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.

References – Catching up

Every now and then someone ask me for references on “Design Thinking”. This is an attempt to share some of what I gathered during the years and you can check for free in our beautiful interwebs.

First, I don’t care much about names and labels, for me all these terms are related to research about people and develop better solutions. So I don’t mind if you call it Design Thinking, Design Research, Applied Ethnography, Design Ethnography, Service Design, Innovation or magic. Most of these things drink in the same references so it is quite useful to have them together.

Introduction

Materials to get you from zero knowledge to somewhere in this area.

Resonance – A short video showing why and how this kind of work is done. Very good start.

Continuum Resonance Video: Getting to the right idea from Continuum on Vimeo.

 

Design Research – Brenda Laurel – Great book. Can give you basis to start studying the field, quite accessible writing, few jargon and alike.

Bootcamp Bootleg – Developed by Stanford’s D.School it is a very clear, straight forward guide for this kind of innovation project, describing the most used tools in a very simple and accessible way.

Ethnography Primer – Publication made in partnership between AIGA and Cheskin (now part of Added Value), one of the first companies in the field. Very simple, clear and insightful. Also very competent showing how a designer and an anthropologist / ethnographer can complete themselves in a project.

In general the research phase aims to create empathy with those addressed by your solution, your clients, costumers or users (each field likes to call people differently, what can I do?). This video about empathy is pretty good.

It is very hard to talk about “Design Thinking” without talking about IDEO. In this TED talk their CEO Tim Brown call designers to think BIG, to go for bigger problems and get involved.

 

Research and Fieldwork

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer – Great source created by IIT guys, it is really good for those with few or no experience on fieldwork. Dori, the woman been interviewed most of the time is now head of the Design Anthropology master course at the Swinbourne University.

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.

“What People Are Really Doing”. Another video from IIT. Extremely clear and enlightening.

What People Are Really Doing from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

Luis Arnal: Field Stories from Latin America – Quite funny lecture from Luis Arnal on how to perform fieldwork in Latin America (obviously, many of this observations are also valid for other places).

Luis Arnal: Field Stories from Latin America, IIT Design Research Conference 2008 from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

Jan Chipchase is one of the most famous “design anthropologists” in the world. Became a star in the field during his years at Nokia and now is part of Frog Design team. Make sure you check his website and blog. Lots of material and he is always posting.

Here he is at TED.

Jan Chipchase: Design anthropology – Another great lecture addressing the field work world with special attention to ethics.

(The second video is much newer the TED, apparently he manages to find time to workout. Well done Mr. Chip!)

Outputs

Services, products, businesses and other output examples as shown as cases.

“Reassessing Information and Comunication Technologies and Development:The Social Forces of Consumption” – From Intel.

Keep the Change – From IDEO. One of my preferred cases to exemplify how ethnographic research can create great solutions beyond products and with meaningful impact in business.

Havaianas – This one is pretty interesting in the brand and product fields. IDEO working with the Brazilian flip-flop brand. You can see the case here, video with how the products work below.

Havaianas bags from IDEO on Vimeo.

Colorblind – A research from Continuum on how people perceive sustainability. You can have a look at their warm-up video and check the report here.

Sustainability by Design: Continuum’s Colorblind Project from Continuum on Vimeo.

Business focused

Roger Martin – Along with Bruce Nussbaum this Rotman School professor is one of the biggest defenders of the “design thinking” inside the business world. Very good lecture at the AIGA event in 2009.

David Butler : Redesigning Design – He is the design mind behind the most valuable brand on earth. In this lecture he talks about about how design is been approach by him and his team inside Coca-Cola.

Luis Arnal from INSITUM on insights in a more business-related vision of the field.

DRC X – 2011 – Luis Arnal from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

 

More acid discussions on “Design Thinking”

There are a lot of love and hate around the expression “design thinking”. Here we have some articles against this term (personally, I don’t care much)

 

Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You by Peter Merholz. It is a post on HBR kind of fighting design thinking as a buzz word. Bare in mind that Peter was at Adaptive Path at the moment and “design thinking” is almost an branded offer from IDEO. Via Cuducos.

Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next by Bruce Nussbaum – He was one of the biggest supporters of “Design Thinking”, but with this article he claims that it has failed. Again, keep in mind that he still point out how useful it was for many reasons and try to sell a new idea – actually not that new – creative intelligence.

How to Lie with Design Thinking.

Be fully aware that most of this is joke and it is easy to lie with classic design too. What do you think is the porpoise of a beautiful render?

Dan Saffer: How to Lie With Design Thinking from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

This is it for now. This post will be filled every now and then.

Stay classy.

Practical Ethnography

Sam Ladner is writing a book to connect business people and social science professionals so they both can have a better perspective on ethnography applied in the private sector.

I just read her free sample and it looks pretty good. Well, actually it still a draft do it doesn’t really LOOK good in the design meaning of the word, but the content is pretty good.

Firstly I think the market urges for a material like this, at least in Brazil we have a lot of professionals from the business world looking for some consistent sources on how to apply “this ethnography thing” in their business. I know, we have a lot of articles from companies like Intel and Microsoft talking about it, but one never knows how much of it is true and how much was modified to look good in the eyes of the media. I also think it can be really useful for people coming from social sciences background to the corporate world.

I am maybe generalizing to much, but social sciences guys are usually left wing while business administration guys are as far as one can get on the right wing, right? At least this is how I feel about it. So in the end there is this very different cultural / world view background in both fields. For me it kind of holds them back from really join forces and produce together (you know… business men think these anthro-people are a bunch of commies and social scientists think that business guys are soulless people with $ $ marks in their eyes all the time). So we really need someone who speaks both languages to get them together.

Back to the book.

It is interesting how she talks about giving “colors” to the text with details and how she manages to do it pretty well with examples from projects. I think that in the final version she could use some design references Harvard Business Review articles. A good executive summary in the beginning of each chapter and a wrap up in the end of it as well. I also like the way HBR keep practical examples in boxes helping you to focus your attention.

I am really looking for this book!