Professor Sarah Pink
FROM VISUAL TO DESIGN ETHNOGRAPHY, HOW PEOPLE EXPERIENCE TECHNOLOGY
By Ms Nancy Van Nieuwenhove | 25th March 2019
Professor Sarah Pink
Director, Emerging Technologies Research Lab, Monash University
Co-Theme Leader of Consumers, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture & Faculty of Information Technology *
Research interests: futures; energy demand reduction; emerging technologies; smart technologies.
Sarah Pink is Professor of Design and Emerging Technologies and Director of the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University, International Guest Professor in IT at Halmstad University, Sweden, and Visiting Professor in Design at Loughborough University UK. She started at Monash in November 2018. “I have been very impressed with the ways that research and engagement are supported at Monash, and with the enthusiasm and collegiality of new colleagues I met across different faculties and departments. My new role at Monash gives me the opportunity to create the bigger vision for research into the social, cultural and experiential dimensions of emerging technologies. Energy research is of course an essential piece of this jigsaw”
Sarah trained in social anthropology in the UK. Anthropology was fascinating because it offered her a way to understand human experience. Her work moved from traditional anthropology into a more interdisciplinary space where she combines anthropological, design and future research approaches. “Most of my work focuses on understanding how people experience, live and imagine futures with technologies in everyday life situations. When people use technologies or anticipate how technologies might play a role in their future lives, they consume energy to power those technologies. This means that energy use needs to be understood as part of how people live. For example, my research about ‘how energy demand is generated in homes’ focused on how people use energy to 'feel right' at home. People don't think of their activities as being energy-consuming. Instead they think of them as creating the right feeling at home, by playing music, lighting or heating and cooling the home. Similarly, people won't think of future AI assistants or self-driving cars in relation to the demands they make on energy, but as technologies that help them to achieve what they need in everyday life”.
Sarah is world leading design anthropologist and expert in interdisciplinary methodologies for research, dissemination and engagement. Design anthropology brings anthropology and design together, acknowledging the limits of each discipline. “As a researcher I develop new methods tailored to research questions or projects I take on. This depends on the technologies available as well as the waves of academic scholarship, theory and practice. I'm planning to write the 4th edition of my book ‘Doing Visual Ethnography’, first published in 2001. I developed this approach further through Sensory ethnography, which pays much more attention to people's sensory experiences of their lives, and then with the Digital Ethnography team, we explored what ethnography had become in a digital era. All these approaches come together in my approach to Design Ethnography, bringing together anthropology and design to create a future-focused approach to understanding how futures will be lived”.
Sarah started to do research in the Energy Sector in 2010. Investigating how people use today’s technologyis a starting point to conceptualize the technologies of tomorrow. “Before 2010, I had already been focusing on sustainability in research about slow living and slow cities, and I had considerable expertise in ethnographic studies in homes. Energy use in homes was the perfect topic to develop these interests and was moreover a key issue at the time, needing new interdisciplinary approaches. I began discussing these questions with engineers and designers and, in 2010, we were awarded the Low Effort Energy Demand Reduction project (EPSRC UK 2010-14, http://leedr-project.co.uk/index.php). The Energy and Digital Living web site (www.energyanddigitalliving.com) was one of the outputs of the project. The project I’m working on now is the ARC Linkage, Digital Energy Futures, 2019-22”.
Sarah has designed and developed projects in Australia, UK, Indonesia, Brazil, Spain and Chile. Sarah’s recent and current projects focus on Human Experience and Expectation of AD cars (funded by Vinnova, Sweden, 2016-18), developing a Human Approach to Mobility as a Service (funded by Drive Sweden, 2018-9), the future of self-tracking and wearable technologies (funded by RJ Foundation Sweden 2015-18), Natural User Experience with smartphone technologies (funded by Samsung Institute, Brazil (2017-19), and Transmedia Literacy (funded by EU 2020 2015-18).
There are uncertainties and anxiety behind emerging technologies in the context of social, economic and environmental inequalities. “In 2019, I would like the energy sector to take seriously the argument that emerging technologies need to be understood through the prism of human experience and activity, and that if this is accounted for the promise of new technologies to bring about beneficial change is more likely to be achieved. We also should ensure that new projects involving technologies, wherever possible, address questions about inequality and take an ethical and responsible approach to this”.