I was studying ethnography and interaction design. That's when I got to watch this video. Ethnography and the PARC Copier

While searching for the source of that video, I found that the video created by Lucy Suchman about the ethnography research. Lucy Suchman conducted an ethnographic study of copy machine use in the workplace. And she did make a video.

I found out from watching the video that this video is related to the ethnographic study, and the people in it found it very difficult to operate the copier besides they were computer scientists and a Ph.D. student during that time.

What I don't understand is why they are struggling to run that copier? How does that relate to design? What exactly is the problem with that copier?

But, this is not related to my homework this came out of my curiosity when I am studying the design.

  • 1
    They have to place the originals in reverse order and don't know where to put the paper, the design does not adapt to their workflow and mental model.
    – jazZRo
    Jul 16, 2020 at 11:22
  • and what about the button?
    – Rasik
    Jul 16, 2020 at 12:18
  • 1
    The myth about this story is that Lucy Suchman came up with the green button for print. But apparently it was there before and some of the tested printers already had that button (see parc.com/blog/…)
    – Nash
    Jul 16, 2020 at 15:13
  • From a "computer background", is a bit of an understatement if that's The " Allen Newell".... en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Newell
    – PhillipW
    Jul 16, 2020 at 21:11

1 Answer 1


There are likely more than one design problem with the copier because the issues encountered by the users relate to a number of different stages and components of the photocopier. A well designed device is likely to be user friendly and not lead to confusion or frustration from the user while trying to operate the device with very little or no prior knowledge and experience.

We can't really assume any prior knowledge or experience that the user has with using other copiers, so this is not something that we can comment on.

The two major areas we can look at are the physical operations of the printer, such as how to load the paper into the trays correctly for printing, and also the interface for the users to input the command or instructions for the copier. A potential third aspect is how well the physical design of the printer matches with the user interface (e.g. when they wanted to print in a particular way the paper needs to be loaded in a specific way).

You'll often hear expressions like 'form following function' or 'function following form', and if the way the copier is designed reflects the underlying mechanical components without taking into consideration of how a human may operate it then it will be unintuitive for a human operator because the function is disconnected from the form factor and affordance of the physical design.

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