by ELIZABETH CHURCHILL, Vice President, ACM
This is a cautionary tale featuring a well-structured memo and an effective, carefully designed infographic. Both of these artifacts could be considered excellent examples of their respective crafts—the first of technical communication, and the second of graphical information design. Both are also examples of how ethics can be subsumed to expedience, and how the everyday practices of their production were subject to the exigencies of locally acceptable rhetorics and social order.
I believe the stories of these artifacts are cautionary tales for us and our own work. Through the (admittedly dark) cautionary tales of these artifacts, I invite us to consider the conditions in which we, EPIC attendees and our international community, produce artifacts that convey “evidence”. I invite us to question the milieux and “atmospheres” in which we work, the sources from which we collect data, our practices and processes when producing evidencing rhetorics, and the role of such evidence in...
by VINEETH NAIR, Salesforce
How can designers reverse the complex mental models people develop from interacting with convoluted enterprise software? How can we respect the gratification people get out of executing complex tasks at work? When does simplicity actually compromise user experience?
These are some of the questions that have intrigued me as a human-centered design practitioner. The interplay between human behaviour and product experience is fascinating in the enterprise space because of its unique characteristics: Enterprise products are designed to tackle niche business problems, used to accomplish definitive tasks, and, unfortunately most often, forced on end users whether they like it or not.
In enterprise, the customer is not the end user, and usability has not generally been a key metric in purchasing decisions. As a result, most companies end up purchasing products that weren't necessarily designed with empathy for end-users. Organizations spend millions of dollars to procure products that can support the functionality...
by HANNAH KNOX, University College London
If it’s summer in your part of the world (or even if it’s winter), you’ve probably been feeling the heat. On 5 July, Ouargla, Algeria recorded 51.3°C (124.3°F), the highest temperature ever reported in Africa. A few days later, Areni, Armenia hit a record 42.6°C (108.7°F), and on 17 July, Badufuss in Norway topped its charts at 33.5°C (92.3°F). Perhaps most disturbing were reports of people collapsing in the fields in Japan, where high humidity exacerbated record-breaking temperatures of over 40°C (104°F). Japan declared a natural disaster, a designation normally reserved for earthquakes and tsunamis.1
“Something is going on” – people feel – “but what?”
Of course, climate scientists have been beating their drums for decades, pushing out papers, reports, and campaigns about the risks of anthropogenic climate change. But dramatic and even deadly weather events are, it turns out, rather effective at opening opportunities for speaking about climate change across...
by STUART HENSHALL, Convo Research & Strategy Private Limited
International research is exciting but often daunting. Ethnographers are trained to understand cultural difference and nuance, but without the right cultural guides, excellent translation and local research support, we can easily mis-interpret what we observe and hear. An interpreter can be key to understanding deeper impressions and meaning.
Frequently interpreters are loosely referred to as “translators”, but their role goes far beyond converting words from one language to another. These days it’s tempting to just reach for Google Translate (and research sponsors may wonder why they need to fund anything else), but your translator may be your nuanced “ear to the ground” and end up providing some of the best stories.
Interpretation/translation challenges frequently emerge in “concept and positioning” exercises as well as research more focused on UX/usability experiences. We offer some examples of why finding the right interpreters is critical...
by ERIN B. TAYLOR, Canela Consulting & Holland FinTech
Evidence produced within quantitative disciplines like economics and finance carries an aura of gospel. The numbers, models, and forecasts we see in economic reports and market analyses in the news and reports seem certain, authoritative, and unarguable.
Built on large data sets that are analyzed with widely accepted theories and tools, economic and financial evidence have become hugely influential in governance and business—so much so that more qualitative approaches have been sidelined.
Even political economy, the original economics, has been pushed away in favor of what’s now called ‘evidence-based decision-making’. The presumption is that numerical data is the only solid information, and that the analytical tools used in economic and market analysis are reliable.
Of course, as we know now, this faith in economic evidence can be dangerous. As markets crashed around the world during the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, confidence in all kinds of quantitative...
a book review by DAVID RUBELI
Ethnographic Thinking: From Method to Mindset
2018, 120 pp, Routledge
I’ve been reading Jay Hasbrouck’s Ethnographic Thinking this spring, sneaking its pages into gaps in my daily routines. It’s part of my longer-term project of reading across the fields of service design, design anthropology, and applied research over the last few years.
I’m doing this reading survey at a time when practices, fields, and disciplines are converging, when design thinking, service design, and innovation are democratizing or—depending on your perspective—reifying and commodifying professions and practices that were once the domains of specialist practitioners. Interdisciplinary groups and teams within and among organizations are being assembled to tackle complex corporate and societal challenges. And these assemblages bring together constellations of stakeholders from industry, government, and other sponsoring organizations. In workplaces, labs and think tanks, there’s a growing...
by YULIYA GRINBERG, Columbia University
If you follow news about digital self-tracking, you may have heard about Chris Dancy. He appears regularly in the press and has become widely known as “The Most Connected Man on Earth.” Reporters generally characterize him as the epitome of a digital self-tracking devotee, a veritable cyborg in the flesh who has become all but isometric with his data.
Chris’s collection, in fact, started out analog. Long before he found his way to Fitbit and Twitter scraping software, Chris lovingly assembled life-size scrapbooks filled with paraphernalia from years gone by. These collections often feature centrally in narratives of Chris, but they largely stand as silent backdrop, their clutter a foil for his digitally streamlined life. His digital data are associated with purity and order; his boards represent the mess he has cleared from his life.
This contrasting representation of his digital and analog collections reflects a powerful cultural understanding of digital data as something that...
by JAY HASBROUCK, Founder, Filament Insight & Innovation
“Innovate or die"—this dictum is driving companies to build their innovation capacity, and fast. Most are turning to now-familiar practices such as Design Thinking, Lean, or Agile. But as they grow, many organizations find that they don’t see expected increases in innovation after deploying these practices. Why?
Although they’re originally meant to drive creative thinking and strategic risk taking, innovation methods can quickly become rote in large organizations, especially when teams are expected to deploy them without context, or simply to check off a box on their performance reviews. Worse yet, some companies struggle to manage a combination of different innovation practices between teams, leading to a breakdown in collaboration and disjointed project pacing. What these organizations lack is an overall innovation strategy that drives their efforts to build innovation capacity, engages their teams with a purposeful vision, and ensures their efforts can evolve...
by TOM HOY, Stripe Partners
Sensemaking: The Power of Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm
2017, 240 pp, Hachette Books
Christian Madsbjerg has done a huge amount to elevate the profile and impact of ethnography in corporate settings. As co-founder of ReD Associates, Madsbjerg makes a consistent and compelling case for ethnographers to set their sights beyond user experience and design to impact decisions at the pinnacle of global organisations.
His new book Sensemaking advances his mission further, advocating humanities-based thinking to a much wider business audience. The central analysis feels more even resonant today than when the book was released last year: the power of big data has created a false idol, lulling us into the belief that the algorithm has the capacity to replace critical thinking.
What unfolds is a story which is compelling and bold in critique, but strangely conservative and ambiguous in the solutions it prescribes.
Silicon Valley and the Renaissance Man [sic]
by TYE RATTENBURY (Salesforce) & DAWN NAFUS (Intel)
As EPIC2018 program co-chairs, we developed the conference theme Evidence to explore how evidence is created, used, and abused. We’ll consider the core types of evidence ethnographers make and use through participant observation, cultural analysis, filmmaking, interviewing, digital and mobile techniques, and other essential methods, as well as new approaches in interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams.1
We’ve also made a special invitation to data scientists to join us in Honolulu to advance the intersection of computational and ethnographic approaches. Why?
One of us is a data scientist (Tye) and the other an ethnographer (Dawn), both working in industry. We regularly see data science and ethnography conceptualized as polar ends of a research spectrum—one as a crunching of colossal data sets, the other as a slow simmer of experiential immersion. Unfortunately, we also see occasional professional stereotyping. A naïve view of “crunching” can make it seem...
by SHELLY HABECKER, Swiss Re
"How do I make ethnography relevant to my company?"
This was the question that I took to Tracey Lovejoy (co-founder of EPIC, former Senior Manager at Microsoft, and founder of Lovejoy Consulting); Christian Madsbjerg (founder of ReD Associates and best-selling author of two books on applying social sciences to business); and Alexandra Mack (Alchymyx; formerly Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes & EPIC Board Secretary). All three are leading lights in the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Community who have invested their careers in a belief that observing and listening to human beings matters for better business.
A little over a year ago, after two decades of working on African migration issues in governmental and academic environments, I started a job at a large insurance company. I was attracted by the potential to use my training as an anthropologist to create better financial safety nets for people through the insurance industry. My managers were not looking for an anthropologist per se, but they let...
by NICK AGAFONOFF, Real Ethnography/The Practice Insights
I think of myself as a video ethnomethodologist1 – a social scientist who utilises disruptive techniques (social experiments) in conjunction with technical videography to explore, document and represent how people subjectively make sense of and navigate their everyday worlds in relation to brands, products and services.
My films and their usefulness depend entirely on the scientific process that I employ to facilitate objectification of the lived experience data collected, otherwise referred to as the evidence. My films become art the moment they become about my own subjective experience; the moment I depart from being an objective social scientist.
At EPIC2017 in Montreal, I had the pleasure of presenting my 10-minute documentary Andrew’s Story, an emotional portrait of a man who had recently experienced a permanent disability but was refusing to claim on his disability insurance. My client wanted to understand why people like Andrew are not making claims when...
by ANNA ZAVYALOVA, Stripe Partners
Past midnight, I’m shivering outside a pub in Shoreditch, the rain beginning to drizzle ever so viciously. It has been fifteen minutes since I left my friends and ordered an UberPool home. As I watch yet another cab drive by, I think about the millions of factors that make one choose how to get around a city. I think about comfort, cost and convenience, space, speed and safety.
Earlier this year I was involved in a study of pooled mobility in the UK, India and Brazil, where we tried to make sense of car sharing ‘grammar’ across these dramatically different cultural landscapes. The project, which came to an end in March, and the subsequent paper I wrote for EPIC a few months later, should feel like a closed chapter. Yet as I traverse cities, home and abroad, during the day and late at night, I never stop noting, observing, collecting data – often without realising I’m doing it. Even after a night out, I am still an ethnographer, fascinated by how people and vehicles, cultural values...
By ALANNAH BERSON
How do you make 1000 designers better at research while ensuring quality and rigor at the same time?
This is the kind of challenge Martha Cotton gets tackle at work everyday as Group Design Director for Research at Fjord—and as a member of the EPIC Board.
“If we are going to deeply understand the people we are designing for, I’m passionate about helping my design colleagues get that understanding in the best and most efficient way. It is definitely a very fun part of my job, thinking about elevating how we do design research, and creating the tools and resources to support roughly 1000 designers around the world in their efforts to be better researchers.”
One of the reasons Martha is so passionate about mentoring and teaching future researchers is that for her, becoming an ethnographer was a bit of an accident. “I was incredibly lucky early on to have the support of mentors who patiently nurtured what has turned out to be my life’s work.” This “accidental career” that Martha found has lead...
by FATIMAH RICHMOND (Google) & SAM LADNER
Why did Donald Trump get elected? Because of the rage of the “working class”? Why did Brexit happen? Because “working class” Britons were angry at getting left behind? We find these explanations troubling because they whitewash events.
We convened the Salon Ethnography and Equality at EPIC2017 to discuss how our community can avoid doing exactly this kind of whitewashing as we work with our clients and stakeholders. We used an ethnographic lens to understand the systems that structure inequalities in our societies and organizations. To continue the conversation about this critical topic beyond the event in Montréal, this blog post describes the Salon’s main talking points and some practical solutions (one involving an actual toilet; more on that in a moment).
We explicitly told the 35 people gathered for our Salon that the discussion was to be safe. By that, we meant that there would be specific order for when a participant may speak, and that before sharing anything about...