Can Any Hairdresser Fix a Car?: Mechanics Seeking Agency in Automated Car Diagnostic Contexts, and How Observing Agency Can Help Designing a Car Diagnostic Tool

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As part of an international research conducted for a French car manufacturer, a team of anthropologists and designers were asked to analyze the use of a car diagnostic tool by mechanics in their garages, in order to recommend ways of improving it. A single glance at the diagnostic tool’s interface was enough to get a feel for mechanics’ new reality: lines of codes and numbers, webpages filled with blue hyperlinks leading to readymade repair methods. Does being a mechanic in an automation era mean anything anymore? Based on findings from a study conducted in 5 countries with mixed ethnographic and UX methods, this case study explicits the interest of understanding mechanics as a profession – or even more, as an art – before studying the use of the tool itself, and mostly, it demonstrates how solutions can be contained in agency – and how design and tech teams can find inspiration from bypasses, local initiatives, and informal rituals. From supervising an international team of researchers to finding similarities among cultural specificities, this paper also questions ethics and investigates the role of a diagnostic tool in supporting mechanics’ job evolution.

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