Tag Archives: design research

A case study on inclusive design: ethnography and energy use

Dan_Lockton.width-300Dr. Dan Lockton (@danlockton) is a senior associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, at the Royal College of Art in London. Originally a design engineer, he became interested in including people better in design research while working on mobility products. For his PhD at Brunel University, he developed the Design with Intent toolkit, a multidisciplinary collection of design patterns around human behaviour which Tricia blogged about in 2011. Since then, he has worked on a number of domestic and workplace energy-related behaviour change projects, including CarbonCulture and currently SusLab, a large pan-European project. There is a ‘SusLab at the RCA’ blog; this article is based on the paper Dan presented at EPIC 2013.

Editors note: Energy usage and conservation can be a seemingly mundane part of an individual’s daily life on one hand, but a politically, ecologically, and economically critical issue on the other. Despite its importance, there is a startling lack of insight into what guides and influences behaviors surrounding energy. 

With conventional quantitative analyses of properties and income explaining less than 40% of variations in households’ consumption, Dr Dan Lockton (@danlockton) and Flora Bowden set out to unpack some of the behavioral nuances and contextual insights around energy use within the daily lives of British households, from the perspective of design researchers. Their interviews had them meeting everyone from “quantified self” enthusiasts to low-income residents of public housing, and involving them in the design process. What they discovered bears significant implications for design which seeks to influence behaviors around energy, for example, where policy makers and utility companies see households as “using energy”, household members see their own behavior as solving problems and making their homes more comfortable, such as by running a bath to unwind after a trying day, or preparing a meal for their family.

Read on to see what else Dan and Flora learned in their ethnographic research, and how understanding “folk models” of energy – what energy “looks like” – may hold the key to curtailing energy usage.

For more posts from this EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang (who gave the opening keynoted talk at EPIC this year), follow this link.

Gas prepayment card

A householder in Bethnal Green, East London, shows us her gas prepayment card.

It’s rare a day goes by without some exhortation to ‘reduce our energy use’: it’s a major societal and geo-political challenge, encompassing security, social issues and economics as well as environmental considerations. There is a vast array of projects and initiatives, from government, industry and academia all aiming to tackle different aspects of the problem, both technological and behavioural.

However, many approaches, including the UK’s smart metering rollout, largely treat ‘energy demand’ as something fungible—homogeneous even—to be addressed primarily through giving householders pricing-based feedback, with an assumption that they will somehow automatically reduce how much energy they use, in response to seeing the price. There is much less emphasis on understanding why people use energy in the first place—what are they actually doing? Read More…

What We Buy When We Buy Design Research: Bridging “The Great Divide” between Client and Agency Research Teams

Andrew Harder

Andrew Harder (@thevagrant) is a researcher who likes to make things. He specialises in aligning emerging market user insights with shipping software using ethnography, usability testing, product sprint workshops and elbow grease.

Hannah Scurfield

Hannah Scurfield (@theduchess) is a design research manager working for Intel in London. She works with technologists and designers to drive software innovation and strives to institutionalise user empathy.

Editors note: This blog post is from Andrew Harder (@thevagrant) and Hannah Scurfield (@theduchess) who ran the workshop What we buy when we buy design research at EPIC 2013.  I invited Andrew and Hannah to guest contribute to the January EPIC 2013 theme because their workshop speaks to a much needed and missing conversation on what exactly clients are buying and what agencies are delivering in design research. Their articles allows us to peek into some of the important discussions that emerged from the workshop. They share with us several strategies that should be considered in the execution of design research processes.

Both Andrew and Hannah a very unique background that enables them to speak from the perspective of agencies and clients.  Having moved from agency research to in-house research, they understand the affordances and challenges that boutique firms and large corporations experience.  All views expressed are the authors own not those of their employers.

For more posts from this January EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang, follow this link.
design-5Like most good ideas to come out of England, the inspiration for our workshop at EPIC 2013 came from conversations in the pub. In this case, we were talking about “the great divide” between client and agency research teams.

Within a few years of each other, we had both left user experience agencies to work as design research managers inside big companies. Despite having worked in-house previously, this marked a transition in both our careers.

In agencies we  both sold design research to large companies. We faced similar challenges; fighting for more budget and time in the field to do more insightful work and wanting earlier involvement with designers so we could shape their work without compromise.

When we moved in-house, we faced new territory. Suddenly we had all the time we wanted, years of it. We had a research budget, sometimes a lot of it. We could work with designers from the minute they got their brief or in some cases, we were working to shape the design brief.

Yet we were also faced with some hard truths that we hadn’t anticipated. In our experience working for big consumer product companies means you are a small cog in a large machine, with objectives and dependencies that spread far beyond a specific research project. Couple that with a complex web of product owners and stakeholders and a design team to keep engaged, and you start to see why design research projects often come unstuck.

Often after spending budget on ethnographic research, design teams are still struggling later on, wanting insights that the research did not provide. And sometimes, no matter how clearly the external research agencies were briefed on project objectives, the deliverables unwittingly undermined the project vision, approach or relationships.

For both client and agency teams, keeping a research project on track is an art form in itself. However when we spoke with our colleagues and friends in research, it confirmed something we had suspected: nobody in industry or academia is openly discussing the process of buying design research. We can study project management styles but the topic of design research project management has been overlooked. The subject appears to be ‘taboo’, much to the detriment, we believe, of both client and agency research teams. Read More…

Play to Plan: mobile games to value street-level trade

Adriana Valdez Young

Adriana Valdez Young

Editor’s note: In the last post of the Stories to Action edition, urban research designer Adriana Valdez Young @thepublicagency tells us how she used stories gathered from ethnographic research to design a game for architects and planners.  Her “action,” a game called Arrivalocity, allowed users to access stories from her fieldwork. Although not all “actions” turn out as we expect. Adriana shares with us how she would approach this process if she were to do this again. All designers and researchers can learn from her very open and honest reflection. 

Adriana Valdez Young makes creative learning and research platforms that engage people with their city. She is the co-founder of English for Action in Rhode Island, helped launch KARAJ in Beruit and is the co-editor of Betta, an architecture zine on lifestyle and conflict.

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An individual storefront subdivided from 1 to 8 businesses over the course of 3 years.(Courtesy of Nicolas Palominos & LSE Cities 2012)

An individual storefront subdivided from 1 to 8 businesses over the course of 3 years.
(Courtesy of Nicolas Palominos & LSE Cities 2012)

Introduction

One day in Eindhoven for a lighting workshop. The next day, back to London for a one-hour walk down the street, followed by six hours drawing plans for a boutique hotel, art cinema, and food market to present to city officials. This is how a group of architecture firms spent two days in the spring of 2012 shaping a gentrified vision for Rye Lane (Olcayto 2012).

Designers, planners and developers shape our cities, yet they can spend little to no time in the field before delving into decision making. In the context of culturally-complex and rapidly changing streets, the results can be generic and damaging characterizations, leading to bland and detrimental designs.

As a researcher with the ‘Ordinary Streets’ project at LSE Cities, I spent several months in 2012 learning about the culture of trade on Rye Lane – a dense, multicultural high street in the neighborhood of Peckham, South London. Rye Lane is a street where businesses and shoppers regularly out-maneuver tight spaces and budgets. It is an entrepreneurial and cultural destination, where a newly arrived immigrant can rent an outdoor market stall for a daily rate of £10 – using only a mailing address and a mobile number to secure a permit; where a woman can buy exactly the same foods she cooked, hair style she wore and movies she watched in Lagos – all in the same shop; and where a refugee from Iraq manages a store that he subdivided from one to eight micro businesses – each one run by immigrants.

Read More…

Designing for Stories: Working with Homeless Youth in Boyle Heights

Editor’s Note: This post for the February ‘Openness Edition‘ comes from Jeff Hall, Elizabeth Gin and An Xiao Mina who discuss their project to facilitate personal storytelling by homeless youth from Jovenes, Inc. in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles. The team from the Media Design Practices/ Field Track program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California had so much success with the timeline structure that they’re packaging it for future use at Jovenes, Inc. and releasing it under a Creative Commons license so others can try it out in the field. This kind of repurposing of ethnographic tools is exactly the kind of sharing that we get excited about at EM and we encourage others to share their own tools and work processes in similar ways.

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jovenestimeline1

Photo by the authors. All rights reserved.

Ethnography has a lot to offer design, as evidenced by the growing field of design and design-related research informed by the methods and practices of anthropology.  Within this emerging interdisciplinary space, the design community and the anthropological community now have an opportunity to ask the question – “If anthropology has offered so much for design – what can design offer anthropology?”

We explored this question as part of our work with Jovenes, Inc., a center for homeless youth in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in East Los Angeles.  Our goal was to provide an opportunity for youth to tell their personal stories and experiences. These stories would assist the organization in learning more about its constituency and support applications for additional funding to improve its programming and services. We worked in the vein of Participatory Action Research, by Alice McIntyre, taking a collaborative approach to the design and storytelling process, ensuring that both the youths’ untapped creative abilities and our expertise and research were consistently utilized throughout the experience. Read More…

Massively EPIC 2013! Your Contributions Wanted, March 9th!

Simon Roberts Editor’s Note: One of the reasons we started Ethnography Matters was to bring ethnography to a wider audience. Before Ethnography Matters, the founders of EPIC  @epiconference had a similar goal: to give ethnographers outside of academia a space to build community, to share best practices, and to educate the industry about the value of human driven research. EPIC has been, and continues to be, a critical space for ethnographers working in the industry. We are very excited to announce that Ethnography Matters and EPIC will be collaborating this year to bring you closer to the amazing organizers, papers, workshops, and conversations in the lead up to and after the conference. 

In a special guest contribution from co-organizer of EPIC13 (and EPIC12), Simon Roberts from ReD Associates tells us about the exciting things to expect from this year’s conference. He tells us about the massively radical decision to make EPIC13  a no theme year! No theme conferences are quite radical in the conference world, especially considering that EPIC has always had a theme since it started in 2005. This will be the first of many posts from the awesome organizing team behind EPIC13.

Simon Roberts @ideasbazaar is a well known anthropologist with a long history of working with a diverse group of clients. He is currently a consultant at ReD Associates, an innovation and strategy consultancy. In 2002 he founded Ideas Bazaar,  UK’s first ethnographic research company and in 2006 he moved to Intel to develop an R&D lab focused on ageing and healthcare. 

Check out past posts from guest bloggers! Join our email groups for ongoing conversations. Follow us on twitter and facebook

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To theme or not to theme
EPIC, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, is “the premier international gathering on the current and future practice of ethnography in the business world.” That’s the headline, the formal statement of intent.

But to my mind, Bruce Sterling, in his keynote at EPIC 2011, put it well when he said that EPIC is a big tent. It’s a tent under which a diverse group of people gather each year – people with odd titles and jobs which they can’t explain to their mothers, and a shared belief in the importance of applying ethnographically derived knowledge to the world of business.

Under the big tent of EPIC each year come together an array of professional committed to putting people at the heart of business decision making. In this respect, we hope that EPIC 2013 in London will be no different. However, in 2013 we are making at least one change which may stretch that canvas a little more than in past years.

EPIC Calling
This year’s call for contributions (for Papers, Pecha Kuchas and Artifacts) has no theme.

Over the years organizers have framed the conference around meaty ideas and concepts and expected would-be authors or presenters to respond to that theme. Read More…

We’re growing! Nicolas Nova Joins Ethnography Matters as a Contributor

Editor’s Note: When we launched  Ethnography Matters one year ago in October 2011, we wanted to create a place for ethnographers who were fluid in their practice, ideas, and theories. And so far, the interactions in the comments, on twitter and facebook, and along with our amazing guest contributors, have reflected our original goal. We’re excited that you’ve all made this possible by reading, contributing, and tweeting. While we come from different disciplines, backgrounds, and industries, it doesn’t mean that we can’t build conversations that stretch outside our institutional circles for support, new ideas, and collaborations.

To celebrate our one year anniversary, we’re very excited to announce that Ethnography Matters is expanding! Nicolas Nova is joining EM as a regular contributor. You may be familiar with Nicolas as he has written several guest posts already for EM. He brings a lot of experience and expertise in design research, interaction design, and speculative applied ethnography. Nicolas is based in Switzerland, teaches at the Geneva University of Arts and Design, and works closely with design and corporate firms throughout Europe, so we look forward to expanding EM to the European community of ethnographers. He co-founded Lift, a conference that has often been described as the cozier & smaller version of TED. He’s been blogging about his research since 2003 on Pasta & Vinegar.
We thought it would be fun to introduce Nicolas by asking him some questions about, of course, ethnography! And if you have any more questions for Nicolas, ask in the comments section below. 
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How did you discover ethnography?
I “formally” discovered ethnography during my undergraduate degree in Cognitive Sciences when studying in France. Aside from classes in experimental psychology, we had courses in linguistics and cultural anthropology which is where I ran across this field and its approach. I remember that the lectures were fascinating, and the assignments were even more intriguing. We had to run interviews and observe curious topics such as how car-makers named auto-parts and their color, or how people make sense of the spatial environment. What caught me as interesting at the time was the approach, as it was totally different than the controlled experiments we had to run in Cognitive Psychology. Now that I think about it, the gap between these research endeavors is also huge in an epistemological sense, and I’m not sure that people in our program got that from the outset, but it was a marvelous opportunity to understand ethnography.
What did you enjoy about it when you started to learn about it? 

What I enjoyed was that it framed the way I was curious about the world, artifacts, people, and what they were doing. It basically corresponded to a more rigorous approach compared to something I use to do as a kid with my brother: going anywhere, sitting on a bench and looking at people, trying to make sense of what they were doing… an activity we used to called very naively “street physiognomy” (which, in retrospect, wasn’t physiognomy at all since we were focused on people’s activities).
Read More…

Can Ethnography Save Enterprise Social Networking?

Editor’s note: Enterprise software systems. Sounds a bit boring and inhuman. But they’re not! 

This month, Mike Gotta from Cisco Systems, makes the case for bringing the human back into enterprise software design and development, starting out with enterprise social networking (ESN).

ESN is like Facebook, but just for people who work within a company. But why are businesses investing in ESN when white collar workers are already using Facebook, Google+, or Twitter? Because existing social networks don’t fulfill enterprise needs for security, compliance, and integration with existing systems.  Employees don’t just time-in and time-out, they socialize. And companies want to make the most out of their employees’ social networks whether it’s making it easier for workers to find like-minded colleagues or identifying potential leaders or even locating expertise. Because here’s the thing that most companies really get – people do better work when they feel they have the social support to accomplish their task. 

Small companies might turn to an out-of-box ESN like Salesforce (Chatter), while larger companies buy an ESN platform and then customize it to fit their needs.  But one of the biggest problems with ESN’s right now is that developers and trainers don’t account for culture. Often times ESNs are implemented with little understanding of the company’s social and tech context. For example, companies try to incentivize employees to fill out social profiles, or blog, or join communities, but often employees don’t understand why, or what’s in it for them to change their behavior to collaborate in such a public way. The result – slow adoption of the ESN. Can better design practices solve the problem? How can ethnographers help fill the context and cultural gap?

One company that has been active in the ESN space from the user’s perspective is Cisco. Recently,  Cisco’s collaboration blog featured an essay by Mike Gotta, Design Considerations For Enterprise Social Networks.  We asked Mike to guest blog and he wrote a new introduction for Ethnography Matter readers, explaining why ethnographers are needed for ESN development. 

Mike is currently a senior technology solution manager at Cisco focusing on social software.  Like a true social scientist, Mike says that he’s “fascinated by the non-technological issues related to identity, media literacy, and participatory cultures and their influence on how people learn, share, and collaborate.”  You can follow him on twitter, @MikeGotta.

Mike is also looking for an ethnographer who has experience in social networking and enterprise software design to sit on an upcoming panel in November at the E2.0 conference in San Francisco. Get in touch with him if you know of someone or if you are the right person! 

– Tricia

Check out  past guest bloggers. Ethnography Matters is always lining up guest contributors, we would love to feature your work! Send us an email! 

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First, I’d like to thank Tricia for reaching out and asking me to provide a guest post. Coincidentally, I have been reading Ethnography Matters for a few months now and have become a fan of its content and contributors so I’m happy to participate.

So why am I here? Cisco has become active in the enterprise collaboration and social software markets for the past couple of years with a product called WebEx Social. Several weeks ago, I posted an article on enterprise social networking to our Cisco Collaboration blog. The goal of the article was to summarize a session presented at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston this past June. The second objective was to spark a conversation on the need for companies to invest in qualitative research related to social networks, integrate those practices into design programs, and apply those findings to improve the effectiveness of enterprise social networking (ESN) systems. Read More…

What does it mean to be a participant observer in a place like Wikipedia?

The vision of an ethnographer physically going to a place, establishing themselves in the activities of that place, talking to people and developing deeper understandings seems so much simpler than the same activities in multifaceted spaces like Wikipedia. Researching how Wikipedians manage and verify information in rapidly evolving news articles in my latest ethnographic assignment, I sometimes wish I could simply to go the article as I would to a place, sit down and have a chat to the people around me.

Wikipedia conversations are asynchronous (sometimes with whole weeks or months between replies among editors) and it has proven extremely complicated to work out who said what when, let alone contact and to have live conversations with the editors. I’m beginning to realise how much physical presence is a part of the trust building exercise. If I want to connect with a particular Wikipedia editor, I can only email them or write a message on their talk page, and I often don’t have a lot to go on when I’m doing these things. I often don’t know where they’re from or where they live or who they really are beyond the clues they give me on their profile pages. Read More…

Core 77 Spotlights Service Design Ethnographer, Panthea Lee

panthea_face.jpg

Image courtesy of Panthea Lee

Ethnography Matters hopes to interview Panthea Lee of reBoot with our own list of questions, but in the meantime, Dave Seliger of Core 77 tracked Panthea down A Better World By Design conference. For those of you who are not familiar with Panthea’s work, Tricia Wang wrote about Panthea’s Design Research essay a few months ago on Ethnography Matters.

We liked Panthea’s explanation of NGO’s perception of their own value in a community:

With a lot of these NGO’s, people assume they’re doing a lot of good work and then they design a program poorly or design a bad service and they put it out there and beneficiaries have to use it because they don’t have any other options. There’s no accountability.

Panthea then cuts through the hype of designing for “social change”:

Design for social change is a very “sexy” topic and you see a lot of design firms now going to the public sector and to NGO’s saying, ‘We’re designers, we’re here to help you!’ And they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t speak our language, you don’t know development theory, you don’t know our approach.’ It helps to know why things are the way they are today because so much of the time you see people jumping in and saying, ‘We’re going to design for change and things are going to be better.’

But what’s the context around why we have these problems to begin with? What has already been tried? I think design firms—well-intended, very talented—don’t always understand that and so I think governments look at them a little weirdly. With most of the people from Reboot, we come from those kinds of organizations and we know what we don’t know. I think that is an advantage for us.

Read the rest of the interview with Panthea on Core 77, A Better World By Design Spotlight on Panthea Lee of Reboot.  And if you didn’t get to go the conference, Dave Seliver provides a roundup of each day of the conference a the end of the post!

Design Research: A Methodology for Creating User Identified Services

reblogged from Cultural Bytes:

For a long time, I’ve wanted to understand how ethnographically driven research is different from market research.  While I intuitively understood the differences between the two, I didn’t take the time to fully sort it out.

I finally found someone who not only clearly explains the differences, but provides greater clarity and depth to my understanding of design research.

I love the way Panthea Lee of reBoot  contrasts market research and design research in, Design Research: What Is It and Why Do It? Panthea explains that the primary difference is that market research treats people as consumers – wage earners with an income to dispose on a product or service, while design research treats people as users  – humans who are trying to fulfill everyday needs through what means they see as possible.

“Market research identifies and acts upon optimal market and consumer leverage points to achieve success. Its definition of success is not absolute, though metrics are often financial. Design research, on the other hand, is founded in the belief that we already know the optimal market and consumer leverage points: human needs. Unearthing and satisfying those needs is thus the surest measure of success. Through this process, we earn people’s respect and loyalty.”

Panthea’s essay doesn’t put a value judgement on market research, rather it makes the boundaries between both types of research more explicit. This clarity allows researchers the space to be explicit about when they are wearing the market research or the design research hat. Sometimes a project needs to be considered from a market and a design perspective. So this is when this chart below becomes super useful! Read More…