user reserach : Making the teenagers part of the design
The research began in reading about the topics of mobile communication, teenagers and groups. Then it was time to go and meet my user group. The first interview was conducted early in the process, with a group of four girls from Ivrea. This was an open ended interview and my goal was to get a sense of the relationship teenagers have with their friends, and the role of the phone in these relationships.
meet the "mics"
To get a sense of their actual use of the phone, I gave the interviewees disposable cameras and diaries where they were asked to note any kind of phone activities they had during a week, and take pictures of these activities.
“Q: What are your favorite things?
A: My make-up, my clothes, my Jewelry. I love my phone”
Marta, 15, Ivrea
They were four friends, 14 and 15 years old, and they referred to themselves as the MICS, which is the combination of their initials.
The MICS have a close relationship with rituals such as having a weekly sleepover, wearing friendship rings, writing in turns in a shared diary, and extensively communicating daily during school hours, over their phones, and in physical meetings in the afternoons and evenings.
Behavior codes inside the group are different than the interaction with outsiders. For example, they often swap phones among themselves and know the exact content of each other’s phones. They rather not expose their phone’s content to peers who are not part of the group, as they perceive it as private information. Interesting to note is that phone swapping is an exposure of their social relationships and communications, unlike diaries swapping by which their thoughts and feelings are shared.
Although they all had dozens of names in their phone’s address books (120 to 250 contacts) they communicated regularly with 5-10 people only, including their family.
SMS is their main communication channel, and SMS abbreviations language is used in face to face conversation. For example: using the term “Risp” at the end of the sentence, which is a shortening of “Rispond” - answer me.
The girls valued the messages they received and kept as many as their phone allowed them to and it’s part of their shared culture:
"The girls always take my phone and look at the pictures inside"
Sara, 14, Ivrea
Phone is definitely a fashion item for them and they personalize it by putting on stickers attaching phone straps and using backdrops with pictures they have taken themselves. It fulfils a part in their emotional lives when they use it to give attention rings ("Squilli) "to each other, fight with friends over SMS, Dump boyfriends and be courted.
"If the lesson is boring I do "Squillo" (ring) just to say hello"
Chiara, 15, Ivrea
When one of the girls' phone batteries died during the interview, her mother and her boyfriend reached her through her friend's phone – She was expected to be available at all times, even when her phone wasn't.
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To test the idea of the codes communication bracelet, a co-creation session was conducted. Three teenage girls participated.
The purpose of the session was to understand the possible uses of BuddyBeads by the girls, in which situations they will use it and what type of messages and emotions the girls would like to express through the codes.
The conclusions from this session were that the girls liked the idea of the bracelet. It was important for them to create their own group codes, and they wanted to assemble their group bracelets.
Though group codes were important, they expressed the need to send messages to individual recipients and not to the whole group at once. Trust and inner group dynamics issues were brought up in this context.
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