CORPORATE Maypole Project Team
- Boy: "When Mom and Pop aren't around, I watch TV and play games. They moan about me leaving my clothes lying around and not doing my homework. I don't see why I should tell them where I'm going."
Parent: "Boys don't do their homework, they forget things, and they disappear. They ought to have wires on their heads so we could track them. Nothing else would help."
Children's communicative behavior differs in many ways from that of their parents. Kids' fidgety energy, impatience, and inarticulateness is matched by a fair amount of technological sophistication. Maypole's initial research focused on children. Their social behavior was a source of inspiration for new ideas about using communication technology. We thought it would be interesting to see how concepts created for children could be modified and extended to adults, instead of the other way around. In our view, it would help us take the socializing needs of all members of the family equally seriously.
"Young people are assimilating new media into the structure of their everyday lives, but are rarely radically altering their way of living." Sonia Livingstone, a contributor to this Special Issue, came to this conclusion in her research report Young People New Media. An understanding of the social context is crucial to developing new applications for children. But how do you learn about the minutiae of their daily lives? What are their major topics of conversation? What moves kids? We discovered that it's a waste of time asking them directly; they simply can't explain. Children don't see why the boring details of their everyday comings and goings should interest an outsideran adult at that. That's why Maypole developed user research methods to extract the information we sought in a more informal way. Some of them are described here.
One of the methods we used was to hold a "photostory competition." Maypole researchers distributed 31 disposable cameras to a school class of 12-year-olds. The children were asked to photograph subjects they liked, with the aim of telling a story. After a week of camera-clicking, the children pasted their favorite photos on a large sheet of paper and added written texts where they thought it was appropriate. Four of the children were nominated to judge the best story. The winner received a ticket to a movie.
Besides having a lot of fun, the children did their best to impress their classmatesnot the researchers, who kept a low profile. Any idea that the children would come up with complete narratives was overly optimistic: their photos were mostly ad hoc shots of commonplace subjects. The results gave the researchers answers to matters like "What are the main topics of interest in the class?" and "What kinds of things happen on the way to and from school?" If the researchers were to ask these questions straightforward, they would simply get a bored "nothing much" for an answer.
Top 10 Photostory Topics
- Boys fighting
- Teacherswho can make the most awful picture of the class teacher?
- Who's in love with whom?
- Girls' friendships
- Where do girls shop after school?
- Gym lessons
- Homeworkwho copies whose?
- Lunch in the school cafeteria
In addition to the user research described here, the Maypole team conducted other studies relating to the daily communication needs of children and their parents. This table below outlines a few of them.
As another informal way of gathering information, the researchers set up what they called a "May Market." Three pairs of children ages 7 to 9, two pairs of girls and one pair of boys, were invited to define an imaginary product to their own taste and think up an advertising slogan for it. First, the children chose their preferred shape from a number of computer toy mock-ups. The researcher then gave them some play money and invited them to "buy" functions for the toy. The options were displayed on picture cards pinned to a board. They included things like a virtual pet, taking a photo, and a romantic fortune-teller.
Once the children had spent all their money on functions, the researcher asked them to think up ways to advertise the product. The girls found it difficult to think abstractly about their imaginary product. In each case, they ended up with a product bearing a close resemblance to a mobile phone. The boys, Riku and Joona, found the situation more inspiring and let their imagination rip:
- Riku: This is the Secret Machine.
- Joona: You can do a lot with it. You can play on it together or do math.
- Riku: And you can send notes to your friends.
- Joona: That'd be a laugh. Suppose we sent a message to the teacher telling him, "You're fired! Have a nice day. Signed, the school principal."
- Riku: You can use it to make videos. I'd put it in Mom's pocket or hide it in the kitchen to spy on her.
- Joona: You can play games like Ice Hockey on it, too. (The boys hold their mock-ups with both hands and press imaginary buttons with both thumbs.)
- Riku: You could get together and play in teams. You'd have to have a secret password.
- Maypole researcher: Would you like to make up an advertising slogan? Something like "Buy the Secret Machine, and ..."?
- Riku: Buy the Secret Machine, and you can do all kinds of things with it!
The Maypole team wanted to find out how children use images when they can record and manipulate these images themselves. So researchers gave two groups of friends (one group of boys, one group of girls) Nintendo Game Boys plus cameras and printersaccessories for the popular game. A week later, the researchers asked the groups what they had done with the equipment.
Both boys and girls said their favorite activity was editing the pictures. They liked to draw silly images and play with the function that let them make stamps. Aside from that, the boys enjoyed taking pictures, turning the event into playacting or fooling around. They were also continuously searching for new possibilities and features. They showed the cameras to their friends, and gave away most of the printouts they made. The girls, on the other hand, took pictures of their families, pets, and friends. They traded pictures and kept the best ones by sticking them onto notebooks or pencil cases.
This article is based on previous work by Maypole. It deals with the exploratory phase of the two-year project. Besides the studies mentioned, the team devised many user scenarios, design concepts and prototypes in close contact with potential users. For further information, check out <http://www.maypole.org>
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