Nice. But How Does It Fit Into My Life?

James Temple, in his Dot.Commentary column for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote an interesting piece about Daniel Russell Google’s search scientist, who spends a lot of time observing how people interact with pages on the web.

His job, as search anthropologist, includes observing and talking to users to garner human insights that will infuse that information with context and meaning.

Two paragraphs jumped out at me.

The Epiphanous moment:

Russell, while working at Xerox PARC, had come up with a sophisticated tool for programming high end copiers that he was really excited about. The problem was that nobody could figure out how to use it.

He said he had “an epiphanous moment,” as he realized that the most powerful technology in the world is next to useless if people don’t understand how to use it.

From then on, most of his work has focused on the science of user experiences.

The article also includes some comments from Stephen Barley, co-director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford.

“Use is more than what happens at the interface level,” he said. “It’s what happens when it’s embedded into a context and workflow.”

Thinking context is important and something all of us need to keep in mind as we create and invent. How does it fit in someone’s dayflow or workflow?


Daniel Russell is a research scientist at Google where has been working in the area of search quality, with a focus on understanding what makes Google users happy, skilled and competent in their use of web search. He is sometimes called a search anthropologist because of his focus on understanding how people use the tools of technology to amplify their intelligence. But his research methods draw equally on ethnography and field work, lab studies, classical usability analysis, eyetracking experiments and large-scale logs analysis.

Link to Dan’s research

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