Passive Observations to understand media usage

Passive Observations to understand media usage

Passive Observations to understand media usage

The Media Usage Study 2014 was a 6-month research project. in cooperation between the University of Applied Sciences in Konstanz (HWTG) and the “Lago” shopping center in Konstanz, Germany. Supervisor of the project was the Dean of Studies Communication Design, Prof. Brian Switzer. Our main research question was: How do people in the area of Lake Constance use their media? The main outcome of the research project were six different media user personas.

JAN.—JUN. 2014 | 7 MIN. READ

AUTHOR: Robin Auer, M,A, Communication Design


The observations were made at different times of the day to exclude the possibility of extreme situations being observed. In addition to gastronomic facilities, public places such as bus stops or public squares were also included. The criteria for the observations can be divided into four areas: location, time of day, media which was used, and the given situation in which the media was used. 
The documentation was done with an observation protocol and with pictures. Each observer also made a memory record at the end of each day.

We selected gastronomic establishments with different target groups like Pano (breakfast restaurant), McDonald's (fast food), or Destille (bar). We also made observations in public places like a market place or public transport.

Attention was paid to whether observed persons are in waiting situations, consciously alone, or in groups. These distinctions were important in assessing how the media were used.

We have consciously paid attention to analog and digital media. It was documented which media were used, how often, for how long, and if the media was used in a group (e.g. viewing something together on the smartphone).

Group Observation Protocol

Key insights

  • The younger the target group of the restaurant, the more conspicuous was the consumption of various digital media. For example, the use of digital media was certainly increased at fast food restaurants like McDonald's. On each table, there was at least one device, but usually at least as many devices as people were sitting together at the table.
  • The Media Density was significantly higher among men than among women. Especially women in groups talked to each other or occasionally looked at own smartphones. While among young men in the group, everyone's attention was focused on one or several smartphones.
  • With a few exceptions, most of the people under the age of 70 had a mobile phone or MP3 player in their hands when they had to wait alone for something (like public transportation).