Learn frameworks and techniques to understand how people engage with their physical and material environments and illuminate opportunities for innovation.
Instructors: GEMMA JOHN, Founder & Director, Human City / University College London) & SOPHIE GOODMAN, Director of Research, SEC Newgate
This video has been edited to protect the privacy of participants in the live tutorial.
Understanding how people use and engage with their physical surroundings adds depth and dimension to your ethnographic analysis, enabling you to design better products and services. This tutorial introduces you to new tools and frameworks that not only allow you to record how well a space performs from the perspective of the people who use it, but also provide insight into people’s preferences, habits and social contexts, leading to more impactful solutions for a resilient future.
We’ll explore new techniques of participant observation by zooming in on patterns of use, pinch points, line of sight and material language,...
In the last decade, Future Studies have developed a very important corpus of theory and methods aimed to analyze the future of cities. Meanwhile the world is confronted with major challenges like climate change, global pandemics, migration, inequality and poverty, government agencies, professional urbanists, academia and other organizations, concerned with strategic planning, are looking for new ways to provide insight into how we approach unforeseeable challenges and integrate complexity and novelty for better futures.
In this paper we reviewed the notion of “weak signal” as a retrospective exploratory method to think of cities as anticipatory systems (Boer, Wiekens, and Damhof 2018) of future emerging problems. Using qualitative retrospective analysis and secondary research we focused on three urban innovations in transportation, workplaces and food domains at different cities to understand how to anticipate unforeseen scenarios and explore new ways of generating...
This PechaKucha will take the audience on an intimate, visual exploration of the evolving ways that clothing is dried outside across urban China as drying practices are forced to adapt to limitations by evolving regulation and perceptions of urban modernity. Increasingly, engaging in this social practice requires an act of agency against both municipal governments and one's own neighbors in China.
While drying one's laundered clothing outdoors remains a standard part of rural life, both the legal and physical space for this practice has shrunk during China's massive urbanization. This practice is being replaced by bureaucrats’ desire to stimulate domestic consumption (of appliances, in this case) and their desire to erase from cities what is considered a visual embarrassment of laundry hanging out of windows and between buildings.
Today when something in urban China needs drying outside of one's privately owned space, one must assert agency over a slice of public space: A...
imec-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
imec-SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
This paper aims to contribute to the debate on the integration of ethnography and data science by providing a concrete research tool to deploy this integration. We start from our own experiences with user research in a data-rich environment, the smart city, and work towards a research tool that leverages ethnographic praxis with data science opportunities. We discuss the different key components of the system, how they work together and how they allow for human sensemaking....
This paper explores cultural differences in the practices of car sharing in the context of urban mobility. Challenging the all too frequent and often uncriticial uses of the term “sharing economy”, we argue for a more granular representation of practices that occur when “sharing” meets “economy”, focusing on the tensions that characterise people's embodied experiences of carpooling. By exploring emergent behaviour conventions, this paper seeks to highlight the ethnographic value of shifting perspectives between different players in car sharing transactions. We aim to offer a fresh, ethnographically rich and critical perspective on practices of mobility sharing in the context of an industry in flux....
WILLIAM SCHINDHELM GEORG
PETER HAYWARD JONES
This paper investigates how a close understanding of human activity can inform the design of culturally and contextually sustainable innovations for subsistence markets. Building on existing literature related to poverty alleviation initiatives and an ethnographic field study, this project attempted to understand the cultural and contextual challenges to the substitution of unhealthy and unsustainable biomass as cooking fuels by cleaner and competitive cooking alternatives in Kitintale, an urban slum in Kampala, Uganda. We share new research findings and experience from a recent ethnographic study that reveals the incompatibility of modern innovation theory with the realities of the deeply knitted everyday practices in the social ecology of slum life. As the findings of this project suggest, broad claims that disruptive innovation can shift existing practices, change demand and displace market leaders through the creation of new value networks might not fully...
by NIMMI RANGASWAMY, SAURABH SRIVASTAVA, TEJASVIN SRINIVASAN & PRIYANKA SHARMA (Xerox Research Centre, Bengaluru, India)
Article 6 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives
How must we conjure up smart spaces?
‘Smart city’ has become an over-indulged urban metaphor, whipping up an apparition of dispersed, highly networked and interconnected socio-economic, infrastructural and communication nodes. The smart city narrative seems to dwell on the idea of cites as ‘receptacles for technology’—and qualitative transformations are brought about by the application of technologies. Even after decades of research to the contrary, we still tell ourselves stories about the inevitable march of technology and its deterministic effect on culture and behavior.
But aren’t cities also places that give birth to technologies? As researchers we are drawn to the miraculous nature of technology to sense, track and quantify not only human use of infrastructure but also the human ‘self’. We are working to...
by LAURA FORLANO, IIT Institute of Design
Article 4 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives
On April 1, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a $317 million federally funded initiative in textile innovation and manufacturing—a national consortium of public and private organizations to be led by MIT. It’s only the most recent project of the Obama administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a major effort to re-invigorate the American economy. This ambitious initiative to build manufacturing infrastructure nationwide plans an initial network of 45 Manufacturing Innovation Institutes over 10 years. Led by non-profit organizations, the institutes partner universities, businesses and government agencies with the aim of bridging the gap between basic and applied research in key manufacturing areas such as additive manufacturing (eg, 3D printing), digital manufacturing, lightweight metals, semiconductors, advanced composites, flexible hybrid electronics and integrated photonics.
HighWire Centre for Doctorial Training, Lancaster University DHRUV SHARMA
HighWire Centre for Doctorial Training, Lancaster University JOSEPH LINDLEY
HighWire Centre for Doctorial Training, Lancaster University
This paper aims to foreground issues for design ethnographers working in urban contexts within the smart-city discourse. It highlights ethnography's role in a shared urban future by exploring how ethnographers might pave the way for envisioning digital infrastructure at the core of Smart City programs. This paper begins by asking whether urban development practitioners can design for inclusive interaction with Smart Urban Infrastructure. The research suggests how ethnographers can work with ‘cities’ to rapidly develop diagnostic tools and capture insights that inform design processes with both utility and inclusive interaction as their key values. This involves rethinking how we consider places where space and information intersect. This work led to developing rapid means to assay a site and sensitize to contextual...
Instructor: ANJA MAERZ, Future Cities Catapult
Visualizations are powerful research and communication tools, revealing questions we didn't even know to ask and allowing faster access to actionable insights. This introduction to data visualization presents principles for data design and design analysis, as well as tools and techniques for working with raw data....
by ZACH HYMAN, Continuum
Thomas Hobbes famously warned that the worst instincts of “mankind” need strict management, control, and regulation. But what about the harm that results when we try to manage spontaneous systems too closely?
I have been thinking with Robert Chia and Robin Holt lately; their book Strategy without Design is on my desk, and I’m nearly finished with their detailed accounts of how inflexible and myopic our planning and strategy can be. We’ve developed rigid and inflexible fields and disciplines, which have lead to similarly inelastic outputs. History is rife with examples of failed attempts to plan, manage, and control. The news these days is rife with them too—the misplaced ambitions of those who hope to design on a massive scale for a complex group of users.
Take, for example, high priests of modernity such as Le Corbusier, whose Plan Voisin imagined the transformation Paris into “a chequerboard latticework of well-spaced towers and open, orthogonal roads” (Chia & Holt 36). His success...
by DAVID NEMER, Indiana University
Favelas are the urban slums of Brazil. Slums—the image is already filling your mind—are marginalized areas of society without state investments, without basic needs: infrastructure, sanitation, road systems, health, education. They also lack access to information and communication technologies (ICTs). Why, then, are they important places for studying “advanced” topics like technology, knowledge economy, and sociotechnical practices? What could they have to teach us?
Outsiders often see favela residents as “untamed” and digitally illiterate. But during eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in the slums of Brazil, I saw people challenging the notion of “resource poverty,” appropriating ICTs and skill building in innovative ways. Favela residents critically engage with artifacts designed for advanced industrialized contexts and have to develop their skills of bricolage to survive in a broken environment where repair was a constant socio-technical practice. Favelas are considered...
China’s political and industrial leaders are striving to transform the most populous country in the world from the 20th century’s “global workshop” into the 21st century’s “global innovator”. In sharp contrast to these lofty ambitions, each day a force of 260 million migrant laborers (equal to the population of the world’s ten largest cities combined) struggles simply to put food on the table while still having enough income to save or send home to their families. When work becomes too scarce, however, one of the only options left is to take to the streets to try and sell whatever and wherever possible. This is a visual journey through how an illegal street market in 21st century China looks, sounds, and feels, where listeners will meet some of the people that rely upon them for survival and come to understand the forces that threaten their existence....
Abstract: From cataclysmic recessions to unprecedented climate disasters, our cities seem awash with unintended consequences borne of complex times. While city administrations grapple with developing systemic supports, our infrastructure, communities and individual wellbeing are increasingly succumbing to the strain. This paper examines a practice gaining recent traction for improving our cities’ sustainable resilience: service design. As an inherently user-centered, reflexive and iterative practice, it develops service systems by drawing upon a range of disciplinary roles - from makers to strategists, and ethnographers to technologists. I examine three New York City-based case studies which each attempt to improve the services its residents use and need. While responding to the complex needs of the same city, these case studies illustrate the vastly different possibilities for improving broken civic services through institutional intervention: housing in civic service design, mobility in private sector service design,...
ANNIKA PORSBORG NIELSEN and LINE GROES
This paper discusses the merits and challenges of user-centered urban development projects, and what it means to apply an ethnographic approach to the study of urban spaces and the way people use them. We draw primarily on an ethnographic project carried out in two cemeteries in Copenhagen. The project focused on the involvement of local citizens – both everyday users of the cemeteries, as well as locals who do not use these urban spaces. We discuss the challenges and opportunities of ethnography in a complex space such as a cemetery, and consider additional ways to incorporate citizens into projects that have a direct impact on their lives. We conclude with a discussion of the project learnings and their implications for future urban planning....