June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
Research in Science and Technology Studies attends to ways in which designers ‘configure’ the user by constraining the possible future actions of the user through the design of products and processes (Woolgar 1990). However, configuring the user implies knowledge of the user. In this paper we investigate how early career engineers learn about the users of their products. We draw on ethnographic observations of and interviews with 20 early career engineers across 10 companies as they participate in and reflect upon product design, process testing, data presentation, and workflow planning to show how engineers take their various audiences into account. We find that engineers configure the user through a range of activities: translating information for non-specialist audiences, highlighting salient information to direct users’ attention, implementing systems that control the work of others, and creating engineering drawings free of idiosyncrasies that can be interpreted by a range of users. Our study tracks these 20 early career engineers as they produce documents, drawings and presentations and highlights the role of more senior engineers who provide feedback and corrections to help the new engineers understand who the user of the product will be and what the user expects from the product. Our analysis pays particular attention to the importance of aesthetics in information presentation. We found that engineers were focused on aesthetic elements such as color, spacing, and orderliness of documents and products, and that the presentation of the product could take on a moral character that reflected on the engineer him/herself. Our findings contribute to an approach of seeing engineering as simultaneously a social and technical (or socio-technical) form of work (Stevens, Johri & O’Connor 2013).
Vinson, A., & Davis, P., & Stevens, R. (2017, June), Learning to Anticipate the User in Professional Engineering Work Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28616
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