by JULIA TAN & CAROLINA ALDAS, Spotify
When we think about the “Discovery” phase in the product development process, we often picture product owners, design, and researchers working to understand a problem area, the needs of end users in that area, and testing product ideas that might deliver on those needs. When no product exists yet, it can be difficult to justify Engineering’s time.
As such, the Discovery phase tends to be heavily driven by product owners, designers, and insights practitioners by default, and Engineering takes a more active role when product requirements and specifications become more defined. The process looks more like a relay race than synchronized swimming. In the process of passing the baton, important context gets lost and some agility is compromised.
We’ve all been there. We devote time and energy to truly understand people, their needs and motivations. We identify and user-test solutions that have a high promise to deliver user and business value, only to find out it’s not entirely feasible...
An EPIC2021 Sponsored Panel by Waymo
Moderator: MELISSA CEFKIN (Waymo)
Panelists: BENEDIKT FISCHER (Waymo), LAURA FORLANO (IIT Institute of Design), JACK STILGOE (University College London)
How do we anticipate the futures of the things we are bringing into the world, and the experiences they will help shape?
The autonomous vehicle is posited as a net-new innovation. Never before have vehicles without human drivers at the helm roamed the same streets that we traverse daily while on a jog or in a bleary-eyed morning search for a cuppa-joe. Someday soon(ish) you may hail a fully autonomous ride for a trip to the office or for the once-in-a-lifetime race to the hospital for the birth of a first born. What a fantastically new product and world this will be! Or will it? How much are innovators tweaking and updating the existing, instead of inventing the new?
Join us for a conversation between members of the Waymo Insights team and invited panelists to explore “how new is the new?” Following decades of imagination, development,...
“The future” cannot be “predicted,” but “preferred futures” can and should be envisioned, invented, implemented, continuously evaluated, revised, and re-envisioned. —Jim Dator, Hawaii, 1995
This paper introduces a framework called Target Worlds, with which I hope to offer an alternative to putting users, personas or target groups at the center of innovation. Instead I want to promote a more prudent approach that balances social, environmental, technological and financial sustainability in innovation.Target Worlds thereby tries to overcome issues of focus, scalability and responsibility in innovation by tackling the core of the problem: the targets of innovation work. The framework merges concepts of investigating ‘worlds’ today, identifying desirable futures for tomorrow and worldbuilding as a hands-on approach resulting in target worlds as new point of departure for innovation teams. This paper serves as a recipe for building target worlds offering a step-by-step guide...
Lowe's Home Improvement, Elemental Research
I use the iconic album, Kind of Blue, to re-frame a conversation around ethnography and innovation. Moving fast and breaking stuff is not how ethnography brings value to the business. Rather, we use our craft to move nimbly through the complex terrain of “users” in much the same way as jazz musicians improvise. We are grounded in our craft through practice, but technical mastery is not enough. Bounded by structures and constraints, we move nimbly because knowing the rules allows us to creatively push against boundaries. And ethnography never exists in a vacuum, even if we’re the only anthropologist in the room. Instead, we riff off those who came before us, in community with those who innovate alongside us. The core value of ethnography is to improvise—to use our mastery of our craft to build on what came before, to make sense of it, and anticipate what comes next.
Katherine Metzo is an ethnographer and methods geek who has worked...
by ADERAYO SANUSI, Princeton University
What Do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa?
Edited by Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga
256 pp, MIT Press
"Imagine a positive Africa—creative, technological, and scientific in its own way." (1)
Several countries in Africa are in a critical period of expanding tech entrepreneurship and foreign investment. Innovation hubs are proliferating, following decades of rapid local adoption of mobile phones and digital platforms. And in the past three years, top Silicon Valley executives like Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey have visited the continent to meet emergent developer communities and learn about new products and ventures.
As these developments are documented on various media platforms and business school case books, an emerging group of scholars, practitioners, and activists have begun to critique what they characterize as incorrect, harmful discourses about the technological contributions of Africans. They are typically represented merely...
What can a remote Himalayan community teach us about innovation? Emelia's Silicon-Valley-first-world frame of reference is the dominant lens of her work. It's the place where we buy into technology's promise to help solve the world's problems. But it's also ground zero for a dystopian future where humans are automated out of relevance. In this PechaKucha Emelia will explore the ways Nangi Village, with the help and leadership of one member in particular, is using technology and innovation to increase its collective power for its own goals of educating its young, connecting to the world, and driving its own economic development. This talk will also be a personal meditation on Nangi's impact on her own perspectives regarding human agency, problem solving, and innovation.
Emelia Rallapalli Emelia is a brand strategist, researcher, and founder of Pebble Strategy. She consults for some of the world's most influential brands.
Introducing an emerging context for human-centered design work, this paper extends previous EPIC literature on startup innovation upstream into university science commercialization. It provides new perspectives on how the human-centered design community can engage with scientific models of agency to inform broader engagement with the innovation and design challenges inherent in ‘intelligent’ technologies, and offers the challenge of engaging with and developing empathy for the dispositions of scientist innovators as a new vantage point from which to reflect on our core strength as facilitators of cross-disciplinary collaboration for innovation and design....
EPIC2019 Panel, Providence, Rhode Island
DAWN NAFUS, Senior Researcher, Intel Labs
MELISSA CEFKIN, Principal Researcher, Alliance Innovation Lab Silicon Valley
MICHAEL LITTMAN, Professor of Computer Science & Co-Director of the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, Brown University
CLAPPERTON CHAKANETSA MAVHUNGA, Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, MIT
HELI RANTAVUO, Senior Insights Manager, Growth Opportunities Mission, Markets Business Unit, Spotify
Robotics, machine learning, and other technologies are provoking new hopes and fears about human agency. Tropes of the charismatic lone innovator, whether hero or villain, are also starting to lose popular currency. When we acknowledge that the agents of the built world are not just people who call themselves “innovators” but are made up of many kinds of people, and physical materials, new questions arise. How do issues of responsibility, accountability, attribution, and even regulation get solved in situations of distributed...
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 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...
From a position of external consultant on user insights for a German innovation lab, I reflect on a shift in the way corporate innovation is done – from a user centric innovation process towards what could be called startup centric innovation. I have found the outcomes of this turn to be ambivalent – both for the innovation lab and myself. For the lab partnering with existing startups promised greater speed and access to fresh ideas, but has turned out to be rather difficult. For me, the shift has challenged my role and perspective as ethnographic consultant in more than one way. I have worried that a much needed user perspective may drift out of focus when getting prematurely outsourced to startups. But this new process has also been eye-opening; it has forced me to rethink my still linear view of the innovation process towards a more messy and simultaneous one where thinking about users needs to be integrated from day one with thinking about solutions,...
When ethnographic or market research is employed to help de-risk potential products and services, the focus is typically on understanding markets, cultures and contexts external to the organization that would launch them. This paper shifts the focus to the sorts of organizational practices, beliefs, and dynamics inside large corporations, which can create the conditions in which new products are brought to market despite evidence of their risk of failure....
WAFA SAID MOSLEH
SDU Design, Department of Entrepreneurship and Relationship Management, University of Southern Denmark
As a social researcher rooted in the traditions of participatory innovation, I set out to take a design anthropological approach to study the early unfocused phases of organisational innovation processes, and explore ways of both challenging and supporting these. With an interest in understanding how the tangibility of design coupled with the analytical nature of anthropology can provoke richer insights concerning organisational practices, my research team and I designed an artefact, called ‘the tangible brief’, aiming to elicit real stories about the challenges practitioners experience in dealing with innovation. The artefact resembles the content of a design brief and aims to bring together practitioners around the task of creating briefs prior to evaluating the potential of new ideas.The paper sets out to address the challenge of ethnographic researchers navigating a complex landscape of organisational...
MARTIN N. MILLARD
Global fast moving consumer goods companies are faced with significant challenges on all fronts as start-ups challenge brands, retailers’ private labels challenge margins and technology giants like Amazon and Alibaba challenge the entire business model. To survive in this environment, FMCGs must, among other things, grow on the basis of meaningful product innovation — innovation that is often outsourced to their ingredient suppliers. Based on four client engagements, this paper outlines how the existing relationship between ingredient suppliers and their customers further down the value chain is currently defined by a deterministic dynamic that results in incremental and marginal innovation and a risk for said suppliers that their products become mere commodities. We argue that by employing ethnography based innovation strategy, ingredient suppliers can establish their own opinion of the market from the vantage point of their technologies and establish a new,...
by ANNE MCCLARD, Intel
“A radical approach specifically aims to uncover root causes and original sources, as opposed to surface level explanations.” —Thomas Wendt
Thomas Wendt is one of many eloquent voices urging designers and ethnographers to take responsibility for the social roots and implications of our work. This might mean using participatory approaches, or expanding the scope of our research to understand the larger social implications of a project more fully. It might even mean refusing to work on certain projects all together.
Any choice we make about how we work and what we work on will depend on our own beliefs and political commitments, as well as the constraints or freedoms of our workplaces. Those of us working within corporations may have fewer liberties when it comes to choosing and directing the work that we do day-to-day. These are struggles I have had in trying to make a meaningful difference as an ethnographic researcher from within the confines of the various large technology companies in which I have...