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Ellen Isaacs

Ellen Isaacs is a user experience designer and an ethnographer. She uses a rapid video-based ethnography approach to gain an understanding of human practices with an eye toward identifying needs that can be met with technology. She then designs technology to address those needs and works with engineers to iteratively build, test, and revise the designs, using a variety of user evaluations methods. She discusses this highly iterative and collaborative approach in her book, “Designing From Both Sides of the Screen,” which she co-wrote with software engineer Alan Walendowski.

Ellen spent the early part of her career designing and studying technology to support remote communication and collaboration, e-commerce, and social interaction in virtual worlds. She published extensively in human-computer interaction journals and received seven patents for inventions related to this work. She moved from research to advanced development and then into product development, eventually forming her own consulting company where she worked with clients to design the user experience of a variety of products.

Ellen returned to research in 2008 when she joined PARC as a Principal Scientist. She has led the user experience component of a wide range of projects, including mobile interaction, urban parking, hopsital nursing, home automation, and data visualization. She has played a key role in taking several of these projects from open-ended observations to technology concept to design mockups to prototype development and user testing – keeping user needs at the center throughout the process.

Ellen was trained as a cognitive psychologist and a writer, receiving a B.S. in psychology and semiotics from Brown University, and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford University, where she studied the collaborative process of language use in conversation. She also attended intensive courses in photography at Rocky Mountain School of Photography.


PARC publications

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Echoes from the past: how technology mediated reflection improves well-being

ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI2013)

27 April 2013

Testing a novel parking system: on-street reservations

ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2013)

27 April 2013

The power of observation

The Parking Professional

February 2013


The value of rapid ethnography

Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities, edited by Brigitte Jordan

November 2012

Integrating local and remote worlds through channel blending

ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work

11 February 2012







other publications

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TEDx Talk on Ethnography in NYC

Ellen Isaacs Tedx Talk - NYC









Ostensible invitations

Language in Society



References in conversation between experts and novices

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General






related competencies



in the news   view all 

Q&A: Meet Ellen Isaacs, Corporate Ethnographer at PARC
12 April 2013 | Healthbiz Decoded

The Power of Observation
1 February 2013 | The Parking Professional

TEDx conference seeks bright ideas for Broadway
29 January 2013 | Los Angeles Times



external website

Personal website