Combining ethnographic expertise with a strong technical background, I develop new insights about the current realities — and possible futures — of human encounters with and through design.

Some of my recent work is summarized here. More details on my skills and experience are available on my resume.


I was the technical lead for this project about the working conditions of crowd- app- and platform-based workers. I designed, ran and analyzed a survey of over 200 online workers; and built out a website communicating these survey results.

Research + Analysis: Interviews, Surveys (LimeSurvey), R

Design + Development: Wireframes, Visual Mockups, Custom Wordpress Theme (HTML+SCSS+JS), Chart.js graphs

Survey-based Research

I led a survey-based research project examining the experiences of over 200 crowd- app- and platform-based workers, from survey design through analysis and reporting.

Surveys are currently being analyzed, with platform-specific reports appearing on FairCrowd.Work as they are available.

Web Design and Implementation

I also led the design and implementation of FairCrowd.Work, a website to communicate this research and to also serve as an information portal for crowdworkers, researchers, journalists, and unionists.

By gathering stakeholder input from workers, union management, and labor researchers, I helped elicit and clarify goals of the new website, and overhaul the site design to meet these goals.

I implemented the new design in a fully custom Wordpress theme, with full support for multiple languages.

Philanthropic Informatics Research Lab

Over a ten month period, I contributed to five research projects, resulting in 5 publications in top-tier HCI conferences - including one best paper award.

Research + Analysis + Reporting: Interviews, Diary Study, Discourse Analysis, Academic Writing

Using diary study, interview, and discourse analysis techniques, I studied the practices, experiences, and needs of philanthropic organizations and civically engaged members of the public.

These projects identify technical challenges faced by this sector and outline concrete strategies for approaching design from a social justice perspective.

  1. Lynn Dombrowski, Ellie Harmon, and Sarah Fox. Social Justice-Oriented Interaction Design: Outlining Key Design Strategies and Commitments. ACM SIGCHI Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS 2016) Best Paper Award
  2. Ellie Harmon, Chris Bopp, and Amy Voida. The Design Fictions of Philanthropic IT: Stuck Between an Imperfect Present and an Impossible Future. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2017)
  3. Ellie Harmon, Matthias Korn, and Amy Voida. (2017). Supporting Everyday Philanthropy: Care Work In Situ and at Scale. ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2017)
  4. Chris Bopp, Ellie Harmon, and Amy Voida. (2017). Disempowered by Data: Nonprofits, Social Enterprises, and the Consequences of Data-Driven Work. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2017)
  5. Amy Voida, Ellie Harmon, Willa Weller, Aubrey Thornsbury, Ariana Casale, Samuel Vance, Forrest Adams, Zach Hoffman, Alex Schmidt, Kevin Grimle, Luke Cox, Aubrey Neeley, Christopher Goodyear. Competing Currencies: Designing for Politics in Units of Measurement. ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2017)

I was also the lead organizer for an internationally-attended workshop about how to design against the status quo hosted at the Designing Interactive Systems conference.

  • Ellie Harmon, Matthias Korn, Ann Light, and Amy Voida. Designing Against the Status Quo, a workshop at ACM SIGCHI Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS 2016).

Dis/Connection: Affects & Experiences of Mobile IT

My Intel-funded dissertation research explored mobile technology experiences: from constant connection to digital unplugging.

Research + Analysis + Reporting: Ethnography, Interviews, Discourse Analysis, Academic Writing

Through a multi-sited ethnography linking together suburban family life in Southern California with the wilderness of the American mountain west, I develop new insights about user experience in a world of ubiquitous computing.

  • What does it mean to be “constantly connected” or to work for a “24/7” company?

  • What does it mean to “disconnect” in an era of “always on” connectivity?

  • Are concepts like ‘use’ and ‘interaction’ sufficient for understanding experiences of mobile technology?

The Stories that Shape Experience

I show how stories – ideas that circulate through popular media and advertisements – shape the user experience of the smartphone. Tropes about both connection and disconnection fuel individuals’ constantly shifting relationships with their smartphones – from tools that enable multi-tasking and mastery, to devices that threaten one’s ability to be fully present and attentive to others.

Experience Beyond ‘Use’

I show how the ‘user’ experience of mobile computing extends beyond the moments in which people are actively using mobile devices. Challenging the foundations of traditional HCI, I argue that contemporary user experience research requires studying computing as part of the context of daily life. Computing technology subtly shapes the many rituals and practices of daily life, but it is only ocassionally the focal point of an ‘interaction’ or activity.

Disconnection as a Proxy

I show how technological non-use is itself somewhat beside the point when it comes to understanding experiences of “disconnection” and digital “unplugging.” Nonetheless, a digital detox can feel beneficial because it is an effective proxy for severing other social ties and obligations.

My work suggests that contemporary life is not threatened so much by technological over-use, but rather the achievement of a ‘good life’ is more threatened by imperatives to be accountable and responsive to specific people and organizations to an excessive degree. These social expectations are entwined with specific engineering decisions that psychologically encourage frequent “checking” of certain communication media and with socially circulated stories about what new technologies offer, promise, and make “easy.”

Papers and Reports

  1. Ellie Harmon and Melissa Mazmanian. Stories of the smartphone in everyday discourse: conflict, tension & instability ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2013) Best Paper Honorable Mention
  2. Ellie Harmon. Business, Tech, & Mindfulness. Technical Report prepared for Intel Labs. March 2014.
  3. Melissa Mazmanian, Ingrid Erickson, and Ellie Harmon. Circumscribed time and porous time: Logics as a way of studying temporality ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2015)
  4. Melissa Mazmanian, Christine Beckman, and Ellie Harmon. “Ethnography Across the Work Boundary: Benefits and Considerations for Organizational StudiesHandbook of Innovative Qualitative Research Methods: Pathways to Cool Ideas and Interesting Papers. Kimberly Elsbach and Roderick Kramer, Eds. Routledge.

Invited Talks

  1. Ellie Harmon (2017) “‘My Maps, My Music, My Everything’: Smartphones, Technology, and Ways to ‘Take a Break from this Life’ on the Pacific Crest Trail” at Technology on the Trail. Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.
  2. Ellie Harmon (2014) “ICTs as materialized relations: connection and disconnection in an age of ubiquitous computing” at Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC), Doctoral Colloquium, Fordham University, New York. September 7, 2014.
  3. Ellie Harmon (2014) “Temporal Hopes” at Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA. May 21, 2014.
  4. Melissa Gregg and Ellie Harmon (2014) “Mindful Labor” at Social Media and Psychosocial Wellbeing. Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ.
  5. Ellie Harmon. (2013) “Information materialities: what do they have to do with my work anyway?” at Symposium on information materialities. Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine, CA.
  6. Ellie Harmon. (2012) “Smartphone intimacies: shifting boundaries of humanmachine subjectivities” at Society for the social studies of science (4S 2012) in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  7. Ellie Harmon. (2012) “Worlding the smartphone: technologies, people and stories” at UCI visual studies conference: constructing worlds: making and breaking order. Visual Studies Department, University of California, Irvine, CA.
  8. Ellie Harmon and Melissa Mazmanian. (2011) “Smartphones and the social dynamics of busyness” at NSF sponsored symposium: `Slow down, you move too fast’: rethinking the culture of busyness and IT. University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

DIRT : Biogeography on the PCT

I was the technical lead for this science-as-process-art collaboration with artist, designer, and microbiologist Christina Agapakis.

Research + Analysis: Grantwriting, Soil sample RNA processing, R and Python processing of genetic data

Design + Communication: Custom visualizations in d3.js, Leaflet.js maps, co-produced exhibit at UCLA Art+Science Center, co-production of forthcoming exhibit as part of Ars Electronica festival

A single gram of microbe-rich soil can contain up to two billion bacterial cells and 18,000 unique genomes. New techniques for extracting, isolating, digitizing, and representing this microbial wilderness render the soil and its liveness in new ways.

In this project, we document an engagement with the techniques of scientific copying and inscription. We explore the ways that new digital techniques are reshaping the fundamental categories of biological knowledge, while also offering new opportunities to engage with the aesthetic dimensions of scientific practice and quantiative data.

I co-authored a successful funding proposal for a $7,500 grant from the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts for this project exploring new bioinformatic techniques for studying soil microbes.

The project was exhibited at the UCLA Art+Science Center in 2014. A partial capture of these representations is available at

Visualization Design

For the exhibit, I developed a series of novel visualizations – primarily in d3 – that explore the dirt, the RNA data, and the many transformations the dirt and data go through in becoming first a flat text file, and then a series of charts and graphs.

These representations make newly visible some of the ways that new technologies — and the information resources they offer — are reshaping the very same scientific knowledge and categories on which their design was predicated.

Our gallery exhibit provoked conversations among attendees about how scientific ideas–about the purity of ecosystem boundaries, species delineation, and genetic transfer–are being re-evaluated given new bioinformatic understandings of microbial life.

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