Going Native to Understand Mobile Workers
Author: Lynn Rampoldi-Hnilo, Senior Manager, Mobile Applications — Oracle Applications User Experience
Mobile communication and information devices have been evolving with recent improvements in battery life, security, device management, and memory bandwidth. New applications have exploded into the marketplace, enabling individuals to pick and choose applications that fit their social, informational, and personal needs.
With the blending of work and personal life, access to both business and personal applications can happen in any environment at any time.
As part of a comprehensive user-centered design strategy, the Oracle mobile applications user experience team aims to understand as much as possible about enterprise mobile users. To do this, the team decided to conduct in-depth ethnographic research with mobile workers to thoroughly understand the mobile workforce environment, so that we can point the way toward new applications and user experiences for the mobile business user.
Research in the Field
Mobile behaviors are not easily self-reported, because they are opportunistic in nature — that is, mobile tasks are completed when convenient. Mobile behaviors also are often unexpected or unplanned by the user. For example, the behavior may be an urgent response to an e-mail or a phone call from Mom.
This makes the issues to be explored contextual and rooted in general behavior, so the field studies must be more than simple observations; they are an exploration of meaning. The core of most ethnographic work is based on observation, interaction, and documentation.
Research conducted in Singapore, India, and the United States was done by the Oracle team recently to ensure a representation of mobile trends and user types across technologically advanced cultures, diverse mobile workforces, and emerging markets.
Our approach was to take an in-depth look into a cross-section of users and understand their mobile usage, needs, and wants through interviews and observation of their day-to-day interactions at work and outside of the office. The sessions lasted about five hours and gave us the chance to intimately participate in a user's day. During that timeframe, we spent about 30 minutes getting to know and form a rapport with the participant, then we observed the participant as he or she completed work and daily tasks for approximately three hours. We concluded with a one-hour interview to follow up on observations and catch any details we may have missed.
In April and May 2008, the Oracle team conducted 33 ethnographic interviews with experienced users of mobile devices, such as cell phones or Personal Digitial Assitants (PDAs), who use their devices in both their work and personal life.
Recruiting Mobile-philes and More
An internal recruiting team lined up 10 participants in India, 13 participants in Singapore, and 10 participants in the United States, which included a mixture of mobile users from New York and San Francisco. The people we talked to ranged from tech-savvy “mobile-philes” to those who only used basic phone features. The participants represented a wide range of fields and walks of life, including financial, pharmaceutical, general sales, field service, retail merchandising, manufacturing, portfolio management, media and entertainment, and
In addition to in-depth observation sessions, we also conducted
Each member of the research team shares their story below with insights that try to capture the stimulation of senses, the cultures, the mobile worker, the personal side of mobile use, and the team’s observations.
U.S.: Piloting our Method in San Francisco
Author: Michele Snyder, Principal Usability Engineer
We had an unsettling feeling as we approached Starbucks in downtown San Francisco, where we were meeting our very first participant in our ethnographic research project. As we entered Starbucks, we noticed that there were many people who could fit the description of the 23-year-old male college student we were supposed to meet. At that point, we realized even the simple task of meeting him was much more difficult in an ethnographic study than a traditional in-lab usability activity. Luckily, it was a mobile study, so we knew he had a mobile device on him. We called him on the phone and found that he was waiting for us outside.
The college student did not have a car, so he relied on walking and buses for transportation. He was a fast walker and often ignored our presence, so we constantly felt like we were lagging behind. This made it difficult, since he was continuously text-messaging and making phone calls. We could not see what he was doing, or hear his phone conversations. Knowing where to stand is key when observing your participant.
Another problem that we encountered was that it was difficult to take detailed notes on the move. A clipboard was definitely needed for future studies. Unfortunately, tape-recording was not a reliable back-up. Because the streets were so noisy, the recording resulted in poor tape quality.
India: Interwoven into the Culture
Author: Ekta Shah, Usability Engineer
Mobile telephones are so pervasive in India, almost everybody owns a cell phone. One may wonder why it is that mobile phones are so common in a country where a majority of people do not have access to basic necessities such as water to drink and food to eat.
This derives from the innate nature of Indians to always stay connected. Every family member is always aware of the status of every other family member at all times. This closeness in families crosses distances, and knows no boundaries. It is something that is probably native to the subcontinent, which is why we see the explosive growth of telecommunications here. Looking around, we see that Nokia really took the slogan “Connecting people” to heart in this country.
Singapore: The Life of a College Student
Author: Brent White, Principal Interaction Designer
I met Brendan, whose name was changed to protect his privacy, at the Novena subway station near his apartment.
We walked into the mall, which is a common event for most Singaporeans since a large portion of the city is covered by a maze of sprawling and often interconnected malls, and we sat down at a fast food restaurant to conduct the initial interview.
Brendan carried two mobile devices that he used for different tasks. His smaller device, a Nokia N73, was used primarily for calls and SMS, or Short Message Service, while his larger PDA-type device, a Nokia 9500 Communicator, was used for calendar tasks and notes.
Brendan did not have school the day we met, but he had several errands to run. He was an avid mobile user, technically savvy, and an explorer of new features and services.
He was very organized, and as he shopped, he constantly referred to his Nokia 9500 for items to purchase. After he located the item, he would remove it from his electronic shopping list. He also talked on the phone, and sent text messages to his girlfriend and other friends several times per hour.
Singapore: Wait — Is That a Security Camera?
Author: Michele Snyder, Principal Usability Engineer
A number of people familiar with Singapore had warned our mobile team about the strict rules and laws. We were even told that getting surveys filled out on the streets might be difficult or impossible to do. The malls have security cameras everywhere, and I could easily get into trouble and possibly arrested for conducting the surveys.
It was decided that I should try sneaking around the food court, and casually approaching people eating at the tables. I tried to be inconspicuous and hide my clipboard and survey materials. I circled the food court several times before finding the courage to approach someone. I finally asked someone and had success.
At the end of a long day, I had only 11 surveys filled out. Since I was the first person on our team to spend an entire day on the streets of Singapore, I had learned some valuable lessons.
First, you are being watched by security cameras and people everywhere you go. Second, drink water because Singapore is hotter than most places in the world. Finally, it is important to target people who are sitting down, not walking through the street. This worked well in the food court, at the subway, and outside on the streets. People walking tended to say no, because they were often in a hurry.
India: Insight into Phone Juggling
Author: Pranavdatta Natekar, Senior Interaction Designer Lead
One of the most interesting observations I made was the simultaneous use of multiple mobile devices. We often see people using a single mobile device to call, text, or review the calendar, but rarely do we see people using two mobile devices at the same time. This was a regular occurrence in Mumbai.
Let me describe my observations of one particularly skilled multi-phone user who is a portfolio manager. There were many occasions when he was conversing on one cell phone, and while talking he received a call on his other device. Not to be deterred, he kept talking to both clients at the same time, putting them on hold alternatively. It is not good business to let a call go unanswered, and voice mail is rarely, if ever, used.
Singapore: “Where Are You?”
Author: Lynn Rampoldi-Hnilo, Senior Manager
When we set out to do our field research, one of the most important questions we wanted to answer was: Where do people use their mobile devices? Not surprisingly, if you ask that question, our participants replied, “everywhere.”
Rarely could you walk anywhere or sit down at a specific location without seeing someone texting, chatting, or examining some piece of information on their cell phone, handheld, or mobile device. I took a moment to synthesize what my colleagues and I documented across the mobile users that we observed in Singapore. The top four contexts or environments in which we saw the most mobile usage were:
Places to avoid using a mobile device were: cinemas, meetings/classes, quiet areas such as libraries and places of worship, toilets, gas stations (it is illegal in Singapore to use a mobile device by a gas station), and crowded locations such as mass transit and lifts.
India: Hitting the Street in Mumbai
Author: Dhayan Duraikannan, Senior Interaction Designer
We headed down to a very busy street of Mumbai—the “Bombay Stock Exchange Market”—where people were too occupied to stop and participate in our survey. Yikes! How were we going to get participation?
Some of the big discoveries were: Never carry too many things in your hand; keep the questionnaire very simple and to the point; users preferred answering questions while they continued to do their tasks, whether it was smoking, eating, drinking coffee, or reading the Sensex (stock market) results.
Visiting mobile stores was also on our agenda. Alpha store, one of the very famous mobile stores in Mumbai, is flooded with all of the latest smart phones from every brand imaginable.
One of the sales people, who was not more than 13 or 14 years old, made an offer to install a few applications, utilities, and games. I was completely shocked! So was Michele, when she had a chance to look at all of the top smart phones in the world that were displayed in such a cramped place with heavy human traffic. This was definitely a highlight of our day.
U.S.: Reshaping the Work Day
U.S.: Reshaping the Work Day
Conducting international ethnography provided many insights. One thing that was evident across countries, but became particularly evident in New York, was the fact that smart phones have reshaped the typical business day for scores of people.
Having a smart phone allows people much more flexibility in “when and where” they can work. None of the business users observed in New York followed a strict work schedule. Days tended to be more flexible in nature and often extended into the evening. People worked at home in the mornings, preparing for the day, checking e-mails, making calls, and planning their schedules. Work outside the house began about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., and ended about 6 p.m. Once they got home, people generally worked another 30 to 60 minutes, documenting the activities from their day and planning the next day.
Having a smart phone allowed people to interact with and accommodate others more easily and professionally. They were able to call, e-mail, or text people.
Mobile devices are no fleeting trend: The use of mobile devices is global and transcends both personal and work life. More than that, it has an impact on our cultures.We hope you have enjoyed these findings written by members of the mobile ethnographic team.