Tag Archives: epic

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…

An Interview with the head of User Research at the UK Government Digital Services: Leisa Reichelt

leisa_square-1Leisa Reichelt (@leisa) is the Head of User Research at the Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office. She leads a team of great researchers who work in agile, multidisciplinary digital teams to help continuously connect the people who design products with the people who will use them and support experimentation and ongoing learning in product design. 

We are excited to interview Leisa Reichelt (@leisa) for our January EPIC theme at Ethnography Matters.  I met Leisa at EPIC 2103 in London at Mark Vanderbeeken’s townhall meeting on Big Data. When Mark told me about Leisa’s work, I became sooo excited because I just love talking to UX brains who are obsessed with strategy. While UX designers and ethnographic researchers engage in very different processes, both are creating products and processes for organizations–organizations that are often resistant to change. We are lucky to have Leisa share her thoughts on this topic in our interview.  Leisa is also looking for passionate people to join her team at Government Digital Service! Read more to find out the details.

For more posts from this January EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang, follow this link.

Tricia:  Leisa, thanks so much for taking time out to chat with me! So let’s get straight to it – you think most UX is shite. When you wrote a blog about this in 2012, the reaction was just amazing! People were beyond happy that you laid it all out. While many designers have made similar arguments, your polemic essay stood out because you tackled one of the major issues that are often ignored – how organizational culture leads to bad UX.

Leisa: It was definitely one advantage of being a freelancer – I was able to say exactly what I thought without worrying about how it reflected on my employer. I get really tired of organisations not walking the talk when it comes to user experience. It’s very easy to say that customers are your number one priority, but for most it will require some pretty fundamental change to actually follow through on this, and most aren’t up for it. Hiring a bunch of designers and researchers and sending out lots of surveys doesn’t cut it. You need to empower those teams to do good work and push the user focus throughout the entire organisation, not just attempt to delegate it to a UX team.

Tricia:  So a year or so after your post, you entered into a behemoth of an organization – the UK government! Why did you take this job on and what it is like to be inside an organizational structure that is not known to be easy for designers and cultural change?

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Leisa: I’m not sure I would have been so brave if not for the work that the Government Digital Service had done well before I joined. Through the process of designing and launching GOV.UK they laid out a great example of how a clear focus on user needs proliferating throughout an entire team can lead to great outcomes for citizens.

I initially joined to work on a really interesting identity project but saw a great opportunity to help GDS become even better at understanding and focusing on user needs by better integrating user research into agile teams. Government is a challenging environment to work in, but it is full of people who are really committed to doing the best they can for their country and its citizens. Traditionally a lot of research in government has still placed a lot of distance between the people who make the decisions (whether it’s interface decisions or policy decisions) and the people who are affected by those decisions. We  are trying to close that gap and help enable teams to be able to see what the impact of their decisions will be for citizens. It’s exciting to see how enthusiastic people throughout government are to do much more of this kind of work and how well it works within the agile process. Read More…

I’m Coming Out: Four Awkward Conversations for Commercial Ethnographers

459372_561559630554768_2122767149_o With an approach built on ethnography and design methodologies, Drew Smith (@drewpasmith) delights in bringing consumer and client to the conference table. In the process, he works with them to co-create game-changing products, services and businesses for some of the world’s biggest companies.  Drew shapes culture and strategy at Seren Partners. He blogs occasionally at DownsideUpDesign and posts pictures of cars, mostly side-on, here.

Editor’s Note: I asked Drew Smith (@drewpasmith) to kick off our January EPIC theme because of his background as a designer and a tweet that he had sent. Until Drew attended EPIC 2103, he was hesitant to say that he was an ethnographer in certain professional contexts. But after listening to my opening keynote for EPIC 2013, he tweeted, “Today, I’m coming out. I’m an @ethnographer!” We had an interesting chat afterwards where Drew explained to me why he would even need to “come out of the closet.” It was a fascinating conversation and one that many readers will relate to, especially if you work in a design or strategy agency where you may be the one person with very proficient ethnographic skills.

So I thought it would be interesting to hear how someone with a strong design background experienced EPIC 2013. In Drew’s first guest post on Ethnography Matters, he urges designers and strategists with ethnographic skills be brave: commercial ethnography needs to come out of the closet. Drew provides some conversations that will help us get there.

For more posts from this January EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang, follow this link.

Slide145Over the course of my career I’ve developed an unwavering belief in the transformative power of ethnography. I’ve used its tools and techniques to bring about positive change for my clients, shaping products, services, businesses and brands with the rich, people-centred insight it can bring to bear.

Yet until recently, I’d never called myself an ethnographer; I’ve always been an automotive designer-turned-strategist. This is the story of how that came to change.

Ethnography by Another Name

During my student years, I’d come to know a London co-creation agency called Sense Worldwide. They had a mission to “make things better, by making better things”, a concept that was deeply appealing to an idealistic young designer.

We built trust and I allowed them to explore how I was using social networks (the early days of Facebook, the mid-life crisis of Gaydar) and why I was dreaming of upgrading my Sony Ericsson K750 to a Nokia N95. Together, we came up with ideas to make my world of mobile technology better. I loved the experience so much that I wanted to work for them.

Desperate, keen and with none of the ethnography or anthropology qualifications that usually accompanied their recruits, Sense Worldwide nevertheless took a chance. Without realising it, I became an ethnographer by the back door.

During my time there, I witnessed the profound impact that ethnographic research could have. The stories and insight pulled back from the field transformed not only  the way new products and services were developed, but also how companies were led and run.

I noticed, however, that getting ethnography on the table with prospective clients was a challenge. It was often perceived as expensive and more than a little quirky. To ease the sales process, we adopted a series of jazz-handed 1-liners that got ethnography sold, perhaps overly so. Yes, we conducted ethnographic research, but sometimes our practice failed to live up to the over-the-top expectations set by language designed to hide our commercial awkwardness. Read More…

Why go to an ethnography conference?: Notes from the EPIC 2013 Conference

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TTricia Wang his month’s theme features a series of posts from EPIC 2103  (Ethnographic Praxis In Industry Conference)and is edited by Ethnography Matters co-founder, Tricia Wang (@triciawang), who gave the opening keynote at EPIC, “The Conceit of Oracles: How we ended up in a world in which quantitative data is more valued than qualitative data” (transcript).

Most ethnography conferences are largely academic affairs and have been ongoing for years. The American Anthropological Association is in its 113th year; the Ethnography in Education Research Forum, its 35th; the Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference, its 26th; and the Chicago Ethnography Conference, its 16th. In contrast to conferences that are mostly academic in nature from the speakers to the attendees and content, one relatively new conference focuses on the work ethnographers do within organizations: EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis In Industry Conference), which was held most recently in London from September 15-18, 2013 (draft proceedings of papers & program).

Before attending an ethnographic conference, there is a critical question that must be answered: Why go to an ethnography conference? This is not a trick question. It is something that I have asked myself a number of times. In fact, I had honestly been unsure of the value of such conferences. That is, until I attended EPIC 2013. Let me elaborate…

Consider the hypothetical in which you are a superhero. You would likely want to hang out with a team with different super powers(a la X-Men or Justice League), not a team comprised of clones of yourself. So for most of my career, I didn’t prioritize going to ethnographic industry events. That said, I have attended my fair share of academic conferences such as HCI, CHI, CSCW, and ASA. By and large, I haven’t been overly impressed; the academic rigor of presentations wasn’t always coupled with inspiration and the events could be incredibly sleep-inducing (except for the fun meet ups afterwards where everyone becomes human!). I generally prefer conferences that challenge me to think about the unfamiliar, which shouldn’t be surprising to hear from an ethnographer.

But I can now testify that I have attended my first ethnography industry gathering and I found it very inspirational, indeed!

In September 2013, I traveled to London to attend and speak at EPIC 2013. It was an honor to deliver the conference-opening keynote lecture entitled “The Conceit of Oracles: How we ended up in a world in which quantitative data is more valued than qualitative data” (transcript). While there was some variability in the quality of the presentations, the ones that were high quality were beyond inspirational. Equally brain-exploding were the fantastic hallway conversations with other accomplished ethnographers.

EPIC is a gathering where academic ethnographers and corporate ethnographers mingle as equals. In its sixth year, EPIC “promotes the use of ethnographic investigations and principles in the study of human behavior as they are applied in business settings.” EPIC started out with folks who were working at large tech companies such as IBM, Xerox Parc, Intel, and Microsoft, but it has now evolved into a conference that welcomes attendees working in boutique research firms, design studios, and consulting agencies.

There is no other conference in our field that is so interdisciplinary in attendance and ideas. I met attendees who deal with ethnography in every context, including marketing, strategy, design, research, and academia. Simply put, this is the conference to go to if you wish to learn how to make products, services, and organizations that truly serve people.

To capture the memorable presentations, interesting conversations, and useful workshops from EPIC 2013, Ethnography Matters will present a series of guest posts from presenters and attendees of the conference. 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…

Renewing Ethnography: Exploring The Role of Applied Ethnography At EPIC 2012 [guest contributor]

Editor’s note: This month’s guest contributor, John Payne, is also the co-chair of EPIC 2012, an annual conference for ethnographers working in  industry. Below, John shares with us some of the highlights for this year’s conference, like guest speakers and panels. We’ll be hearing more from John about history of ethnography as a method in design.  In the meantime, it’s not too late to register for EPIC!

If you are attending EPIC in Savannah, we would love to feature your notes and experience! 

And do read over John Payne’s insightful 3-part series post in this month’s edition of Ethnography Matters: Teaching Ethnography For User Experience: A Workshop On Occupy Wall Street.  -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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After several years of economic recession, a year of political ferment and the rise of the global Occupy movement, it is hard not to conclude that renewal is part of the zeitgeist of our times. This opens up an important question for those who practice applied ethnography: What’s our role in renewal and how and why might we renew ourselves?

This year, EPIC (The Ethnographic Praxis In Industry Conference) takes on the ambitious topic of Renewal, renewal of economies, of society, of business and of the practice of ethnography itself. What are our responses when calls for renewal are made inside and outside of the organizations in which we live and work? Are we agents of renewal or do we have a role to play challenging such agendas? We invite you to join us and a few hundred of your peers in ethnographic practice this October 14th -17th at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA for the 8th annual gathering of EPIC to discuss these, and other critical questions.

Our program includes three-and-a-half days of presentations of peer-reviewed papers, short and ‘to the point’ Pecha Kucha presentations, workshops to expand and share your skills, and an artifact installation (an expansion of our posters category). Recognizing that the value of events like this are truly realized through informal conversation, we have designed in spaces and times for reflection, conversation and dialogue with our presenters.

In addition, we welcome an invited panel on the intersection of ethnography and design, and our two Keynote speakers, Emily Pilloton, 2009 Pop Tech Social Innovation Fellow and founder of non-profit design firm Project H Design, and Philip Delves Broughton, journalist and bestselling author of The Art Of The Sale: Learning From The Masters About The Business of Life.

Rounding out the program are our social activities. We are lucky enough to have an exhibition, on loan from AIGA, of posters from Occupy Wall Street and a series of Local Pursuits to facilitate direct engagement with some of the cultural and economic organizations who contribute directly to the ongoing renewal of Savannah itself. Each Local Pursuit sets attendees out into Savannah on an adventure to discover aspects of it’s 279-year history-it’s exemplary but sometimes troubled relationship with preservation and renewal. We are lucky to be in Savannah this year as it offers a unique context in which to explore and reflect on the conference theme.

Intrigued? Well the countdown to the conference is on and it’s time to register – do it now to take advantage of our ‘early bird’ rate of $299. We hope to see you there.

John Payne
Simon Roberts
EPIC Co-Chairs

For further information, check out EPIC on the web: