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People live mobile lives, spending time in diverse places and moving between

and through different settings, both for vocational and private purposes. One

such public setting is places for waiting. We queue at the store, we wait for the

bus, and we wait at the train station. This paper focuses upon that subset of

public behavior, and investigates people’s activities and their relation to

technology when waiting to travel.

Despite the amount of time that people spend in public places and the fact that

IT is something that we find in most public environments nowadays, few studies

have been concerned with what people do while waiting and how this

potentially could guide the design of IT. Technologies such as wireless

telecommunication networks, and small, powerful handheld devices give

mobile people new possibilities to communicate and, by that, altering the

availability for interaction with others and access data and information. This

motivates research within this area.

Waiting to travel has characteristics that need to be explored in order to be able

to create valid designs for use in this context. We are interested in behavior in

public places and how this could give insights to the design of technology.

Waiting and Places for Waiting

In this section the basic characteristics of waiting and places created for people

to wait are discussed. Places for waiting are generally designed for waiting and

this frames people’s activity spatially and temporally in these spaces. These

features interrelate with the social interaction among travelers within this space.

This means that the social interaction shapes the spatial and temporal frames

and vice versa, as we will show in this chapter.

People in these places are not a homogenous group; they have diverse reasons

for being there. This is important because the reason for being present shapes

the activities that they engage in. For example one issue that differentiates

people is that we can assume that some people are traveling to, from or in their

work, and hence waiting in close conjunction to their vocation, while others are

about to, or just have, traveled for private reasons.

Studying people in public places is different from studying people working. One

of the main differences is that workers usually perform certain specified actions

and have certain goals. In this case people do not have well defined goals and

the possible activities to engage are numerous. Waiting to travel is something

that happens “between” other activities, it isn’t something that people strive to

do and the waiting is not in itself an achievement. This intermediacy of waiting

makes various activities acceptable to engage in while waiting, as we will show

later in the chapter. Waiting to travel is also something one does among

strangers: you are surrounded by people that you do not have, and neither will

have, any lasting relationship with. The other people just happen to be waiting

there at the same time.

In most cases waiting to travel has a clearly defined time span (although trains

and planes sometimes are late). This also makes this particular type of waiting

specific compared to waiting for someone to call or waiting in line at the

supermarket. The time spent waiting to travel usually is set by the time that is

estimated as “long enough,” since travelers most often decide themselves how

long before departure they choose to arrive at the station or airport.

Areas for waiting to travel are created for people waiting for some form of

transportation. In most instances a person has access to more facilities at the

area for waiting then they have while starting their actual travel. Many times the

waiting area is an indoor public place, equipped with benches, wastebaskets,

public phones, visual and voice travel information and restrooms. It usually

offers such services as stores, cafés and restaurants.

We are interested in the activity in public places, in what activities people

choose to engage, constrained by a space, a social context and an estimated

time. These spatial, temporal and social constraints are important and interesting

for design. Despite this, few studies have been concerned with informing

design of mobile technology used in public places. The research questions

posed in this chapter are: How do people act in public places for waiting,

and how can this behavior guide the design of IT? This paper reports on an

exploratory field study conducted in two public places where people wait to

travel: an airport and a train station. We present pointers for design based on

the empirical findings from these studies.

The remainder of this chapter is organized as follows: a background describing

studies of people waiting, a brief introduction to ethnomethodological work that

guides the analysis and, after this, studies concerning the relation between

fieldwork and design. The background is followed by a brief description of the

data collection and the analysis. The findings and the design implications are

presented together, since the design implications relate directly to the findings.

The chapter is concluded with a discussion of our findings.

Related Work

We have studied interaction in places where people wait to travel. The

empirical field, interaction when waiting to travel, relates to studies of behavior

in public places, and studies of waiting. However, previous studies of waiting

are mainly based within the field of customer management, and do not directly

focus on behavior. Since this chapter aims to inform design, another branch of

related work is studies of design implications based on ethnographic studies.

Waiting in public places has been previously investigated, but in other contexts.

Experience of public waiting as a means to reach customer satisfaction has been

explored in management literature. These studies differ from the one presented

in this chapter as they focus on experience rather than behavior. However,

certain findings are valuable, since they can be related to the behavior of people

waiting, such as interaction among people waiting and the temporality of

waiting, as will be discussed later in the chapter. Maister (1985) points to

aspects that affect the experience of waiting. These include: activities while

waiting, certainty of the waiting period, knowledge of the cause of waiting, and

accompanied waiting. These aspects all make the waiting seem shorter. Anxiety

and unfairness in the queuing makes waiting seem longer (Maister, 1985).

Davies & Heineke (1998) point to the fact that the perception of waiting rather

than the actual time is crucial for the experience. Pruyn & Smidts (1999) found

that waiting with someone made the waiting more tolerable. As noticed in this

short summary, management research tends to address waiting as something

negative for the persons involved. It should also be pointed out that generally

the waiting discussed in the management research is when waiting in line for

your turn, so the waiting is sequential. In the case of waiting to travel, large

groups are waiting for the same thing (such as for the moment that the train or

air plane can be boarded), meaning that the time that the waiting ends are often

the same.

In management literature there are also examples of introducing technology in

order to alter the experience of waiting. Katz, Larson, & Larson (1991)

explore how an electronic news board and a clock affect the perception of

waiting time. Hui, Dube, & Chebat (1997) find that music has positive effects

for people waiting, especially if it is perceived as enjoyable. Kumar, Kalwani,

& Dada (1997) examine waiting time guarantee and find that if expectations are

not met customers are less satisfied than customers waiting the same amount of

time without the guarantee. However, all these technological innovations are

based on an understanding of waiting as something negative that has to be

improved or eliminated. Or, in other words, the focus of these studies has not

been on how people engage in activities while waiting and in what activities they


The analysis in this study is also influenced by insights from ethnomethodological

research concerning everyday activities as accomplishments, which are usually

taken for granted. In this tradition, social life is studied in order to examine how

people go about doing whatever they do. Ethnomethodological research has

focused on talk in interaction (Heath, 1986; Goodwin, 1997b), and sometimes

on work in interaction (Bredmar& Linell, 1999; Goodwin, 1997a; Heath &

Luff, 2000). One way to reveal what people do is to point at moments when

they don’t manage, i.e., breakdowns. Robillard (1999) describes how his

handicap, a condition called motor neuron disease which results in paralysis,

has helped him understand how intricate normal interaction really is, how

glances, slowing down when passing, etc., helps coordinate and orchestrate

human communication. Of interest are foremost studies of behavior in public

places and interaction within these places — e.g., Goffman (1963) and Sudnow

(1972). Although these studies are not focused on the design of IT they inspired

our analysis of non-verbal communication and social organization in public

places. The issue of togetherness in public places has been examined by Ryave

& Schenkein (1974). Togetherness is, in this chapter, used in the analysis of

how people are using direction and conversation in displaying their relation in

a crowded context.

Fieldwork and Design

Fieldwork can identify new possibilities for design of IT as well as provide an

understanding of the context one is designing for (Bly, 1997). The use of

ethnographic field studies in the design of IT is typically devoted to work

settings such as offices (Bellotti & Smith, 2000; Bellotti & Bly, 1996; Suchman

&Wynn, 1984), police work (Ackroyd, Harper, Hughes, Shapiro & Soothill,

1992), control rooms (Hughes, King, Rodden & Anderssen, 1994), and public

organizations (Simonsen & Kensing, 1997). In this chapter the focus is on

settings where work in some cases is being accomplished, but the main activity

or the “purpose” of the environment is not work. The use of ethnographically

inspired studies informing design within a mundane context is, for example,

precedent in the work of Crabtree, Twidale, O’Brien & Nichols (1997) where

a library helpdesk is studied, working with the design of IT for use in the home

(O’Brien, Rodden, Rouncefield & Hughes, 1999), understanding how teenagers

use mobile phones (Weilenmann, 2003), and how tourists solve problems

(Brown & Chalmers, 2003). The use of IT has moved out of the control rooms

and the offices and therefore design implications must be sought in these new

places of IT use.

There have been discussions concerning the value of using field studies as the

basis for design (Schmidt, 1998) There is a basic difficulty concerning whether

the result of an ethnographical field study (detailed ethnographies describing

human activity) is useful and applicable for a designer, “Given the multiple

constraints and deadlines that many have to work to, most designers are likely

to prefer the translation work to be done for them, by using easily available

‘cookbooks’ containing step-by-step recipes for incorporating social aspects”

(Plowman, Rogers & Ramage, 1995, p. 321). We chose to give general design

implications as suggested in Plowman et al. (1995). Button & Dourish (1996)

bring up the issue of designing new innovative systems on the basis of studies

of current activities within a context. There is a logical paradox in the acquiring

of input for future use in descriptions of past activities. In this chapter we claim

that the design of IT to be used in places for waiting has to take into account

the frames for use that these environments set up today. This position is further

elaborated in the discussion section of this chapter.

In this chapter we provide general design pointers and give the “boundaries” for

design, rather than to give specific implications for construction. By doing this

we also address the problem of transferring contextually situated findings from

our field study to other domains. It is often difficult to draw unambiguous

conclusions for design from fieldwork since the fieldwork is conducted in a

specific context with specific physical, social and temporal aspects. Rather than

providing input on “what” should be constructed and implemented, the implications

for design presented in this chapter aim at giving frames and guidelines

to be used in the design process.