product development

Making Tech More Accessible: An Ethnographic Lens on Ability and Disability

Mural on a street in Croydon, London in blue, light brown, black and cyan colors. A busy image with many different figures that are both humanoid and rectangular/robotic. A central image has three large eyes arranged vertically.
"An ethnographic lens influences us to define ability and disability in a way that is maximally inclusive...many different abilities are present in our world, and each deserves to be taken as its own reality and respected as such." —RICHARD BECKWITH (Research Psychologist, Intelligent Systems Research Lab) & SUSAN FAULKNER, (Research Director, Research and Experience Definition), Intel Corporation EPIC Members Richard Beckwith and Susan Faulkner (Intel) have assembled a panel of luminaries in accessible tech research, design, and engineering for our January 26 event, Seeing Ability: Research and Development for Making Tech More Accessible. In anticipation, we asked them a few questions about their approach to accessibility and key first steps all of us can take to do more inclusive work. How do you define ability and accessibility? How does an ethnographic lens influence your definitions? Ability has to do with what an individual is capable of perceiving or physically doing with their body; accessibility has to do with...

Creating Resilient Research Findings: Using Ethnographic Methods to Combat Research Amnesia

Kristen Guth speaking at EPIC2022. Slide reads "Organizations can learn by reflection on memories, or shared understandings and beliefs, of specific events and contexts
KRISTEN L. GUTH Reddit, Inc. Product teams, including those I work with, struggle to connect the challenges observed in prior research to issues that endure in the field and market space. As a shortcut for efficiency gains, product partners rely on researchers to succinctly summarize deep insights, sometimes preferring reductive quantitative interpretations to enable a bias toward action in product development cycles. Challenges facing researchers in product development include maintaining the relevance of prior research, providing a way to make it evergreen and accessible, and building on it to deepen and expand an existing model of behavior. This case introduces the concept of Research Amnesia, which poses a threat to organizational resilience. Using core ethnographic methods, a strategic methodological approach is outlined to frameshift the value of existing research within a company to develop new insights, bring together disparate analyses and teams, and propel product partners forward by offering more questions as a means...

Beyond Representation: Using Infrastructure Studies to Reframe Ethnographic Agendas and Outcomes

Still image of Karl Mendonca presenting at EPIC2022
KARL MENDONCA Google The ethos and methods of participatory research have been widely embraced as a powerful approach to address systemic inequity in the design of technology. While there have been many gains and developments that merit celebration, an unspoken, prevalent assumption is that inclusive forms of engagement will unequivocally result in a more inclusive product. Using the case study of an ethnographic project, this paper critically examines how the task of producing “better” (more ethical, more participatory, more statistically diverse) representations, had the unintended consequence of displacing structural outcomes to questions of aesthetics and statistical sampling. An investigation into the cause of this displacement reveals the resilience of deeper historical biases that persist from the early years of electronic computing. As a possible remedial framework, this paper introduces the field of infrastructure studies, which makes an explicit connection between the material, historical and semiotic dimensions...

User Research & Engineering: Better Together During Discovery

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...

Accelerating User Research: How We Structure Insights for Speed At Spotify

What's slowing down user research? 4 speech bubbles with text: I have this amazing idea! Can we go validate it? / How's the user experience of this screen? / We are shipping next week but need to get this in from of users first! / Let's all work in lockstep like the good partners we are!
by SARA BELT, Spotify (This article is also available in Chinese) Instead of asking how we can further speed up research itself, the question becomes how we can better integrate research into the product development practice and speed up organizations’ ability to learn and iterate overall. For many years, insights was seen as peripheral to product development because of the perception that user research had low validity. I spent the first part of my career advocating for why teams should systematically listen to the people using their products, why anyone should trust qualitative insight to guide their decisions, and why research is a field of practice that requires specialized skills. Debates about validity have diminished as the research practice has gradually proven its ability to contribute value. Approaching product making from the perspective of data, evidence, and empathy is pretty much a given these days. In companies such as Spotify, the pendulum has swung the other way, where growth in demand for research has pushed...

When Customer Insights Meet Business Constraints: Building a Go-to-Market Strategy for a Smart Home Offering in a Regulated Space

ELIZABETH A. KELLEY ILLUME Advising, LLC AMANDA E. DWELLEY ILLUME Advising, LLC Case Study—This case draws on work in the energy efficiency industry where many utilities rely on data-driven insights and decision-making to encourage consumers to adopt energy-saving products and behaviors. In this highly regulated industry, utility staff must show value through big data, and studies often rely exclusively on quantitative data analytics to create behavioral models to explain or predict behavior. However, purely data-driven research often fails to answer questions about why customers behave a certain way, and what product or program managers and marketers can do about it. In this case study, the team from ILLUME Advising LLC (ILLUME), a research consultancy in the clean energy industry, illustrates how their cross-functional team paired qualitative and quantitative research on residential home energy use. The case study draws on an exploratory market and segmentation study for an electric utility interested in engaging customers...

Ethnographic Tools: From Insight to Intervention

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...

Meaningful Innovation: Ethnographic Potential in the Startup and Venture Capital Spheres

JULIA KATHERINE HAINES University of California, Irvine The aim of this paper is to explore the potential for ethnographic approaches in technology startups and the venture capital firms that support and control them. The current practices and model of innovation aim for “disruptive innovation,” but most efforts fall short, prioritizing mass diffusion and not focusing on where true disruptive innovation lies—creating a change in meaning. I argue that an ethnographic approach can lead to innovation of meanings, bridging the gap between radical innovation and diffusion, and creating disruptive innovation. I discuss some ways ethnography can help product innovation in the startup sphere. But, more importantly, I discuss how ethnography holds great potential for reshaping the VC field, by driving meaning into the VC I then highlight alternative viewpoints that move beyond the “realist” perspective. Keywords: Innovation, Technology, New Product Development, Finance...

Tutorial: Speculative Design – Futures Prototyping for Research and Strategy

Tutorial Instructors: J. PAUL NEELEY Neeley Worldwide & Royal College of Art ELLIOT MONTGOMERY Extrapolation Factory & Parsons School of Design Download PDF SUMMARY In our world where emerging technologies are increasingly a source of significant disruption in people’s lives, methods from Speculative & Critical Design (SCD) practice are finding their way into the designer’s and researcher’s toolkit as powerful ways to create new kinds of meaning and perspective that create new organizational value. These practices design future products and services not in a predictive way, but as a way to prototype and understand the social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging technologies. These practices generally decouple design from short-term company product and market needs and visions, and engage in new conversations about alternative futures as a way to better understand and navigate future complexity. SCD often works to design for the messy and complex people that we are rather than the perfect consumers...

From UI to UX: Building Ethnographic Praxis in a Usability Engineering Culture

KIRSTEN BANDYOPADHYAY SalesforceREBECCA BUCK Salesforce In this never before shared case study, we explain how our UX research team increased its scope of work from surface-level UI issues to a full portfolio of user-centered research. We use organizational ethnography and organizational change literature to develop a three phase model of research team growth. We then discuss the implications of our model for strengthening ethnographic praxis in cultures dominated by usability engineering. We conclude with a reflection on building internal bridges to facilitate change. Keywords: organizational change, UI, UX, research, ethnography, usability, lean....

Little Data, Big Data and Design at LinkedIn

JULIE MARIE NORVAISAS and JONATHAN “YONI” KARPFEN LinkedIn LinkedIn's User Experience Design (UED) Research team is relatively small. The data we gather is even more drastically outnumbered. LinkedIn’s design and product development process is steeped in behavioral data, real-time metrics, and predictive models. Working alongside teams generating and focused on big numbers, our group of qualitative researchers helps decision makers understand how our products fit into members’ lives, envision future experiences, and take a peek behind the numbers. We'll share how our team discovers and uses “little data” to inform and inspire, in the context of a company driven by “big data.”...

From Field to Office: The Politics of Corporate Ethnography

SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG Critical corporate ethnography does not stop at the field or our reports but extends into our day-to-day work in the office. Using the example of internal research conducted for next generation internet Café (iCafe) product development in the PRC, we will argue that corporate ethnographers must go beyond self-reflexive fieldwork to tackle the organizational and cultural politics of our domain expertise. In this latter context, we become conflated with “the field” and, indeed, our corporate value is equated with the veracity of our field representations. The situation becomes eminently more complex in MNCs where in-depth ethnographic research is analyzed and acted on in multi-national teams and where internal cultural differences and professional disagreements parade as divergent corporate interests....

Evolutionary Matryoshka: Mapping the Dimensions of the Evolutionary Forces Impacting Survival of Ethnographic Insights within a Large Financial Enterprise

ARI NAVE and ZACH LEV Evolutionary forces are applied as a framework for understanding the dynamics that determine which insights, generated from a corporately-funded ethnography, flourish in the organization and which fail to thrive. Using duel-inheritance theory model, the paper explores sui generis elements of the ideas themselves, contextual variables, the mechanics and mediums of transmission, as well as contextual selective pressures such as how organizational structures trigger prestige bias. Leveraging anecdotal data, the paper points to the value of evolutionary theory as a framework for understanding broad patterns of information dissemination....

Becoming the Subject: A Comparison of Ethnographic and Autoethnographic Data for New Product Development

KEREN SOLOMON As companies become more interested in innovation, design, and the creation of experiences, they are increasingly utilizing ethnography as a way to understand their customers and potential customers. However, for most companies ethnography is still conducted in the classical sense, with researchers observing and talking to participants in order to draw out insights about the “other.” Few consider the use of autoethnography, that is, having people deeply and rigorously study themselves in order to produce a richer description of the problem space and of how new products might potentially solve those problems. This paper draws on two research projects conducted by the author, compares the data collection methods and research results obtained with both approaches, and suggests some ways in which using an autoethnographic approach could lead to more insightful research results. It also raises questions about how we as researchers can increase our understanding of and respect for what it really means to be a research subject....

Lead Type, Dead Type: New Patterns of Local News Production and Consumption

ELIZABETH CHURCHILL and JEFF UBOIS Newspapers are in trouble. Steep declines in circulation and advertising revenue have forced outright closures, reductions in force, cessation of print in favor of web only editions and frantic searches for additional sources of revenue and audience. In this paper, we report results from an interview study focused on everyday news consumption practices. Our study indicates there are many design opportunities for local news creation and distribution at interface/interaction, infrastructure and strategy levels....