Autobiographical Design in the Home
Home environments are complex, family life is highly dynamic, and technology use is deeply embedded in the dynamic complexity of everyday practices and relationships. These facts present serious challenges to designing and evaluating technologies for the home: It can be hard to understand the nuances of family life to inform design, it may be difficult to determine family needs for new technology, and, during evaluation, it can be difficult to conduct field trials across the many locations and contexts that family life spreads. One approach we have found promising for these hard-to-design-and-evaluate systems is autobiographical design: design research drawn from extensive, genuine usage by those creating or building the system. With autobiographical design, we can design new technologies for family life and rapidly test them through our own rich usage. We explore autobiographical design in home environments to show its value and its limitations as a method. We describe the design of the Family Window, an exploration of always-on video in the home that focused on one of the author’s own routines and uses for video communications. The autobiographical design of the Family Window reveals important factors for the success of autobiographical design in the home: having genuine needs for the system, being able to rapidly tinker with the design, building a real system, collecting usage data from all family members, and capturing longitudinal usage. Through each of these factors, we explore the real-world challenges that arise by including one's own family members in the design process and ways to overcome these challenges.