactions, emotions, and rationales plotted the range of data that comprises a pedestrian waiting and crossing the street. Post-it notes were given to each participant. As each concept was written down it was announced to the room, without concern of redundancy or judgment. The canvas filled up, and the generation of concepts slowed, after about seven minutes.

II. Label Grouping


During the silent phase, labels were moved frantically about. The most intriguing behavior was the use of space outside of the canvas for organization—like the wall the white board was attached to, and a nearby table top. Our canvas was full at the end of the label making, but white space between semi-grouped concepts seemed promote the cognitive function of organization while not overwhelming the visual search. A few participants found themselves picking up a label, trying to make it fit in, only to hand it off to another participant, in hopes they had a connection that sparked upon it being received. The result was nine groupings of concepts.

III. Chart Making


After reaching wa—a Japanese word for the harmony that arises from group consensus (Scupin 234)—the facilitator broke the silence with talks of categorization of the most obvious groupings first. To make titles for these groupings, the participants discussed each group individually. A natural reaction to a conceptually sound grouping was the instantaneous offer to suggest a title. If several iterations of a title could be suggested, more often the title was selected from them.

If the brainstorming of titles did not immediately yield results, the facilitator asked if there was an outlier in the group that is holding back a near-inclusive title. At this point, the creator of the outlier label gave a brief explanation as to why they included it initially. Usually this type of clarification guided the group to move the label to another grouping, or brainstorm an inclusive title. Once grouping titles were agreed upon, the post-it notes were circled by dry erase marker, to signal its completeness. The results for the pedestrian crossing diagram was category titles such as “actors in compromising safety,” “timing,” and “crosswalk awareness.”

IV. Analysis

The context charted by the affinity diagram shows a concern with human-recognized objects (actors and technology), actor concern for safety, and acts of crosswalk system awareness. Though the time spent waiting at a crosswalk is relatively low compared to the totality of an average pedestrian journey, a consciousness of system temporality was apparent. The participants also grouped system signals and distracting stimuli in a group called “crosswalk awareness” that suggests distraction and information-retention exist on a spectrum, and vary in attention from person to person or trip to trip. The amount of stimulation at a crosswalk can actively compete with each other. Additionally, many artifact and architectural labels were grouped, suggesting that actors are aware of the regularity/design of crosswalk intersections.

Pedestrians crossing the street is a context more nuanced than just an exchange between pedestrians and traffic that results in waiting. The improvisational behaviors of pedestrians making judgments about how to opportunistically jaywalk is a complex algorithm that is shaped by the “cognitive mind extension” described by Clark and Chalmers. The systems of trains, automobiles, cyclists and pedestrians all emit visual and sonic stimuli that, when subconsciously processed, is helpful—and life-saving—but, when attended to, is stress-inducing. Some might say these stimuli are even a symbolic epitome of hurriedness in urban life. The affinity diagramming brought about the considerations that constitute a context in which potential interventions and solutions can be embedded.


Beyer, Hugh. “User-centered agile methods.” Synthesis lectures on human-centered informatics 3.1 (2010): 1-71. Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. “The extended mind.” Analysis 58, 1 (1998), 7–19.

Hoerl, Roger, and Ron D. Snee. Statistical thinking: improving business performance. Vol. 48. John Wiley & Sons, 2012. ProQuest. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Kawakita, Jiro. “The original KJ method.” Tokyo: Kawakita Research Institute (1991). Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Scupin, Raymond. “The KJ Method: A Technique for Analyzing Data Derived from Japanese Ethnology.” Human organization 56.2 (1997): 233-7. ProQuest. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.




Beh/Exp Readings W8

McLuhan, Marshall. “Clocks: The scent of time.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964) (1964): 145-161.


  1. Smell, a sense that many now-forget used to be considered the root of memory, is a sense that is iconic, subtle, and delicate.  Electric mechanization of tools shaped society into valuing the visual over the audile-tacile-aromatic.
  2. The event of electricity and mechanization is at odds with the standardization of time and space. The world exists in multiplicities, rather than regularities, and our language and our society arguably lacks a guiding philosophy to account for it.
  3. “The clock and the alphabet, by hacking the universe into visual segments, ended the music of interrelation.” Visual media (and that of greater technologies as well) has caused a reliance on regularity and equanimity between man that does not equate to man’s perception of his experiences. “This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet.”


  • “Such a sense of impatience, of time as duration, is unknown among non literate cultures. Just as work began with the division of labor, duration begins with the division of time, and especially with those subdivisions by which mechanical clocks impose uniform succession on the time sense.”
  • “As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces uniform seconds, minutes, and hours on an assembly-line pattern. Processed in this uniform way, time is separated from the rhythms of human experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered universe.”
  • “The sense of smell, long considered the root of memory and the unifying basis of individuality, has come to the fore again in the experiments of Wilder Penfield. During brain surgery, electric probing of brain tissue revived many memories of the patients. These evocations were dominated and unified by unique scents and odors that structured these past experiences. The sense of smell is not only the most subtle and delicate of the human senses; it is, also, the most iconic in that it involves the entire human sensorium more fully than any other sense. It is not surprising, therefore, that highly literate societies take steps to reduce or eliminate odors from the environment.”
  • Mumford does not recognize “mechanization as the translation of society from audile-tactile modes into visual values. Our new electric technology is organic and nonmechanical in tendency because it extends, not our eyes, but our central nervous systems as a planetary vesture. In the space-time world of electric technology, the older mechanical time begins to feel unacceptable, if only because it is uniform.”
  • “Our language derived from phonetic technology cannot cope with this new view of knowledge. We still talk of electric current ‘flowing,’ or we speak of the “discharge” of electric energy like the lineal firing of guns. But quite as much as with the esthetic magic of painterly power, ‘electricity is the condition we observe when there are certain spatial relations between things.’ “

“During the Middle Ages the communal clock extended by the bell permitted high coordination of the energies of small communities. In the Renaissance the clock combined with the uniform respectability of the new typography to extend the power of social organization almost to a national scale. By the nineteenth century it had provided a technology of cohesion that was inseparable from industry and transport, enabling an entire metropolis to act almost as an automaton. Now in the electric age of decentralized power and information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time. In this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability, of rhythms. This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet.”

  • “It is a necessary approach in understanding media and technology to realize that when the spell of the gimmick or an extension of our bodies is new, there comes narcosis or numbing to the newly amplified area. The complaints about clocks did not begin until the electric age had made their mechanical sort of time starkly incongruous.”
  • “Historians agree on the basic role of the clock in monastic life for the synchronization of human tasks. The acceptance of such fragmenting of life into minutes and hours was unthinkable, save in highly literate communities. Readiness to submit the human organism to the alien mode of mechanical time was as dependent upon literacy in the first Christian centuries as it is today. For the clock to dominate, there has to be the prior acceptance of the visual stress that is inseparable from phonetic literacy. Literacy is itself an abstract asceticism that prepares the way for endless patterns of privation in the human community. With universal literacy, time can take on the character of an enclosed or pictorial space that can be divided and subdivided.”
  • “It was not the clock, but literacy reinforced by the clock, that created abstract time and led men to eat, not when they were hungry, but when it was ‘time to eat.'”
  • “Clocks are mechanical media that transform tasks and create new work and wealth by accelerating the pace of human association.”
  • “Long before the industrial revolution of the later eighteenth century, people complained that society had become a ‘prose machine’ that whisked them through life at a dizzy pace.”

“The clock and the alphabet, by hacking the universe into visual segments, ended the music of interrelation. The visual desacralizes the universe and produces the ‘nonreligious man of modern societies.'”

  • “Primitive man lived in a much more tyrannical cosmic machine than

    Western literate man has ever invented. The world of the ear is more embracing and inclusive than that of the eye can ever be. The ear is hypersensitive. The eye is cool and detached. The ear turns man over to universal panic while the eye, extended by literacy and mechanical time, leaves some gaps and some islands free from the unremitting acoustic pressure and reverberation.”

Mumford, Lewis. “The Monastery and the Clock.” Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934) (1934): 12-18.


  1. The regulation of time, and expressions of that regulation, has its origins in the monasteries of the West in the seventh century. The effect was both that of keeping time, as well as the synchrony of man’s actions.
  2. The clock’s technologies overcame maleffects of weather and translated movement in space (hands on a facade) into movements of time. For Mumford, this permitted the clock–rather than the steam-engine–to beceom the “key-machine” of the Industrial Age. Time was now expressed as a resource of the economy.
  3. Time took on the characteristics of space: it can be manipulated, divied, expanded. Time was now abstracted from organic or experiential time, and it dictated human activity and behavior.


  • “The monastery was the seat of a regular life, and and instrument for striking the hours at intervals or for reminding the bell-ringer that it was time to strike the bells, was an almost inevitable product of this life. If the mechanical clock did not appear until the cities of the thirteenth century demanded an orderly routine, the habit of order itself and earnest regulation of time-sequences had become almost second nature in the monastery.”

“[…] for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.”

  • “[…] by the thirteenth century there are definite records of mechanical clocks […] and the new clocks, if they did not have, till the fourteenth century, a dial and a hand that translated the movement of time into a movement through space, at all events struck the hours. The clouds that could paralyze the sundial, the freezing that could stop the water clock on a winter night, were no longer obstacles to time keeping […]”

“The instrument presently spread outside the monastery; and the regular striking of bells brought a new regularity into the life of the workman and the merchant. The bells of the clock tower almost defined urban existence. Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing.”

  • “The clock, moreover, is a piece of power-machinery whose ‘product’ is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science.”
  • “In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer spans of days, time is measures not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it.”

“To become ‘as regualr as clock-work’ was a bourgeois ideal, and to own a watch was for long a definite symbol of success. The increasing tempo of civilization led to a demand for greater power: and in turn power quickened the tempo.”

  • “To keep time was once a peculiar attribute of music [.] But the effect of the mechanical clock is more pervasive and strict: it presides over the day from the hour of rising to the house of rest.”

“When one things of the thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, […] one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps so as to use all the hours belonging to a day. When one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence. Time took on the character of an enclosed space: it could be divided, it could be filled up, it could even be expanded by the invention of labor-saving instruments.”

  • “Abstract time became the new medium for existence. Organic function themselves were regulated by it[.]  A generalized time-consciousness accompanied the wider use of clock.”
  • “The modern industrial régime could do without coal and iron and steam easier than it could do without the clock.”

Beh/Exp Readings W7

Gilloch, Graeme. “‘Seen from the Window’: Rhythm, Improvisation and the City.” Bauhaus and the City: A Contested Heritage for a Challenging Future1 (2011).


  1. Lefebvre suggests the Bauhaus defined the modern perspective on space: objects in space have dynamic relationships (they are assemblages, not isolated), interior space (and objects within) and exterior space share complementary aspects of a ‘total design,’ and a global space, that of homogeneity, erases the social and political character of its production.


  • “Clean lines and unadorned surfaces are prized as part of a modern technological orthogonal aesthetic based on rationality and austerity. As buildings lose their particular ‘face,’ Lefebvre complains, the cityscape itself is increasingly distinguished by an intense monotony, by a formal and functional anonymity” (187).
  • “When it comes to the question of what the Bauhaus’s audacity produced in the long run, one is obliged to answer: the worldwide, homogeneous and monotonous architecture of the state, whether capitalist or socialist.” (quoted Lefebvre)

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. “A Theoretical Model for Enjoyment.”The Improvisation Studies Reader: Spontaneous Acts. Eds.  Rebecca Caines and Ajay Heble, eds. New York: Routledge, 2015. 150-161.


  1. Flow experiences arise from flow activities–activities in which a person can engage in total involvement, a total merging of activity and awareness. Flow experience is sought after for its intrinsic value rather than external reward.
  2. Flow activities are feasible for the participants, centered around a field of limited stimuli, permitting of a loss of self-consciousness, coherent assemblages of demands and feedback, and rewards in themselves.
  3. Flow activities are achieved when a person’s perception of their skills/capabilities are matched by their perception of the challenges/opportunities the activity presents.


  • “In a variety of human contexts, then, one finds a remarkably similar inner state, which is so enjoyable that people are sometimes willing to forsake a comfortable life for its sake. In many cases, the importance of the experience is blurred by what appear to be the external goals of the activity–the painting that the artist wants to create, the theory that the scientist strives to prove, or the grace of God that the mystic seeks to attain. On a closer look, these goals lose their substance and reveal themselves as mere tokens that justify the activity by giving it a direction and determining rules of action. But the doing is the thing” (151).
  • “Ideally, flow is the result of pure involvement, without any consideration about the results. In practice, however, most people need some inducement to participate in flow activities, at least at the beginning, before they learn to be sensitive to intrinsic rewards” (154).
  • “What is usually lost in flow is not the awareness of one’s body or one’s functions, but only the self construct, the intermediary which one learns to superimpose between stimulus and response” (154).
  • “[…] the various elements of the flow experience are linked together and dependent on each other. By limiting the stimulus field, a flow activity allows people to concentrate their actions and ignore distractions. As a result, they feel in potential control of the environment. Because the flow activity as clear and non-contradictory rules, people who perform in it can temporarily forget their identity and its problems. The result of all these conditions is that one finds the process intrinsically rewarding” (158).
  • “Flow is experienced when people perceive opportunities for action as being evenly matched by their capabilities” (159).

Kloeckl, Kristian. The Urban Improvise. Northeastern University Department of Art + Design and School of Architecture, Boston.


  1. A multi-disciplined advancement in technology has enabled responsive environments and artifacts to constitute the interconnected, real-time urban context. If these interactions are likened to a theatre drama (by Laurel in Computers as Theatre), then the potential to go off-script shifts the appropriate metaphor to that of an improvisation.
  2. Of the improvisational performance, the art comes from an openness to ongoing processes, the felt timing places the exchanges into relevance, and the form is recognized and attributed through (and while) doing.
  3. An improvisation-based view of urban computing, its environments and contexts, and its inhabitants/actors means one may consider a new emphasis on possibility and preparation.


  • “While this conceptual model [Laurel’s Computers as Theatre] has opened up interesting new ground, limitations arise as it is based on forms of scripted theatre: In scripted theatre, unlike real life, the process of choice and decision making takes place during rehearsal and practice and not during the actual staging of the performance. In the sense that drama formulates the enactment and not the action, it is unlike real life. Instead, in improvisational techniques, as in real life, anything can happen. Actions are situated in context and always in flux, situations are essentially unique, the focus is on dynamic choice in a dynamic environment. I suggest, therefore, that improvisation  is a model that can more effectively frame real life interactions in and with responsive environments and artifacts in today’s hybrid cities” (3).
  • “While not following a previously formulated plan as such, improvisation does acquire in this way some form of consistency in that it connects with what has come before in an ongoing process of repetition and variation” (7).
  • “Improvisation overcomes several dichotomies instilled by modern thought. It’s practice overcomes clear distinctions between repetition and novelty, discipline and spontaneity, security and risk, individual and group, and ultimately order and disorder. It overcomes a distinction between these poles by doing away with a binary opposition and embracing a mind frame of complexity, in which order and disorder, information and noise form a mutually constitutive relationship” (7).
  • “The awareness of time in improvisation ensures the relevance of actions. And through the experience of time – when you do something, when you don’t, when you start, when you stop – you realize that you have a choice. You start, you stop. You change. You determine your experience. More than metric time it is felt time  and event time that is of relevance here” (13).
  • “The phenomenology of the moment for improvisational performers is as much material for their art as is their past training and practice of structures and procedures” (13).

Behavior/Experience Reading W2

Reading Takeaways
10 October 2016

“Sketching User Experiences” Bill Buxton 2007.

  1. Sketching is an aid to design thinking; it is an artifact of the conversation between the real world and the designers’ mind.
  2. The result of ‘holes’ in a sketch is such that a sketch yields more than the effort of towards its inception. Sketches should be pregnant with clues.
  3. Sketches should be quick, timely, inexpensive, disposable, plentiful, clear in vocabulary, gestural, minimal in detail, appropriate in refinement, suggesting of exploration, and ambiguous.
  4. Sketches exist in a contextual environment–not a vacuum–as does experience.
  5. Designing with sketches is a process of generative creativity and reductive creativity; design teams must continually generate but always discard in a controlled convergence through the project completion.

While these descriptions of the space of a sketch, and its role in the design process, are critical for any project that I personally engage in, the last section on creative team dynamics seems very useful going into my final year. Design is rarely created solely through a human and computer interaction; it blossoms from human to human conversations first. All stakeholders should be at the table for design conversations and those people need to be made comfortable to share opinions and concerns. Design is a compromise. You must be a functioning part of a team that is as excited to fail as they are to succeed.


“[One can think of] sketches as a means of working through a design–sketching as an aid to thought.”

“Sketching is not the only archetypal activity of design, it has been thus for centuries.”

“[…] One can get more out of sketch than was put into making it because of its ambiguity.”

“If you want to get the most out of sketch, you need to leave big enough holes.”

“Sketching is fundamental to the cognitive process of design, and it is manifest through a kind of conversation between the designer(s) and their sketches” (Schön & Wiggins 1992).

“…sketching introduces a special kind of dialectic [conversation/dialogue] into design reasoning that is indeed rather unique. It hinges on interactive imagery, by a continuous production of displays [sketches] pregnant with clues […]” (Goldschmidt 1991).

“[Sketches] relate far more to an activity or process (the conversation), rather than a physical object or artifact (the sketch).”

“Being able to visualize things gave me a tool that I could use in all facets of life. What happened to my mind was much more important than the sketches I produced” (Hanks & Belliston 1990).

“Experience is a very dynamic, complex and subjective phenomena. It depends upon the perception of multiple sensory qualities of a design, interpreted through filters relating to contextual factors. […] The experience of even simple artifacts does not exist in a vacuum but, rather, in dynamic relationship with other people, places and objects. Additionally, the quality of people’s experience changes over time as it is influenced by variations in these contextual factors” (Buchenau & Suri 2000).

“Fail early and fail often. And learn.”

“Design is a choice, and there are two places where there is room for creativity: 1. The creativity that you bring to enumerating meaningfully distinct options from which to choose. 2. the creativity that you bring to defining the criteria, or heuristics, according to which you make your choices.”

“What one calls ‘genius’ is much less the contribution of the first, the one that collects the alternatives, than the facility of the second in recognizing the value in what has been presented, and seizing upon it” (Paul Valéry, as translated by Bill Buxton).

“We must generate and discard much more than we keep.” Pugh 1900 called this “controlled convergence”


“Prototyping is the Shorthand of Design” Tom Kelley 2001.

  1. Sometimes a childlike fascination with play is required for design: it is trial and then error and (only) then dramatic improvement.
  2. Bring several prototypes to meetings with clients. Bring interesting materials to client meetings spark the muse. The object or prototype permits conversations that reports obscure in the social, political and emotional blockades.  Prototypes are therefore also performance–for the client, as it is a conversation.
  3. Prototypes do not manifest as revolutionary findings; innovation is often incremental and evidence of a layered history of trials.
  4. Express your ideas through prototypes: quickly and cheaply.
  5. Prototype until you’re silly. They are the source of creative insurance that improves the designers’ chance of success.

This article presents a very clear argument for prototyping. The anecdotal stories serve to remind us that innovation is a disciplined, slow-burn game that must be institutionalized–direct orders from the top! For myself, Kelley’s account of historical accounts of success through prototypes is reassuring of the importance of company cultures that foster design thinking throughout all ranks. When I feel that iterating sketches and prototypes is cumbersome, reminding myself that building is learning makes the process feel much more crucial and sophisticated. The advice about stakeholders and clients in very important. Often when working with non-designers in a project, you must translate their objections into your design vocabulary. The prototype can be a useful boundary object to establish a aesthetic vocabulary that permits all team members to function and communicate uniformly.

“What is Visualization?”

“What is Visualization?” by Lev Manovich (2010)

Found at

“What is information visualization? […] So lets start with a provisional definition that we can modify later. Lets define information visualization as a mapping between discrete data and a visual representation. We can also use different concepts besides ‘representation,’ each bringing an additional meaning.”

Information Visualization–often abbreviated infovis–is a multidisciplinary field that concerns the representation of information or data mapped as visual elements. Strict definitions elude the infovis community because of the diversity of its contextual range. Computer Scientists often classify infovis in terms of interactive displays of data, but this is a narrow view for the potential of graphic form.

The difference between the scientific visualization community and the information visualization community differ moreso in technologies and techniques applied to visualizations, rather than the visualizations themselves. Scientific visualizations developed during the 80s, while 3D technologies were being created; Infovis developed in the 90s and 2000s, when the monitor was abstracted into its natural two dimensions and the rise of big data processing capabilities.

“Infovis uses arbitrary spatial arrangements of elements to represent the relationships between data objects. Scientific, medical and geovisualization typically work with a priori fixed spatial layout of the real physical objects such as a brain, a coastline, a galaxy, etc. Since the layout in such visualizations is already fixed and can’t be arbitrary manipulated, color and/or other non-spatial parameters are used instead to show new information.”

Information Design and Information Visualization differ mostly between data structures: known or undiscovered, respectively.

“By employing graphical primitives (or, to use the language of contemporary digital media, vector graphics), infovis is able to reveal patterns and structures in the data objects that these primitives represent. However, the price being paid for this power is extreme schematization. We throw away  %99 of what is specific about each object to represent only %1- in the hope of revealing patterns across this %1 of objects’ characteristics.”

Manovich suggests that a reductionist abstraction of data is “throwing it away,” but I would argue that is making the data implicit, or potentially obscuring it. There is a valid argument to be made that most infovis efforts are a reduction of the original, but it is a optimist-pessimist dichotomy that describes the nature of the debate: one sees it as an intensification or focusing on the information that is present, the other sees it as a hiding, or disregard of information no longer present.

For years now, the infovis community has privileged encoding of spatial variables (size, position, shape curvature, motion, etc.). This hierarchy places content emphasis on these spatial variables, rather than characteristic (color, texture, transparency) variables. Historically, one can see a similar hierarchy of variables in traditional schools for painting, in which sketches are laid out elaborately first, then shading and color is layered on only after such a spatial encoding has been decided upon. Psychologically and physiologically, the basis of object recognition is closely tied or relate to 2D scene analysis–a valuable result of identification, classification, and comparison that allows to thrive and survive.

“I think that this key of spatial variables for human perception maybe the reason why all standard techniques for making graphs and charts developed in the 18th – 20th centuries use spatial dimensions to represent the key aspects of the data, and reserve other visual dimensions for less important aspects.”

At the end of the 20th century, visualization without reduction became a style all its own. Tag clouds–or word clouds–were an early form of “direct visualizations” that utilized the media of text, and left it text, but offered a new notational system of value.

In Brendan Dawes’s Cinema Redux, frames from a film are made pixelated miniatures that are arranged in a matrix. This visualization method removes one from the experience of film, but presents a visual form that permits temporal pattern recognition. Here, the reduction occurs upon the import, and it is for this reason we can keep their likeness and resist the mapping onto visual primitives. The sampling pattern (of one frame per second) is not an act of reduction, as it is an act of sampling, that still has a one-to-one representation with the source material, but it only a representational fraction of the whole. Sampling should be acknowledged, but should not disqualify a visualization as a synecdoche and lacking nuance.

Direct visualization often utilizes sampling, but does not require it; advancements in interactivity can help to hide away the entirety of raw information, revealing it only when a user has a query or chooses to zoom. While not a requirement, structure and layout of time-based variables is appropriate; space can orchestrate an appreciation for temporally-experienced patterns.

“Thus, space turns to play a crucial role in direct visualization after all: it allows us to see patterns between media elements that are normally separated by time.”

In rethinking information visualization in the modern times, one may conclude the primary focus on spatial variables in visual encoding is a relic of technological limitations.

“I believe that direct visualizations method will be particularly important for humanities, media studies and cultural institutions which now are just beginning to discoverer the use of visualization but which eventually may adopt it as a basic tool for research, teaching and exhibition of cultural artifacts.”

The future promotion of direct visualizations in the humanities and media studies will promote the deeper understanding of meaning and it connections to patterns.


Behavior/Experience Reading W2

Readings Week 2
Design for Behavior & Experience

“Chapter 1 Living with Technology” Technology as Experience. J. McCarthy & P. Wright, 2007.

  • “We don’t just use or admire technology, we live with it.”
  • “The old computing was about what computers could do; the new computing is about what users can do.” -Ben Shneideman
  • Mobile technologies (and the texting, mailing apps therein) have experienced success because then enable what humans like to do: communicate.
  • Teenagers have a unique experience with short messages of digital communication (email, chats, messengers, texts) in that they put time and thought into their composition and content, taking into consideration into designing the conversation to be understood by the recipient.
  • In computing and technology, the terminology for a person has progressed from “cog in the machine” to “source of error” to “user” and now, to “consumer.”
  • “For many everyday tasks, goals and intentions are not well specified: they are opportunistic rather than planned. Opportunistic actions are those in which the behavior takes advantage of the circumstances. Rather than engage in extensive planning and analysis, the person goes about the day’s activities and performs the intended actions if the relevant opportunity arises.” – Donald Normam, 1988.
  • “The user experience development process is all about ensuring that no aspect of the user’s experience with your site happens without your conscious, explicit intent. […] That neat, tidy experience actually results from a whole set of decisions-some small, some large-about how the site looks, how it behaves and what it allows you to do.” – Garrett (2002)
  • A set of design implications cannot create a user experience, and it is often business momentum that pushes this agenda when it is least appropriate.
  • Consumers are not passive, they are emotional, social actors who actively complete an experience for themselves via interactive technologies and products.
  • The experience of the user is recognized by many companies and manufacturers, but the understanding (and thus use) of experience is limited.
  • People generally enjoy overhearing conversations, but not solely one side of a conversation.
  • For pragmatists, knowing/doing/feeling/making-sense are inseparable.

Dewey, a pragmatist, surmises that the relationship between the object and the self is the experience. Actions with these objects are situated and creative. Action is therefore emotional, volitional, and imaginative; experience is the process of sense-making.

  • “When we attempt to pragmatically conceptualize people’s experiences with technology, we are concerned with inquiring into what pragmatism has to offer towards enriching those experiences, even to the point of imaging what a rich experience of technology could be.”
  • Scientific study is often to concerned with backward-looking goals, that of explaining or making sense of what has already happened. Representational or reflective theorizing only makes sense when the world is relatively stable; however, it is more common to design products and artifacts that mediate action because the world is more chaotic.
  1. Technology has a wide range of influences that extended beyond its shell or interface; the relationships between people and technology should be described in “felt” life and “felt” emotional quality of action and interaction.
  2. Look to social and physical circumstances of actions and interactions (rather than exclusively cognitive models) for informed understanding, designing, and interpreting these actions/interactions.
  3. It is difficult to develop accounts of felt experience with technology, because we are present in its ever-moving flow. Its richness is elusive, as “we can never step out of [it] and look up at it in a detached way.”
  4. Models of action and meaning-making encompass felt life and emotional components of action and interaction.
  5. Importance to the emotional-volitional aspect of actions/interactions proves importance upon the aesthetic form in crafting experience.
  6. A revisionary theory of pragmatism, that by doing new form can derive, helps to clarify the nature of experiencing technology and design.

“Chapter 4 Embedded Gear” Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing. M. McCullough, 2005.

  • “What are the essential components [of technologies], and what are the contextual design implications of the components?”
  • “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” – Mark Weiser
  • The PC is an outdated ideal for personal computing. Graphical interfaces are now too crowded by the need for the potential, rather than aiding common tasks.
  • Design for experience often comes after the software engineers’ role, and thusly it is too late. A consumer will receive what an engineer thinks is the necessary functions for that year. Also a problem described as feature accumulation. -Alan Cooper
  • Pervasive computing, or embedded computing, that has a purpose to physical space, has the chance to begin anew (with interfaces, with user-interaction, etc.)
  • “We face limits to how much we care to do or will consider doing with any one device in one place. More subtly, we also face limits to how much a device can do without better information about its context.”
  • The desktop OS was made to store and perform tasks locally. The internet age assumes connectivity was universal. If the internet of things is to become no less baggy than its DOS relatives, then they must enact situational protocols.

“We have been very good a putting computers into the environment, but we have been very bad at getting them out of the way.” -Mark Weiser

  • Ambient interfaces allow monitoring of potentially relevant information; haptic/tangible interfaces allow latent use of intuitive physics.
  • Specialized technologies become ad hoc networks of things in a contextual space. Interoperability is critical. How to design these connections and make them invisible is a valid question for design.
  • Local networks (compared to universal networks) do not require high-level models of software and are less subject to monitoring of third parties. Properties of scale, discovery, protocol, configuration, and tuning become essential.

“The goal of the perceptual intelligence approach is not to create computers with the logical powers envisioned in most AI research, […] because most of the tasks we want performed do no seem to require complex reasoning or a god’s-eye view of the situation.” The HCI world has begun to value how people play situations, rather than specific outcomes.

Building blocks of technology-embedded space:

  1. Sites and devices are embedded with microprocessors.
  2. Sensors detect action.
  3. Communication links form ad hoc networks of devices.
  4. Tags identify actors.
  5. Actuators close the loop.
  6. Controls make it participatory.
  7. Display spreads out.
  8. Fixed locations track mobile positions.
  9. Software models situations.
  10. Tuning overcomes rigidity.
  • more than 95% of devices with microprocessors embedded in them do not present as “computers” (Intel)
  • sensors intrinsically serve a logic device, reporting if a change (or set of changes) has happened or hasn’t happened
  • pervasive computing depends on unplanned communication, connections only opening when necessary
  • tags are a way to embed information or instructions for other devices to attach to a person or an actor, making the technology conform to the context that the addition of the actor will manifest
  • “The physical environment abounds with opportunities for improving commodity, firmness, and delight through the application of intelligent feedback systems.”
  • “Know when to eliminate an obsolete ‘legacy’ operation, when to automate, and when to assist and action. Know how to empower, not overwhelm.”
  • Representing scenes and situations becomes the challenge of software creation, or people, actors, and things in contexts.
  • Tuning (or tweaking) is incremental adjustments that come as orders from a qualitative, top-level reading of performance. Even when engineers balance complex systems with mathematical models, some tuning still needs to be done.
  • “Location and type have to matter (to new technologies). Otherwise, with everything possible all the time, mostly chaos will result.”


Project:Thesis Readings 1

Embodiment in Data Sculpture: A Model of the Physical Visualization of Information
Jack Zhao and Andrew Vande Moere (2006)

“With human’s inherent proficiency in comprehending the physical affordances present in the real world, some researchers and designers are investigating how meaningful insights can be conveyed by way of sculpting data” (Zhao & Moere, 1).

  • Data sculpture is (1) created from data, (2) exists in space or is physical, (3) possesses both artistic and functional qualities, and (4) an attempt to make obvious the insights and relevance of the data.
  • How data is best presented to inform, educate non-expert audiences, capture attention, and maintain curiosity is largely subjective and contextual.
  • Interpretation of physical objects come from their affordances, something digital media and digital space does not inherently carry.
  • Data sculpture has the potential to communicate information to a mass, lay audience through touch, exploration, and possession. This externalization of data will now have functional and artistic qualities.


“Embodiment is based on the measurement of the distance between metaphor and data and between metaphor and reality” (Zhao & Moere, 2).

  • Qualities data sculpture can take on: physical property of depth and perspective, materiality, and nuance.
  • Data sculpture belongs to design subfields of information aesthetics, artistic visualization, or casual visualization.
  • A predecessor of data sculpture, ambient displays transform architectural space by implicating interfaces for stimulating audience’s attention where none was previously warranted.

“In data sculpture, embodiment describes the expression of abstract data in physical representation through the process of data mapping. In information visualization, and by extension, in data sculptures, data mapping describes the process of translating data values to representations using metaphors. In such processes, metaphors become manifested in representations and draw associations between the abstract data and the perceiver’s prior knowledge or experiences. Metaphor is defined as a concept that is regarded as representative or symbolic to another concept. The primary function of a metaphor is to help people conceive an unfamiliar domain in terms of another familiar domain through drawing connections of similarity between the two” (Zhao & Moere, 3).

  • In the field of tangible computing, the research into the use of metaphor has been based on the theory that users naturally relate what they are experiencing to what they already know. Stronger metaphors exist when they reference a specific mental image, afford the intended interaction and have a place in a mass audiences’ realm of familiarity.


“A more precise definition of data sculpture has emerged from the domain model: a data sculpture is a highly data-oriented physical form, possessing both artistic and functional qualities, to augment facilitates an audience’s understanding of the underlying data and issues” (Zhao & Moere, 4).

“Our model relies on following three axioms:

1. Data sculpture is a system of physical representation and abstract data coupled by a relationship called embodiment.

2. Metaphor is a contributing factor to embodiment and can be gauged by metaphorical distances from the data and reality.

3. Different modes of embodiment determined by different metaphorical distances in data sculpture can affect the informative value.”

Behavior/Experience Readings W1

Readings Week 1
Design for Behavior & Experience

“Chapter 7 Hurried Ethnography for the Harried Ethnographer” Ethnography: A way of Seeing. Wolcott, 2008.

  • What is the minimum or maximum time needed to be spent in the field to claim ethnographic validity? The researcher’s belief that enough time will produce guaranteed outcomes is at odd with the realist’s understanding that it’s impossible to exhaust any topic of inquiry.
  • “Ethnographic accommodation” is a researcher’s limitations of time that are put upon an study that employs ethnographic means.
  • How should a researcher handle time? As a scarce resource. Plan out time and set limits to fieldwork that take into account the other parts of the project.
    • When field work is not yielding any new or novel insights, it may be time to start writing.
    • Writing while still having time set aside for field work permits an initial analysis that a researcher can use to focus the remaining observation time.
    • Begin writing as soon as you think you might not be able to get it all. Do not put off writing by waiting to be a more astute observer.
    • Once you begin to review collected data in your head, start writing. Begin with the comfortable or well-synthesized ideas, and the writing should guide the remaining time you set aside for field work.
    • Start writing if half of your total time is remaining. Writing and organizing data often takes more time than observations themselves.
    • “People do writing this fashion [fieldwork first, then writing last] but this is one reason why so many monographs are uninspired.” Rosalie Wax
  • Writing about your thoughts before fieldwork can help to focus your observations on its ultimate purpose, and to organize your final account.
  • In subfields of anthropology, rapid fieldwork has become common but should not be dismissed. Common surveys, questionnaires, targeted interventions are not rushed as much as they are repetitive and formalized. Ethnographers are then considered data sources for teams conducting anthropological appraisals.
  • Anthropological appraisals may use common interviewing techniques, or even group interviews (focus groups), where an ethnographer would partake in a less structures interview/conversation and potentially identify a key informant.

“[…] Much stands to be gained for any researcher who pauses long enough to have a look around, with the intention of putting an inquiry into some broader perspective.”

Ethnographic Reconnaissance

  • –an ethnography precursor, permitting an initial survey or examination which is followed by a more detailed inquiry.
  • A windshield survey–or a survey of a community from a drive around town–is a rapid appraisal technique that can lead to valuable observations for further examination.
  • Ethnographic reconnaissance does not carry the notion that it must be done quickly, only that time must be set aside for getting one’s bearings in a new situation.
  • Do not disregard intuitive feelings about what is going on in a project, even if you’re part of a team performing pre-selected rapid assessments. Reconnaissance and getting one’s bearings should aware remain forefront while doing fieldwork.
  • Advice for initiating fieldwork to realize maximum return on ethnographic reconnaissance:
    • ethnographic reconnaissance develops organized common sense, free from inappropriate professionalism. don’t stick to overly scientific methods for observing the nuance complexity of human activity.
    • a researcher conducting ethnographic reconnaissance should try not assume a tourist or poll-taker or professional researcher identity, rather an interested human being. All of those identities could hinder natural conversation.
    • do not feel pressured to “sample” the population in any certain way. There will always be “gate keepers” of the community and they are worth your time as well.
    • write up notes quickly thereafter a reconnaissance effort. Initial opinions, anticipated problems, observations that go against your conceived notions are often fleeting once removed from the field.
    • keep in mind you are there to learn how those in this setting make sense of their world; if they can’t answer a question, it’s not part of their world. an idealistic goal for interviewing is to get them to talk with the fewest direct questions. ask questions as they come to you.
    • know what information is already out there (community history, maps) and do not feel obligated to reproduce it, but consider its biases and affordances carefully before inclusion in your reconnaissance or ethnography.

Systematic Research

  • Systematic research doesn’t always describe the existence of a community in ethnography. Care should be taken to understand when and how to count what needs to be counted, and measure what needs to be measured.
  • Problems and questions that are defined or redefined in terms of computational capabilities shift the researcher further away from orienting traditions of ethnography.
  • Photography, videography, and systematic research should not become ethnography–they are tools, not philosophies.
  • Stepwise research should not go against timing, but instead inform it. Dedicate chunks of times to different topics over the course of the fieldwork, and observe what changes and what doesn’t.
  • long-term fieldwork by ethnographers can provide “finer distinctions between change efforts and changed results, or between change and rhetoric of change.”


The Interpretation of Cultures “Chapter 1 Thick Description: Toward an Interprettive Theory of Culture” C. Geertz, 1973.

“To try to find the figure in the carpet of one’s writings can be as chilling as trying to find it in one’s life; to weave, post facto, a figure in —”this is what I meant to say”—is an intense temptation.

  • New ideas take hold of the intellectual community with vigor. It is applied to many problems and many situations. The community applied is where it is applicable and desists where it cannot be extended. What is does explain is now brought into focus, and the pseudoscience falls away.

“The concept of culture I espouse […] is essentially a semiotic one. [M]an is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”

  • If you want to understand science, look at what practicing scientists do. If you want to understand anthropology, look at ethnography.
  • Ethnography is more than just establishing rapport, selecting informations, transcribing texts, etc. It is an intellectual effort called “thick description” by Gilbert Ryle.
    • “Thick Description” is both thinking and reflecting, as well as thinking of thoughts.
    • A “thin” description of events merely records actions or direct observations, but a “thick” description finds a hierarchy of meaningful structures that leads to the actions. Where was this action learned? What was the intention behind the action? What is the context of the action? What is the action codifying?
  • Ethnography is a collection of data that is really a “construction of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to. [I]t does lead to a view of anthropological research as rather more of a observational and rather less of an interpretive activity that it really is.” Analysis is sorting out the structures of signification.

“What the ethnographer is in fact faced with […] is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render.”

  • Human behavior as symbolic action has a significance. The communication by an action’s agency is of significance. With this componential analysis of culture, “culture is composed of psychological structures by means of which individuals or groups of individuals guide their behavior.”

“The cognitive fallacy—that culture consists of ‘mental phenomena which can [should] be analyzed by formal methods similar to those of mathematics and logic’—is as destructive of an effective use of the concept as are the behaviorist and idealist fallacies to which it is a misdrawn correction.”

  • Ethnographers seek to speak to and with individuals, not for them.

“Culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly—that is, thickly—described.”

  • Behaviors are the vehicle for culture. Behaviors’ relationships to each other is intrinsic, but it’s their role in patterns of life that give them meaning.
  • Inspecting events his how we interpret symbols and symbol systems, not by setting them up and organizing them into our own patterns.
  • Searching for sound, overarching order in cultural proceedings discredits analysis; do not divorce interpretations of events from the events themselves.

“If anthropological interpretation is constructing a reading of what happens, then to divorce it from what happens—from what, in this time or that place, specific people say, what they do, what is done to them, from the whole vast business of the world—is to divorce it from its applications and render it vacant. A good interpretation of anything—a poem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a society—takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. When it does not do that, but leads us instead somewhere else—into an admiration of its own elegance, of its author’s cleverness, or of the beauties of Euclidean order—it may have its intrinsic charms; but it is something else than what the task at hand—figuring out what all that rigamarole with the sheep is about—calls for.”

  • There is a distinction being speaking and writing. An informant speaks; speaking is the event.  An ethnographer writes (inscribes); writing is the thought of speaking… or the meaning of the speaking.
  • Cultural analysis is guessing at meanings and assessments of such guesses; it is not all-encompassing or robust, rather its nuanced and situational.
  • Ethnographic descriptions are…
    1. …interpretive.
    2. …interpretive of the flow of social discourse.
    3. …attempts to rescue the “said” of discourse from ephemerality.
    4. …microscopic by nature.
  • Any larger, broader implications or abstractions of culture are often from extended acquaintances with extremely small matters, not a wide variety.
  • “To regard [ethnographic findings] as anything more (or anything less) than [particular] distorts both them and their implications, which are far profounder than mere primitivity, for social theory.”
  • This methodological critique of the microscopic nature of ethnography is valid, yet not to be resolved by considering the events as an actual microcosm, but resolved by “realizing social actions are comments” on society, with no bounds nor guarantee where the interpretation can go.
  • Generality of cultural theory grows from the “delicacy of its distinctions, not the sweep of its abstractions.”
  • Cultural analysis does not build on other analysis; it “plunges deeper into the same things” and enriches the understanding of both analyses.
  • Cultural theory is not predictive. It guides the lens to which we can view past events, and potentially anticipate future occurrences of the event.

“In ethnography, the office of theory is to provide a vocabulary in which what symbolic action has to say about itself—that is, about the role of culture in human life—can be expressed.”

  • Cultural analysis is, by definition, incomplete. They are sustained by continued debate and discussion. Yet, the more narrow the details, the less complete they become.

“The danger that cultural analysis, in search of all-too-deep-lying turtles*, will lose touch with the hard surfaces of life-with the political, economic, stratificatory realities within which men are everywhere contained-and with the biological and physical necessities on which those surfaces rest, is an ever-present one. The only defense against it, and against, thus, turning cultural analysis into a kind of sociological aestheticism, is to train such analysis on such realities and such necessities in the first place.”

*An old Indian story goes: The world rests upon a platter that is on the back of an elephant and that elephant stands on the shell of a turtle. Each turtle, in turn, rests on another turtle.

“Ethnography” in The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. D. Randall and M. Rouncefield.

What is Ethnography?

  • “Ethnography is a qualitative orientation to research that emphasizes the detailed observation of people in naturally occurring settings.”

Why use Ethnography?

  • “Perhaps the main virtue of ethnography is its ability to make visible the ‘real world’ sociality of a setting through detailed descriptions of the ‘workaday’ activities of social actors within specific contexts.”
  • Ethnography seeks to observe and record activies as social actions embedded in a socially organized domain.

Doing Ethnography – Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

  • The social world ethnographers plunge into is often not organized in the way researchers expect to find it.
  • Recording the richness of everyday activities is often difficult because of its commonplaceness.
  • Ethnography does not take immense amounts of training, nor is its goal to search for hard-to-find things; nor is it simply hanging around or experiencing another community. It is listening and watching to the guiding principles that structure others’ activities.

What does an Ethnographer do?

  • An ethnographer does not need to go look for data; they look for communities and actions within these contexts to observe, the data is then presented to them in that context.

“The point of fieldwork is to understand the social organization of activities within the setting.”

Collecting Data

  • “In terms of what the fieldworker collects by way of data, […] it will be dictated not by strategic methodological considerations, but by the flow of activity within the social setting.”
  • Everything an ethnographer experiences or witnesses or observes is data. There is no sense in having all the data, but nevertheless your record of it should far exceed your use of it.
  • Ethnography is “the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the investigator is aware of at the time of collection” (quoted in Dourish (n.d.: 2). Mass amounts of data collection tends to happen as a consequence of the ethnographer’s immersion in a setting. Recording things often comes naturally as a foreigner in a new country wants to document everything they don’t understand.

Readings for Sept 13

ARTG 6310: Designing for Behavior and Experience, Week 0


“The Design of Waits” Chapter from Don Norman’s Living with Complexity (2011)


  • “Unexplained waits are annoying; unfair waits can be anger inducing.”
  • “There will be waits whenever one system has to send items or information to another. It doesn’t matter whether the interaction is between two organizations, two people, two machines, or a person and a machine or organization.”

The Psychology of Waiting

  • “[A] person in line soon develops a long list of questions about efficiency, fairness, and even the nature of the line itself.”

Design Principles for Waiting

  • 1. Provide a conceptual model.
    • “For the model to be effective, there must be ample feedback. Uncertainty is a prime cause of emotional irritation: a good model coupled with proper feedback removes this source of anxiety.”
    • “The goal is to minimize uncertainty by providing reassurances and evidence of care.”
  • 2. Make the wait seem appropriate.
    • “The perception of appropriateness ultimately derives from a combination of information about the situation and the conceptual model.” The cause, duration, and provider response should all be perceived as appropriate.
  • 3. Meet or exceed expectations.
    • “Experience shows that the time should always be overestimated: if the actual waiting time is shorter than the expected time, people are likely to be pleasantly surprised.”
  • 4. Keep people occupied.
    • “[P]hysical time and distance can be precisely specified and measured, but people’s perceptions of distance and time are governed by psychology, not physics.”
  • 5. Be fair.
    • “Emotion is heavily influenced by perceived causal agents. If the wait seems reasonable, with nobody to blame, it will not necessarily trigger a strong negative emotion. The emotion comes when there is something to blame, even if it isn’t true. Thus, if the line appears to be arbitrary, unpredictable, and worst of all, unfair, emotions rise.”
  • 6. End strong, start strong.
    • “But if everything is relatively homogeneous (such as the act of waiting in line, from entering through leaving), then the most important influence on memory is the ending, the beginning, and the middle, in that order. This is called the serial position effect.”

Design Solutions for Waiting

  • “A form of the double buffering principle can be seen in the design of a two-sided cash register. Here, the cashier is in front of a cash register with customers on both sides—the right and left”
  • Supermarkets, Coffee Shops and Drive-Thru restaurants all currently use some form of temporal (linear) double bufferings, allowing customers to start part of the experience of getting coffee before the prior customers’ services are completed.

Designing the Lines

  • “Customers far prefer the perceived fairness of a single line feeding multiple servers rather than individual lines in front of each server.”
  • “The electronic variants [of number assignment queues] have the virtue of giving people more freedom to wander, but they eliminate the feedback that comes from being able to observe the length of a line or the current number being served.”
  • “One way to minimize the trauma of waiting lines is through reservations. But this has to be done in a way that seems fair and reasonable, even to those without reservations. […] A modification of a reservation system is to provide each person with an admissions ticket with a guaranteed time, even if it is for some time in the future.”

Memory Is More Important than Reality

  • “The memory of the whole experience is more important than the experiences of the separate parts.”
  • “Some waits at the start of an activity are beneficial, allowing us time to prepare [or decide].”
  • “[T]hrough the psychological mechanism known as ‘cognitive dissonance,’ the suffering actually enhances the enjoyment of the later event. Although the dissonance reduction is subconscious, think of it as the subconscious mind deciding that ‘any event that requires so much effort to enter must really be important and wonderful.'”

When Waiting is Handled Properly

  • “Note too that you cannot assess the strength of the negative feelings just by asking those who are waiting to be served. The people with the strongest negative reactions may have stopped attending altogether.”

Designing the Experience

  • “When we’re in a positive mood, minor difficulties or confusions are considered minor, not a major problem. But when we’re anxious or irritable, the same minor setback can become a major event.”


  1. Waiting is a product of systems interacting.
  2. Computations of efficiency, fairness of waiting are necessary while designing lest they exclude the human element of experience.
  3. “Conceptual models can transform confusing products and services [and waiting lines] into coherent and understandable ones.”
  4. Feedback and explanation are tools to help users wait less frustrations, informing them why they are waiting and that its reasonable to do so.
  5. Different cultures are accustomed to different structures of waiting, and therefore also different experiences while waiting.
  6. After an event outcome, the memories of the event dominate the memories preceding the event only if the unpleasantness (of boredom and frustration and anxiety) is outweighed by the reward or desired outcome of the event itself.


“The Psychology of Waiting Lines” by David H. Maister (1985)


  • “Waiting is frustrating, demoralizing, agonizing, aggravating, annoying, time consuming and incredibly expensive.” –Federal Express Advertisement: Fortune, 28 July 1980, p. 10
  • “Once we are being served, our transaction with the service organization may be efficient, courteous and complete: but the bitter taste of how long it took to get attention pollutes the overall judgments that we make about the quality of service .”
  • “S = P – E. In this formulation, ‘S’ stands for satisfaction, ‘P’ for perception and ‘E’ for expectation. […] The point, of course, is that both the perception and the expectation are psychological phenomena.”
  • “I would hypothesize that people waiting to make their first human contact with the service organization are much more impatient than those who have ‘begun’: in other words, preprocess waits are perceived as longer than in-process waits.”
  • “Ask yourself what customers might be worrying abut (rationally or irrationally), and find ways to remove the worry.”
  • “[A] customer with an appointment has been given a specific expectation about waiting times, and a failure to deliver on this premise makes the wait seem longer than if no appointment had been made. […] It should be recognized, however, that an appointment defines an expectation that must be met.”
  • “Waiting in ignorance creates a feeling of powerlessness, which frequently results in visible irritation and rudeness on the part of customers as they harass serving personnel in an attempt to reclaim their status as paying clients. In turn, this behavior makes it difficult for the serving personnel to maintain their equanimity.”
  • “[T]he customer’s sense of equity is not always obvious, and needs to be explicitly managed. Whatever priority rules apply, the service provider must make vigorous efforts to ensure that these rules match with the customer’s sense of equity, either by adjusting the rules or by actively convincing the client that the rules are indeed appropriate.”
  • “[A user’s] tolerance for waiting depends upon the perceived value of that for which [they] wait.”


  1. When addressing the concerns of waiting (with research and design), the objective reality of the systems has been favored over emotional experience brought about by the systems.
  2. Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.
  3. Service-related waiting can give the illusion that service has begun, which lessens the negatives effects of waiting.
  4. If a user must wait, it is preferable that the waits are expected/justified, known, equitable and finite. Any deviation from this could cause anxiety, dissatisfaction, or perceived temporal lengthening.
  5. “By learning to research and understand the psychological context of their own waiting lines, managers can have a significant impact upon their customers’ satisfaction with the service encounter. “


“The End of Reflection: Future Tense” by Teddy Wayne (June 11, 2016 – New Yorker Times)


  • “Finding moments to engage in contemplative thinking has always been a challenge, since we’re distractible,” said Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows.” “But now that we’re carrying these powerful media devices around with us all day long, those opportunities become even less frequent, for the simple reason that we have this ability to distract ourselves constantly.”
  • “It seems counterintuitive to say that we are entering an unreflective cultural phase, as our time tends to be criticized for its self-absorption. But our solipsism is frequently given outward expression rather than inward exploration, with more emphasis than ever before on images. When there is text, new media such as Instagram commonly sideline the role of language.”
  • “As our technologies increase the intensity of stimulation and the flow of new things, we adapt to that pace. We become less patient.”


  1. The immediacy of information (as well as ubiquitous access) has led to the “loss of the contemplative mind,” and questions that don’t have simple, search-friendly answers become inefficient and not worth consideration.
  2. The outward expression of the digital media age is related to the lack of reflection and contemplation in the new society. Expressing a thought, an idea, an opinion, a tweet has less restrictions and hurdles than ever before.
  3. The human brain is easily distractible and mobile media devices permit distraction. The distraction is from the rumination and contemplation that previous generations have used to craft, edit, consider, and empathize viewpoints.

Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research

Glaser and Strauss (1967); Strauss and Corbin (1990); Glaser (1992)

based on Dick, Bob (2005)  Grounded theory: a thumbnail sketch


Grounded theory begins with a research situation, and observations regarding such a situation. Constant comparison is the heart of the process. Compare interview data with other interview data, then make theories, compare that theory to interview data, etc. These comparisons are often noted in margins of text, and encoded to the likes of the researcher. Relative structure of themes and how themes relate to each other can be written as memos, and then memos are sorted as a skeleton upon which writing can occur. 

Grounded Theory, process


“In short, data collection, note-taking, coding and memoing occur simultaneously from the beginning. […] The theory is emergent — discovered in the data, Glaser will say.”

What most differentiates grounded theory from much other research is that it is explicitly emergent.  In this respect it is like action research: the aim is to understand the research situation.  “The aim, as Glaser in particular states it, is to discover the theory implicit in the data.”


Questions to judge grounded theory research: Does the theory fit the situation?  Does it help the people in the situation to make sense of their experience?

convergent interviewing (see Note-Taking)
  1. Data Collection
    • Observations
    • Interviews
  2. Note-Taking
    • Glaser recommends not taking notes or recording. This stimulates natural rapport and leaves you with a summary rather than being bogged down in word-by-word transcriptions.
    • Dick recommends recording the session, taking very minimal notes, so that you can go back and verify your effectiveness.
    • Convergent interviewing can also be used among a group of researchers. In this, interviews are found touch on similar subjects, and similarities and discrepancies are identified for further study and appropriate theorizing:
  3.  Coding
    • Start by asking general questions about the situation and how the participants manage their situations.
    • On the second interview develop a code in the margins that compares the first interview to the second interview.
    • When repetition of codes begins to emerge, convert them into memos.
    • Memos and categories of memos can be organized in various sub-groups in a hierarchical or network fashion.
    • The process of interviewing stops upon saturation, where no new information in a category is added.
  4.  Sampling
    • The sample of interviews should be emergent, in that, when new categories emerge, differences in those categories should be sought out to study.
    • You shouldn’t limit your research to the initial sample if it ends up not being completely representative of the diversity of your population.
  5.  Memoing
    • “A memo is a note to yourself about some hypothesis you have about a category or property, and particularly about relationships between categories.”
  6. Sorting & Writing
    • Reorganize the memos as needed to describe the phenomena/situation to an outside audience. This guides the writing structure.
  7. Using Literature
    • It is not apparent at first what literature will be appropriate to cite in writing until the observations and interview processes begin.
    • The literature to be cited should be treated as equal to the data you’ve collected.
    • Glaser warns about reading too specific of literature before interviews, in that the coding and memoing could guide you to make assumptions that won’t exist during your observations/interviews.
    • If an apparent disagreement between your emerging theory and the literature exists, don’t assume that your theory must be wrong.  You should seek to extend the theory so that it makes sense of both the data from your study and the data from the literature.

“In short, in using grounded theory methodology you assume that the theory is concealed in your data for you to discover.  Coding makes visible some of its components.  Memoing adds the relationships which link the categories to each other.”