"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...
by LIBBY KAUFER and MARIA VIDART-DELGADO, Ad Hoc LLC
Ethnographic methods that center systems-thinking, how knowledge is constructed, and how knowledge is shared among communities are the best approach for developing collective digital products like APIs.
Application Programming Interfaces, commonly known as APIs, connect the front-end interfaces we see when we navigate the internet (like websites and apps) to the back-end systems, or databases, that store information. APIs enable people to carry out transactions online, like purchasing goods, booking flights, or applying for government benefits. While they are invisible to end-users, APIs are crucially important to developers and to the way many websites, programs, and applications function.
Like codebases and databases, APIs are objects consumed collectively and collaboratively by teams of developers who work together to integrate front-end to back-end systems, run tests, and monitor and troubleshoot integration issues. In the context of APIs, typical UX research methods...
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...
by STUART HENSHALL, Convo
Some time ago I watched an older Indian woman using Google Assistant to access recipes. She expressed how thrilled she was: her family would be eating new meals and they would appreciate her more. As I looked more closely, it was obvious the cooking instruction video (in Hindi) contained no text. (Makes sense, she doesn’t need it.)
There are probably millions of recipes like this, many of them not professionally produced. In time, this woman herself may even become a creator of recipes and videos, despite not being able to write. She bypasses text for entertainment and learning, bringing her great joy and a new sense of independence. This is a significant change: previously, sharing recipes across time and space required writing, and less literate users avoided doing anything much more with their phones than calling. Now, voice and video technology is catalyzing new forms of engagement with a wider world.
More recently, I was watching a group of TikTok creators talk about TikTok, a social media video...
by ELEANOR BARTOSH and CHRIS HAMMOND, IBM
IBM is big. We have around 350,000 employees including 20,000 design and user experience professionals, and only a fraction of them are experienced design researchers. Many of you reading this also work in or with large enterprise organizations and, as you know, at that scale it can be easy to get lost. At times, you might feel your research is undervalued and that you, as a researcher, are marginalized. We've been there, too, so we've identified some strategies that help to both address these issues and grow understanding at scale.
Crucially, we believe that the whole cross-functional team, not just the researcher, bares equal responsibility for advancing an understanding of the people the organization serves—more colloquially users, customers, constituents, and communities.
At this point, you may be thinking, "But wait...I'm not sure I trust my peers to not ask leading questions. I'm not sure they'll pick the right methods, identify the right participants, or analyze the data without...
User Experience Researcher, eBay Inc.
Evidence, today, can have very narrow definitions. For digital products, this type of evidence usually includes clicks and engagement metrics. I believe that in our effort to only listen to numbers and data, we have created a culture that looks down on intuition as something messy and to be rejected. As a result, we train ourselves to cast our intuition aside. When we do listen, we dare not speak up about it.
Intuition is a part of what makes us human. It is often the primary way we make sense of our work (and the world around us). Yet, we continue to focus only on rationality and logic. Ultimtately, the goal of this piece is to present intuition from a different lens – to understand it, learn to listen to it and create spaces where we talk about it.
Anish Nangia is a User Experience Researcher that uses human centered design to understand complex problem spaces and inspire compelling products. firstname.lastname@example.org
2018 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry...
MICHAEL C. LIN
Cast Study—In 2014, Kaiser Permanente began implementing a next-generation medical office model that reimagines the outpatient care experience, combining new architecture, workflow, and technology to create a more convenient experience for patients and a connected, efficient experience for staff and care teams. As the first next-gen facilities were being built, challenges emerged as teams across a variety of disciplines attempted to translate the model's vision into reality. Teams were making design and operational decisions in parallel, without the ability to see how their decisions impacted the overall user experience.
To resolve these challenges, our innovation team at Kaiser Permanente used a hybrid make-and-observe method of prototyping and ethnography. Employing a co-creation mindset (Bødker and Grønbaek 1991), we engaged staff and patients to help us bring the future state of these next-gen clinics to life in a minimally viable way....
A Piece of Pie
A Piece of Pie
MARIA FERNANDA ESTUPIÑAN
A Piece of Pie
A Piece of Pie
Case Study—In this case study we describe how we collaborated with a Colombian healthcare provider company and enabled its decision makers to understand the power of stories and other types of qualitative evidence in healthcare contexts. The stories became a tool for recognizing singularities in a complex, massive system, where individuals were constantly reduced to social security numbers. We describe the qualitative methods implemented, such as in-depth interviews, projective techniques, shadowings and observations, explain the difficulty in explaining the value of our qualitative evidence and mention some of the lessons learned throughout the project. We also discuss the project’s outcomes, such as understanding the difference between user perception and user experience, the impotance of healthcare providers to go beyond healthcare and using stories as input for measuring quality of the service....
Few professions appear more at odds, at least on the surface, than ethnography and data science. The first deals in qualitative “truths,” gleaned by human researchers, based on careful, deep observation of only a small number of human subjects, typically. The latter deals in quantitative “truths,” mined through computer-executed algorithms, based on vast swaths of anonymous data points. To the ethnographer, “truth” involves an understanding of how and why things are truly the way they are. To the data scientist, “truth” is more about designing algorithms that make guesses that are empirically correct a good portion of the time. Data science driven products, like those that Uptake builds, are most powerful and functional when they leverage the core strengths of both data science and ethnographic insights: what we call Human-Centered Data Science. I will argue that data science, including the collection and manipulation of data, is a practice that is in many ways as human-centered and subjective...
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video
Case Study—The Amazon Prime Video User Experience (UX) Research team endeavored to balance qualitative and quantitative insights and translate them into the currency that drives the business, specifically customer engagement, to improve decision-making. Researchers conducted foundational qualitative research to uncover what matters most to Prime Video customers, translated resulting insights into a set of durable, measurable customer outcomes, and developed a global, longitudinal online survey program that validated the importance and perception of these outcomes at scale. Researchers then systematically linked customers’ attitudinal survey results to their usage patterns and overall satisfaction with the service. The resulting data showed how investing in improving a customer outcome is likely to increase service engagement, thus closing the loop between insights and business metrics for the first time. Prime Video executive leadership has not only embraced...
Hitachi, Ltd. Research & Development Group
Independent UX Research & Design Consultant
In international business ethnography, clients and subjects don’t share the same background. Without an understanding of the underlying factors affecting the subject’s behaviors, data can lead to false home-market based assumptions about cause and effect. Where do we as researchers look to detect meaningful findings in international contexts? Drawing on our decades of international fieldwork, we describe how focusing on culture or cultural differences to interpret differences in workflows and attitudes can sometimes hamper accurate interpretation of observations. We describe through case studies how instead, identifying foundation factors shaping behaviors and mindsets such as market forces, government policy, labour markets, and financial schemas can be the key to insight in international contexts.
Keywords: Ethnography, International, Japan, fieldwork, workflow, products and systems, user research, UX,...
This essay offers an analysis of the “pain point,” a commonplace figure of speech in UX design and contemporary business contexts more broadly. By situating this everday trope within a wider discourse of pain, and its politiciztion in the United States, I seek to problematize the modes of relationality and forms of care entailed in the practice of design research. Ultimately, I will argue, while the “pain point” can be an effective tool for communicating with stakeholders and fomenting alignment about research objectives, it also implicates the more troubling ethical dimensions of applied practice. Through a narrative account of an innovation focused ethnographic research project conducted within the design unit of a major tech company, I argue that questions of solidarity, and its contemporary aporias, can be obscured by the humanitarian rhetoric of contemporary design praxis; a rhetoric of which the “pain point” is a prime example....
Product teams, including our own, often interpret empathy as evidence. However, in practice, empathy is actually something that drives us to seek evidence. By observing and evaluating various examples within Shopify, we have identified 4 traps that are common in the way empathy is manifested. We modelled the relationship between empathy, problems, evidence, and decisions to provide strategies for how to use empathy effectively while being sympathetic to its limitations. Since empathy drives us to seek evidence, and thus cannot be considered evidence itself, empathy must be used at an appropriate level of abstraction throughout the product decision-making process in order to influence good decisions....
The jokes people tell about their work can be a rich source of insight for user researchers. Known as “workplace humor” or “occupational humor,” these jokes refer to experiences where the user's pain or delight is instantly recognizable because it is so pervasive. This PechaKucha will discuss examples and practices your team can use to identify, synthesize, and leverage the occupational humor that resonates with specific classes of users, in order to build a more nuanced understanding of those users.
Meghan McGrath is the Design Lead for IBM Z's Security group in New York.
2017 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918, epicpeople.org/intelligences)...
by BILL SELMAN and GEMMA PETRIE, Mozilla
In his 2015 novel, Satin Island, Tom McCarthy’s protagonist (known only as “U”) is a corporate anthropologist working for an outre design research firm whose work embodies all the absurd contradictions of late capitalism. The highly influential firm’s logo is “a giant, crumbling tower.” The visionary owner and boss of U takes pride in telling his clients that he is selling them “fiction” and in talks to Davos-like conferences speaks primarily in Nietzschean aphorisms. Ultimately, McCarthy portrays the role of his protagonist and design researcher as the ideal specimen of the late capitalist job.
In one scene, U describes a tactic he used to provide insight for analysis to a well-known client who manufactures jeans:
...to provide a framework for explaining to the client what these crease-types truly and profoundly meant – I stole a concept from the French philosopher Deleuze: for him le pli, or fold, describes the way we swallow the exterior world, invert it, and then flip...