Phoebe Sengers
(Cornell University) sengers
From the mainstream to the center: Using niche perspectives to reframe designs

The targets of IT design are frequently “typical users” – ordinary individuals who we would expect to use our system. Framed this way, system design often builds in particular conceptions of who is ”ordinary,” such as white-collar office workers or upwardly mobile, urban 20-somethings. Such ideas of what it means to be “normal” can greatly constrain our design spaces and the interventions we can imagine making as designers. In this talk, I will argue that consideration of the values, perspectives, and experiences of people outside of the technological mainstream can open up valuable new opportunities for design for everyone. I will describe how understanding traditional Newfoundland villagers, Icelandic fishermen, families focused on simple living, and Jamaican mobile phone adopters leads to new ways of thinking about the potential role for technology in “ordinary” users’ lives.

This talk describes joint work with Maria Hakansson, Hronn Holmer, and Kaiton Williams.

Phoebe Sengers is an associate professor of Information Science and Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University, where she runs the Culturally Embedded Computing Group. She uses insights from cultural analysis of IT to identify and rethink the assumptions underlying technologies, to build new applications for computing, and to develop new techniques for designing and evaluating technologies. She received her PhD in Artificial Intelligence & Cultural Theory in 1998 from CMU, was a Fulbright Scholar at the Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, and was a postdoctoral researcher at
the GMD. She was a recipient of best paper awards or nominations at CHI ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, and ’11. Sengers’s research is supported by the Intel Science & Technology Center for Social Computing and by the National Science Foundation.

Related publications:

  • Maria Håkansson and Phoebe Sengers. “Beyond Being Green: Simple Living Families and ICT.” In Proc. CHI 2013, April 2013
  • Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir, Maria Håkansson, James Pierce, Eric Baumer, Carl DiSalvo, and Phoebe Sengers. “Sustainably Unpersuaded: How Persuasion Narrows Our Vision of Sustainability.” In Proc. CHI 2012, April 2012.
  • Phoebe Sengers. “What I Learned on Change Islands: Reflections on IT and pace of life.” interactions, 18, 2 (March 2011), 40-48
  • Carl DiSalvo, Phoebe Sengers, and Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir. “Mapping the Landscape of Sustainable HCI.” In Proc. CHI 2010.
  • Susan Wyche, Phoebe Sengers, and Rebecca E. Grinter. “Historical Analysis: Using the Past to Design the Future.” In Proc. Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp) 2006, pp 35-51.
  • Phoebe Sengers and Bill Gaver. “Staying Open to Interpretation: Engaging Multiple Meanings in Design and Evaluation.” In Proc. Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) 2006, pp. 99-108.
  • Genevieve Bell, Mark Blythe, and Phoebe Sengers. “Making by Making Strange: Defamiliarization and the design of domestic technology.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), Special issue on Social Issues and HCI, Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2005, Pages 149-173.

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