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Experience Sampling with Smartphones

We tried something new in ID Research last week. I've long wanted to do "beeper studies" using smartphones and the simple capabilities of text messaging - texting participants and asking them to provide a brief description of what's happening in the moment, plus a snapshot. 

This is an old method that allows researchers to collect "samples" of everyday experience that would otherwise be difficult to capture. It was done using beepers back in the day, hence the name Beeper Studies.*

There are ethnographic research apps available that can be used for this, but I wanted to see if we could do it simply and without having people buy a special-purpose app. Using the class as our participants, my TA, Jeff Lin, texted them at various times of day for a week and asked them to text back with a rating of how stressed they were in that moment, along with a brief description and a photo of what they were doing.

We compiled all of the samples into a matrix and viewed the results - a picture of one week in the life of fifteen ArtCenter students. The method worked pretty well. We have a few notes on what we will change the next time we do this, but I think I'll add this to our list of generative tools.

*  For more on Beeper Studies, you really should try to find a copy of the book, "Experience Sampling Method," by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others. He is one of my research heroes, and every designer should have a copy of his book, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" on their shelf. Here's a link to his TED talk, on the topic of Flow.