Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Hands Are People Too: Reflections on the Value of Hands (and How to Study Them)


Cite this article:

2021 EPIC Proceedings pp. 342–343, ISSN 1559-8918,

PechaKucha Presentation—Did you know that hands have bodies, relationships, and minds of their own? In the coming years as a new wave of technologies focused on our hands is under development, and as AR/VR may include haptics as a key mode of interaction, we need to design for hands as we would for people – keeping the technology in the background to ensure hands can learn, collaborate, and shine. We conducted a study in 2020 about what gives hands unique value to people. The ambition was to understand hand-based skills across contexts and domains of practical expertise. We asked practitioners to record themselves using their hands, analyzed the video footage, and watched the recordings together with each practitioner. We asked practitioners to reflect on their hands and compare how their skills might apply to other contexts. Through this process, we uncovered that the hands have bodies, relationships, and minds of their own. These fundamental observations help us to imagine and anticipate future technology interactions that are not only relevant and useful, but that respect and enable the aspects of our hands that make us feel most human. Note: The presentation was intended to feature GIFs from fieldwork video, but only still images are allowed per the rules of the PechaKucha format; we therefore storyboarded stills from the recordings as the visuals, to highlight the haptic movements.

Keywords: Hands, haptics, technology, interaction design

Maria Cury is a partner at ReD Associates. Maria often studies technology in daily life to advise on product development, and is interested in advancing applied ethnographic research methods. Maria received an MSc in Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology from Oxford, and a BA in Anthropology with Visual Arts certificate from Princeton University.

Sophie Kim is a research science manager in Facebook Reality Labs Research at Facebook. Sophie focuses on bringing human-centered and experience-driven approaches to future-facing research and development for AR/VR. She has a special interest in augmented reality interactions and how ethnographic research can help inform it. Sophie received a PhD in Human Factors Engineering from Virginia Tech.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to all the hands from Facebook Reality Labs Research and ReD Associates that worked together on this study: Jonathan Browder, Michele Chang-McGrath, Maria Cury, Matt Kay, Kahyun Sophie Kim, Mikkel Krenchel, Nhu Le, Nanna Sine Munnecke, Katy Osborn, Harsha Prahlad. Jonas Schmidtler, Sarah Sykes, Owan Watkins.