EPIC! Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference 2014 was worthy of its initials

Fordham University - Awesome infrastructure and location

Fordham University – Awesome infrastructure and location

This article talks about my impressions on the EPIC [Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference] that happened at the Center of Positive Marketing, part of Fordham University in New York City, from 7th to 10th of September 2014.

I want to be brief, yet keep some depth. First I will talk about the big picture, the event and why it is such an experience on professional and personal levels. After that I will cover some of the highlights of the conference, as seen from my perspective.

Before that I want to say: EPIC 2015 IS GOING TO BE IN SÃO PAULO!!!

So my three main points about the conference are:

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Debating Ethnographic Epistemology Salon: Should Corporate Ethnography Even Attempt To Avoid Reductionism?

1 – Strong community

EPIC is about meeting people and organizations that are using research methods borrowed from social sciences inside a wide variety of industries. We are talking about making companies more human and human centric. More empathetic. This is a place we can meet.

Many times anthropologists, sociologists and other practitioners are lone rangers in their jobs. EPIC offers an opportunity to meet other people who are on the same page as you [often more advanced], and exchange experiences, contacts, references and so on.

For me, this sense of community, mutual recognition and knowledge exchange was clearly the most EPIC outcome of the event.

 

Christian Madsbjerg sez ethnography should divorce design . #epiconference

@sladner: Christian Madsbjerg sez ethnography should divorce design . #epiconference

2 – Business pivoting

Since ethnography and other methods generate good strategic results, we climb up the corporate ladder. As ethnographers and consultants we should professionally empathise with business people, learning their lingo and ways of thinking and doing. At least to improve your communication skills.

It does not imply becoming a corporate woman or man, it means to better understand and communicate, so we can offer further help, and have positive impact on our clients and even employers. I think ReD´s Christian Madsbjerg´s keynote was the most assertive about it, but I had this feeling many other times chatting with people around the conference. And it is also something I can see in my professional experience. 

Rob and Joe talking about Anticipatory Ethnography

Rob and Joe talking about Anticipatory Ethnography

3 – Adopting future

Most of us are working around ´innovation´, meaning our studies should help companies build new products, services and communication pieces. In other words, we help companies to shape the future with a human perspective.

As proposed by Brian Moeran in his workshop, we have to come up with solutions that are not a step ahead – because most people won’t get it – but half a step ahead. I would add that we should plan several half-steps to create a map, a path for companies to follow. In business they call it innovation pipeline, often represented by the innovation funnel.

Works of design fiction and/or speculative design can illustrate such futures using storytelling, usually with short films. Like the work presented by Joseph Lindley and Robert Potts, two PhD candidates from Lancaster, and Nicolas Nova, who was in EPIC London last year. I particularly like his ´A Digital tomorrow´, you should have a look.

In my perspective, this kind of deliverable shows there are better ways of demonstrating how valuable our work is, that do not involve only power point presentations.

 

Now some of the stuff I found interesting during the conference:

Sam Ladner´s Pecha Kucha about her research on ´bodywork´. Basically, it talks about body language and behaviour in the work environment and its influence on productivity. The insights and pictures she used have that ethnographic power of “I’ve seen this happening” and “that´s totally like this” and “Gez,I do this all the time”. She has just launched a book called “Practical Ethnography”, check it out.

IMG_20140908_141328306_HDR-MOTION

Other Pecha Kucha I especially liked was presented by Erick Mohr, who works for the company under the humble name Truth. He used comic books visual language to talk about the process of getting an idea from one’s head to the market with super-hero like characters. Pretty neat!

Brian Moeran paper was “Business, Anthropology, and Magical Systems: The Case of Advertising“. He compares beauty products ads in magazines to magical process. The way such products are presented, the images and words used evoke magical terminology and communication techniques. I really need to dig into that.

Line and Anikka, the Danish partners from IS IT A BIRD, talked about this great idea of making cemeteries more alive. They studied such places and came up with guidelines to get the population, those still alive, to enjoy these areas in a way that are still respectful to the dead. Very insightful.

Jan English-Lueck was talking about food production and consumption systems. You should check her work “Corporate Care Reimagined: Farms to Firms to Families“. I love one of her phrases ´When we dream big enough reality learns´.

 

Want to know more?

You should check out EPIC website, of course, and EPIC People, a website that brings this experience closer to those, who were not able to attend the conference – yet. And also AnthroDesign, everyone that is someone in the field is there. Seriously.

Originally posted at Questto|Nó.

Strategic Design – Dundee Capital of Culture 2016

A project inside Strategic Design module with the lecturer Tom Inns.
We develop a concept to defend Dundee as Europe Capital of Culture for the year 2016. We also should design a workshop to involve citizens, policy makers and other stakeholders in the planning and making of such event.

Check the final result:

Awesome graphs and motion design from Navid Gornall (take note of this name).

 

WithScotland: Complex Idea – Simple Video

Design Ethnography is not just about discover, is also about how to communicate findings, insights and conclusions in a straightforward way.

At the Strategic Information Design module our challenge was to get WithScotland message across the a quite broad audience they intent to reach – from academics, practitioners and other professionals deeply involved in child and adult protection to the mainstream public who might be interest in the area.

Main challenges:

  • Align a very diverse team – 5 people, 3 different courses, 4 different nationalities
  • Be very careful with terminology due to the delicate field (child and adult protection)
  • Respect WithScotland brand parameters
  • Align level of quality, the skills of the group and a tight schedule

This is the final result chosen by the client as the best of the final solutions.

What is WithScotland from Fernando Galdino on Vimeo.

We would like to thank Beth Smith, Director of WithScotland for her trust, support and feedback. We also want to thank Megan Robertson for her outstanding voice, Setuniman and FreeSound for the soundtrack. We also want to thank Flickr and the following photographers: Frank Guido, Davide Cassanello, Adrian Dreßler, Josep Ma. Rosell, Maessive and Stefano Corso.

Thank you very much for your support through Creative Commons.

Soundtrack: Setuniman at FreeSound.org
freesound.org/people/Setuniman/sounds/170914/

Pictures: Flickr.com via Compfight.com

Frank Guido – flickr.com/photos/70973526@N00/5960974663/

Davide Cassanello – flickr.com/photos/dcassaa/395470853/

Adrian Dreßler – flickr.com/photos/38211812@N07/7308405302/

Josep Ma. Rosell – flickr.com/photos/10488545@N05/1865482908/

Stefano Corso – flickr.com/photos/pensiero/389087892/

Maessive – flickr.com/photos/42346519@N00/106440594/

 

And last but not least, a big thank to our team!

Alina Achiricioaei – Design for services – twitter.com/achiricioaei

Chongyu Tu – Product Design – twitter.com/ewantu

Claire England – Design for services – twitter.com/claireaengland

Ying Zhang – Design Ethnography – twitter.com/arielzhang4

The whole process is described at our blog – sidteam2.wordpress.com

Cheers!

 

Re-focus Group

I love Tom Fishburne’s cartoons!

Don Norman and Roberto Verganti are asking in this articleCan design research ever lead to radical product innovation?“and they provide the answer Yes, but this is unlikely to occur through the methods of human-centered design.

Going on they say:

The more that researchers study existing human behavior, activities, and products, the more they get trapped into existing paradigms. These studies lead to incremental improvements, enabling people to do better what they already do, but not to radical change that would enable them to do what they currently do not do.

Of course they are not against research – for those who do not know Don is the “Norman” on Nielsen Norman Group – one of the biggest and most influential research institutes in the world and he helped to define what HCD is nowadays.

What I think is that disruptive innovations are not common and organizations need to know, get inspired and connect with people, so research is crucial. However, trapping people into a lab-like aquarium and watch a discussion while eat snacks will not be very helpful.

I have moderated many “focus groups” with a diverse range of objectives. From exploring a very abstract concept and its relation to transportation, to very concrete testing where was hard to tell what was prototype and what was a working product. For me the worst part was always the lack of context. Small comments that in a contextual situation (such as house visits) would lead to a conversation around a pan, a ring or a bible ended or simply never happened because the “hook” for the conversation was not there.

It is not new that “innovation” people hold some mixed feelings about focus grups, lately Gianfranco Zaccai from Continuum wrote on FastCompany that “Focus Groups Kill Innovation” and after a lot of negative reactions he wrote a more a more friendly article “Focus Groups Are Dangerous. Know When To Use Them“.

But why business and focus group live such a happy love story?

According to Jenn Schiffman and Defne Civelekoglu from Gravity Tank at their presentation Re-focus Group there are three main reasons for such love.

Cost effective - You can have a relatively big group of people coming to a facility and giving answers.

Time effective - You can interact with 16 or even more people in a single day, a lot compared to house visits for example.

Proven method - It is somehow traditional and known at the clients side. Way easier to understand than more less traditional methods.

Their proposal is to develop a more empathetic kind of focus group. Do it in other environments, having researchers, designers, participants and clients together in a more natural conversation. Use rough prototypes to stimulate conversations and so on. Have a look on Gravity Tank’s lecture and gather some tips for future focus groups.

The Refocus Group from gravitytank on Vimeo.

What do you think?

Any | The shapeless mobile phone concept for the year 2020

In 2009 I was living in Curitiba and kind of bored. I found a challange online to design a mobile phone concept for the year 2020. You know, 2020 is the new 2000 in the collective mind for when-cool-things-gonna-happen.

I invited Kleber Puchaski and João Moldenhauer to design it together. After a lot of emails, a good secondary research and few meetings we came out with this concept – please forgive all 2009-ish design style and poor my poor English.

This is just an exploration, a couple of ideas about how things might be in a couple of years from now. I really believe one of the “next big things” for the mobile world will be these “hardware apps”. The smartphone will not be a box with everything inside, but several devices connected that can be embedded in the same artifact or spread in one’s body.

That is my guess. Do you have any?

Norman – Rethinking Design Thinking (again)

I like his catholic priest vibe.

In 2010 Don “Design of Everyday Things” Norman posted “Design Thinking – A useful myth” on Core77. Now he is rethinking design thinking. Apparently the process of revisiting his book and writing new chapters, bringing more examples and making stronger links to the business side of design made him reconsider the whole argument.

Bruce Nussbaum, a the big responsible for the presence of term design thinking (and by consequence design) in the business agenda in the last couple of years also wrote about design thinking been a failed experiment in 2011.

I think both have a huge point. “Design thinking” have reached such level as a buzzword that it kind of get us tired of it. As I have said other times when I got involved in arguments about design thinking been something new or not, if it is valid or not, bla bla bla. For me it was always about finding people who were doing a better design, more empathetic and human centered than the use of the term “design” (an expression even more misused than “design thinking”).

A more efficient keyword / #hashtag. Just it.

Don Norman talks about “the power of the stupid question” as the main asset designers have as outsiders who can challenge the status quo. In this sense I am really happy to be studying in a place where we call ourselves professional idiots – exactly because we learn to ask stupid questions for a living.

Meteors, Culture and Natural Selection

You are probably aware of the meteor falling in Russia this week. You probably also watched lots of high-definition videos of the fire-ball tearing the sky.

As me you probably thought “how did they manage to get all this footage?”. In summary,  because of violent roads, corrupted police and skeptic justice system, dash-cameras are a must have in Russia.

A compilation of outstanding Russian dash-camera videos.

As we sometimes forget technology are tools serving people. People inhabit certain contexts that are important for what they choose or avoid to use. These contexts are made of different factors, but the global/local cultures are crucial to understand why certain innovations arise, are adopted and kept, or vanish away. Therefore, the right innovation needs the right context to flourish.

Just like living creatures in nature, new products/services are trying to survive following rules that resemble natural selection. If in Darwin’s theory the environment plays a major role – with predators, mating rituals and food scarcity – at the innovation field the socio-cultural context is the “environment” determining who thrives an who vanishes. In this particular case the Russian historical, social, cultural, juridical and economical context are setting a stage where small digital cameras fit perfectly.

The good thing about it is that using tools from social sciences (such as ethnography) we can study these socio-cultural contexts using findings to design products/services to fit in these scenarios. Is as if species could plan beforehand how they should be to have better chances of success in a certain environment. True intelligent design.

Guess:

Now that we had this deep impact on the culture of visual documentation, maybe the habit of 24/7 footage arise in other countries, both to better deal with lawsuits, or just to be ready in case pure awesomeness knocks at your door.

UPDATE: Why is it not happening in Brazil? 

With the famous corrupt police and technology adoption Brazil should be doing the same thing as Russia. Right? Maybe not.

I guess this phenomenon is not happening in Brazil because of the cultural context. Bribing is usually carried by the person committing the infraction, being the least interested on document it.

Talking about traffic fee for example. Usually the owner of the car is the one trying to get out of the situation. The driver would be the one using the famous “jeitinho Brasileiro” (Brazilian workarounds) to bribe the police officer avoiding a more severe fee.

As far as I know Brazilian corruption have a subtle, almost friendly spirit. A police officer will never openly ask a driver for money, instead what happens is a favor exchange. Starting with a small double-sense chit-chat to feel if the other side would prefer an “alternative solution”. This bribe is called “o dinheirinho da cerveja” or just “pra cervejinha“, which means just a change for a couple of beers (of course many times it is way more than that).

Roberto DaMatta is one of the most respected Brazilian anthropologists and wrote a lot about this behavior.