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Tomorrow, TheAnthroGuys are giving a presentation about our core competency: Analytic Induction.  Our objective is to introduce entrepreneurship students to Analytic Induction in search of opportunities to “add value“.

We will be in a lecture hall of entrepreneurship students at Fresno State.  Incidentally, the name of the lecture hall is, “Pete P Peters”.  As I often tell students of ethnography, reality is usually far more interesting than fiction once you start actually noticing it.

Elsewhere, we have observed that our world is utterly overshadowed by ignorance, yet few people notice this.  Ethnographers and entrepreneurs share a reliance on inductive skills to accomplish their goals.  Once this is understood, we can learn a great deal from each other.

Here is our Presentation Slides

It is important to note that the similarities between anthropologists and entrepreneurs are numerous. The table below illustrates this point:

Anthropologists   Entrepreneurs Application
Trained to think holistically Intuitively holistic visionary, iconoclastic
Take an evolutionary approach Forward-looking know future demands
Seek the insider perspective Intuitively know consumers wants know when something will have value to others
Trained to be inductive Intuitively inductive keen observers, see openings

Other helpful guides include:

Read this article http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/anthropology-inc/309218/?single_page=true from The Atlantic entitle, “Anthropology Inc.”.

Or, Watch the clip that was attached to the above article  http://bcove.me/k6szvgkh from The Atlantic.

-Check out: “A Crash Course on Creativity” (Tina Seelig, Executive Director, Stanford Technology Ventures Program)

-View the following 3 min video entitled: Field Observation with Fresh Eyes by Tom Kelley | IDEO

-View the following 4 min video entitled: Thinking Like a Traveler by Tom Kelley | IDEO

-Read: “Can’t You Just Ask People?” (Delcore)

-Watch: Parc’s use of these techniques.

-Define: The notion of “workarounds”

-Define: Ethnography

Observation Assignment:

1) Conduct some sort of “inductive observation”,
2) analyze your notes, then
3) expand those notes into a brief report about what you found. DESCRIPTION
–Rather than looking into a completely innovative idea (service or product), the goal is to 1) observe something that already works; 2) observe it in great detail; then 3) begin to understand it in such detail that you can 4) make concrete suggestions about improving it.
Steps
–1. Find a routine, taken-for-granted task/service/product,
–2. “Hang out” and “thickly describe” it in a notebook,
–3. In a one page pitch, suggest some sort of innovation that will add value. DUE: next Wednesday March 18th in class.
–The best observations will be published on our blog and presented in class on March 25th.

We will return to their class to continue this discussion.  Our hope is that some – if not all – of these students will see the value of this skill set and in so doing, realize that “thinking out of the box” can be learned.

Assessment

We have included how the assignments are evaluated but the the main point is that this is NOT rocket science. Rather , it’s social science!  Applied systematically, humans’ natural observational skills can notice things that are typically ignored.  With some analysis, suggestions can be made to improve lives, products, profit margins, whatever.

If you have further questions about the assignment or the course, feel free to contact us at:  jmullooly@csufrenso.edu

Note, the following table is used to evaluate these assignments.

LINK TO Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis Assignment Rubric (Mullooly & Delcore)

Send questions to: Jmullooly@csufresno.edu

TIMELINE:
In a one to two page pitch, suggest some sort of innovation that will add value.
DUE: next Wednesday March 18 2015 in class.
The best observations will be published on our blog and presented in class on March 25th.
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Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis 

IMG_0286

This afternoon TheAnthroGuys are giving a presentation about our core competency: Analytic Induction.  Our objective is to introduce entrepreneurship students to Analytic Induction in search of opportunities to “add value“.

We will be in a lecture hall of entrepreneurship students at Fresno State.  Incidentally, the name of the lecture hall is, “Pete P Peters”.  As I often tell students of ethnography, reality is usually far more interesting than fiction once you start actually noticing it.

Ethnographers and entrepreneurs share a reliance on inductive skills to accomplish their goals.  Once this is understood, we can learn a great deal from each other.

Our presentation can be found here: Ethnographic (Inductive) Opportunity Analysis.

It is importnat to note that the similarities between anthropologists and entrepreneurs are numerous. The table below illustrates this point:

Anthropologists   Entrepreneurs Application
Trained to think holistically Intuitively holistic visionary, iconoclastic
Take an evolutionary approach Forward-looking know future demands
Seek the insider perspective Intuitively know consumers wants know when something will have value to others
Trained to be inductive Intuitively inductive keen observers, see openings

Other helpful guides include:

-Check out: “A Crash Course on Creativity” (Tina Seelig, Executive Director, Stanford Technology Ventures Program)

-View the following 3 min video entitled: Field Observation with Fresh Eyes by Tom Kelley | IDEO

-View the following 4 min video entitled: Thinking Like a Traveler by Tom Kelley | IDEO

-Read: “Can’t You Just Ask People?” (Delcore)

-Watch: Parc’s use of these techniques.

-Define: The notion of “workarounds”

-Define: Ethnography

Observation Assignment:

1) Conduct some sort of “inductive observation”,
2) analyze your notes, then
3) expand those notes into a brief report about what you found. DESCRIPTION
–Rather than looking into a completely innovative idea (service or product), the goal is to 1) observe something that already works; 2) observe it in great detail; then 3) begin to understand it in such detail that you can 4) make concrete suggestions about improving it.
Steps
–1. Find a routine, taken-for-granted task/service/product,
–2. “Hang out” and “thickly describe” it in a notebook,
–3. In a one page pitch, suggest some sort of innovation that will add value. DUE: next Wednesday October 17th by 3:00pm in class.
–The best observations will be published on our blog and presented in class on October 24th.

We will return to their class to continue this discussion.  Our hope is that some – if not all – of these students will see the value of this skill set and in so doing, realize that “thinking out of the box” can be learned.

Assessment

We have included how the assignments are evaluated but the the main point is that this is NOT rocket science. Rather , it’s social science!  Applied systematically, humans’ natural observational skills can notice things that are typically ignored.  With some analysis, suggestions can be made to improve lives, products, profit margins, whatever.

If you have further questions about the assignment or the course, feel free to contact us at:  jmullooly@csufrenso.edu

Note; the following table is used to evaluate these assignments.

Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis Assignment Rubric (Mullooly & Delcore)

Observation Analysis Suggestion

Accomplished

 (18-20*)

Solid evidence of a period of observation provided. Sufficient details were included to clearly illustrate the problem under investigation. Clear, concise description of the observed problem. The report illustrates a keen understanding of the problem. New, clever suggestion for a product or service that directly solves the problem.  The solution is novel for the context and sounds practical in terms of resources.

3

Competent

(16-17)

Some evidence of a period of observation provided. The problem under investigation is evident. Concise description of the observed problem. The report illustrates an understanding of the problem. Clever suggestion for a product or service that solves the problem.  The solution is novel for the context but impractical.

2

Satisfactory

(14-15)

Some evidence of an recent observation provided. The problem under investigation is not evident. Some evidence of an understanding of the observed problem is provided. The product or service suggestions is not new or does not solve the problem defined or is highly impractical.

1

not Satisfactory

(12-13)

Little to no evidence of a recent observation done for this project. Little evidence of analysis or of a problem is provided. Little evidence of a novel or practical suggestion.

If you would like examples of well written assignments, send an request to Jmullooly@csufresno.edu

TIMELINE:
In a one to two page pitch, suggest some sort of innovation that will add value.
DUE: next Wednesday October 17th by 3:00pm in class.
The best observations will be published on our blog and presented in class on October 24th.
Here are examples of A papers from last semester.

TheAnthroGuys returned to Entrep 81 with good news: We found that many students got the idea we were trying to describe.

We have included below how the assignments were graded but the the main point is that this is NOT rocket science. Rather , it’s social science!  Applied systematically, humans’ natural observational skills can notice things that are typically ignored.  With some analysis, suggestions can be made to improve lives, products, profit margins, whatever.

It is importnat to note that the similarities between anthropologists and entrepreneurs are numerous. The table below illustrates this point:

Anthropologists   Entrepreneurs Application
Trained to think holistically Intuitively holistic visionary, iconoclastic
Take an evolutionary approach Forward-looking know future demands
Seek the insider perspective Intuitively know consumers wants know when something will have value to others
Trained to be inductive Intuitively inductive keen observers, see openings

For those wishing to continue on this path, you have the opportunity to take our ethnographic methods class (Anth 111, Delcore & Mullooly) in place of ENTR 151 in the Fall 2012 semester.

Fall 2012 Anth 111 will be offered on Tuesdays 6-9pm.

If you have further questions about the assignment or the course, feel free to contact us at:  jmullooly@csufrenso.edu

Note; the following table was used to evaluate your assignments.

Ethnographic Opportunity Analysis Assignment Rubric (Mullooly & Delcore)

Observation

Analysis

Suggestion

4

Accomplished

(18-20*)

Solid evidence of a period of observation provided. Sufficient details were included to clearly illustrate the problem under investigation. Clear, concise description of the observed problem. The report illustrates a keen understanding of the problem. New, clever suggestion for a product or service that directly solves the problem.  The solution is novel for the context and sounds practical in terms of resources.

3

Competent

(16-17)

Some evidence of a period of observation provided. The problem under investigation is evident. Concise description of the observed problem. The report illustrates an understanding of the problem. Clever suggestion for a product or service that solves the problem.  The solution is novel for the context but impractical.

2

Satisfactory

(14-15)

Some evidence of an recent observation provided. The problem under investigation is not evident. Some evidence of an understanding of the observed problem is provided. The product or service suggestions is not new or does not solve the problem defined or is highly impractical.

1

not Satisfactory

(12-13)

Little to no evidence of a recent observation done for this project. Little evidence of analysis or of a problem is provided. Little evidence of a novel or practical suggestion.

IMG_0286This afternoon TheAnthroGuys are giving a presentation about our core competency: Analytic Induction.  Our objective is to introduce entrepreneurship students to Analytic Induction in search of opportunities to “add value“.

We will be in a lecture hall of entrepreneurship students at Fresno State.  Incidentally, the name of the lecture hall is, “Pete P Peters”.  As I often tell students of ethnography, reality is usually far more interesting than fiction once you start actually noticing it.

Ethnographers and entrepreneurs share a reliance on inductive skills to accomplish their goals.  Once this is understood, we can learn a great deal from each other.

Our presentation can be found here: Ethnographic (Inductive) Opportunity Analysis.

Other helpful guides include:

-Read: “Can’t You Just Ask People?” (Delcore)

-Watch: Parc’s use of these techniques.

-Define: The notion of “workarounds”

-Define: Ethnography

In a few weeks, we will return to their class to continue this discussion.  Our hope is that some – if not all – of these students will see the value of this skill set and in so doing, realize that “thinking out of the box” can be learned.


TheAnthroGuys were recently invited to the The Pulse.  Hosted by Timothy Stearns and Tammy Sears

The Pulse is a show about innovators and entrepreneurs who are reshaping the Central Valley….Join us each week as we take the innovative “pulse” of the region.

This week on The Pulse, the AnthroGuy and AnthroGeek, join us in a free form and rather chaotic discussion on ways to foster more innovation in Fresno and the Central Valley. Based on their cumulative work as Professors of Anthropology, Hank Delcore and Jim Mullooly identify several key features of innovation and how the community can expand and develop more. What are some of the most innovative events in Fresno? Find out by tuning in and treat yourself to some fun!

During the show, we mentioned a number of websites that we have listed below:

At these sites, you will find many innovative a fun ways to get involved in “The Pulse” of Fresno!

http://roguefestival.com Rogue March 1-10, 2012

Pecha-Kucha Fresno

http://thegerm.org/

Fresno Beehive Story on the first Germ Event (Mike Oz)

Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART)

This posting was motivated by the following quotation I found in my in box this morning:

MultiExposure-webI like not to know for as long as possible because then it tells me the truth instead of me imposing the truth. Michael Moschen

TheAnthroGuys spend a great deal of time trying to use and teach the use and limits of analytic induction.  This is more than just a curricular objective; it is an impassioned crusade, a holy war against the zombies of common sense.  This may sound somewhat over-eager for some but the power of common sense is typically unassailable.  Left unchallenged, “common sense” – supported by humans’ penchant for retrospective sense making – claims the final word in most cases.

0906aha-1

A case in point is a colleague’s reference to our use of the term “analytic induction” as oxymoronic.  But analytic induction is not an oxymoron.  Rather, it is an effective methodology of managing many observations made in most research contexts.  Deduction and induction can be thought of in cyclical relationship to each other.  With analytic induction, one is able to think outside of the box systematically.  One can approach problems and expect more than the accidental inspiration of the “ah-ha moment”.

snapshot-1256871023.651643

In Ethnography for Marketers (2006), Hy Mariampolski references a term he calls “magic”, to invoke such terminology for the very same reason that we are trying to focus on this problem.  In a section entitled, “creating imaginative interpretations” Mariampolski urges readers to move beyond the initial assumptions about what one sees in the field.

a-fine-line-cover

Recently published a fine line (2009) further illustrates the power of systematically thinking outside of the common sense.  Written by Hartmut Esslinger, founder of Frog Design, this sort of advice could not come from a better source.  Esslinger starts the book by pointing out how “out of the box” his approach has been and how very successful it has been due to its rigor.

It is not easy to liberate the truth from the burden of one’s own gut instincts or the sense that seems common to all, but if given enough time, time to “not know for as long as possible”, as Michael Moschen states, then the rich rewards of true creativity become available.

[Final Report recently posted on the IPA website at http://www.csufresno.edu/anthropology/ipa/]

We are excited to announce the acceptance of a session of papers we organized about our Library User Experience Study.  We include the session abstract here and posted all of the paper abstracts at TheAnthroGeek.com

Practicing Anthropology in the Shelves: Designing Academic Libraries via Ethnography, a Presentation at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia PA

Session Abstract: Anthropology is most relevant to the public when it improves the lives of non-anthropologists. Practicing anthropology, as a type of research done to solve practical problems with relevant stakeholders who stand to gain or lose from a project, has a long tradition outside academia. Conversely, practicing anthropology on a college campus, across disciplines is a relatively recent phenomenon. Responding to this year’s theme, the papers on this panel speak to an “academic public” comprised of non-anthropologists across college campuses. Acknowledging one potential “end” of anthropology as an independent university discipline, panelists illustrate a bright future for practicing anthropology amongst this “academic public”.

Using ethnography to empirically investigate the factors that influence human relations between each other and their environment, practicing anthropology helps provide stakeholders invested and interested in this research to adopt effective and efficient responses to the problems relevant to them. California State University Fresno’s Institute of Public Anthropology (IPA) is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in California’s Central Valley through practicing design anthropology. By utilizing a mix of traditional and innovative methodologies, members of the IPA are able to make ethnographic approaches relevant to areas normally ignored by academic anthropology programs. The papers on this panel represent some of the latest research on user experience based upon a 15 month ethnographic investigation of CSU-Fresno’s Henry Madden Library.

In the first paper, Visser presents the context of the study, illuminating the relevance and use of traditional university libraries to “21st century students”. The following two papers by Barela, Arnold and Dotson provide a detailed explication of the background and methods of this study while emphasizing the strategies involved in ascertaining emic conceptualizations of “scholarship” (Barela) and ”library resources” (Arnold and Dotson) by predominantly ”first generation” college students. The next pair of papers by Mullooly, Ruwe and Scroggins explore some of the initial findings and that have evolved from the Library Study in terms of student/librarian disjunctures: disjunctures of the meaning of “reference” (Mullooly and Ruwe) “and of perception of time (Scroggins). The final paper by Delcore concludes the presentations with a discussion of the relevance of this sort of investigation to the evolution of design anthropology in relation to a variety of publics. Nancy Fried Foster, a leading voice in anthropological investigations of libraries, will discuss the papers at the close of the session.

The papers represent practicing efforts that analyze pressing issues in the contexts of scholarship, design, integration and innovation. Each presentation will be a rapid, data rich presentation (following the Pecha Kucha format) which will allow for an open discussion to follow including a critical analysis of the benefits of such approaches as well as the potential problems inherent in facing an “academic public”.

Hank Delcore, Ph.D. (AnthroGuy), and Kiel Famellos-Schmidt (http://archop.org; this blog post is also available there)

Saturday from 10am to 2pm, about a hundred Tower District residents and business owners gathered for a design charrette put on by the City of Fresno planning department and MW Steele Group.  Steele has the contract for planning a redesigned Tower District streetscape as part of the Tower District Specific Plan.  Saturday’s event was a day of community input, with Steele returning this Tuesday night to present some design alternatives.

We laud City Councilman Blong Xiong, the city, various Tower District advocates, and the Steele Group for putting on this event.  Mark Steele and his team listened, took some hard questions, and were willing to engage in some good give and take.

As professionals in participatory design and community design methods, we also noted some things about the program that can inhibit the quality of community input and seriously limit the degree of real community participation in the design process. This critique is intended to increase the quality of design charrettes and community input in Fresno as well as raise awareness about the potential of participatory design.

Expert focus of the event:  The organizers stated that the day was all about the participants, but in practice, the more consistent emphasis was on the expert status of the architects/planners vis a vis the participants.  After an introductory presentation on the distinctiveness of the Tower by two long-time Tower advocates, Mark Steele took the stage and talked mostly about his firm and their approach to the project.  He presented his goals for the project, despite acknowledging that the day was about understanding our goals and aspirations.  His associate, Diego Velasco, followed with the firm’s views of the strengths and challenges of the Tower District – again, topics that the charrette was supposed to probe.  Expert statements are not the best way to begin an event meant to foster community participation in the planning and design process.

It wasn’t until 11:15am that the twelve tables of participants were unleashed on the first design drill.  By that time, some participants had already turned their attention away from the stage and were fingering the maps, stickers and other supplies on the tables.  An hour is too long for facilitators to dominate the stage at a four hour event.  The long lead-in both cut down the time for participants by a quarter, and set a strong expert-focused – not participant-focused – tone.

Diversity:  The tower district is a very diverse place. It is called home by many including: African American, Asian, Caucasian, Latino, young and old, the progressive community, and the GBLTQ community. Economically, there is a mix of home owners and renters, working class through upper class and even homeless. As well, Tower is a destination for those throughout Fresno and beyond in search of unique cultural, entertainment and dining experiences.

The participants at the charrette were overwhelmingly white and weighted toward local property and business owners; the average age looked to be about 50.  Conspicuously absent were youths and Latinos, two large and important resident/user groups in the Tower.  Tower visitors from other neighborhoods were also missing.  Those who attended are important, but they are already the most likely people to have their voices and preferences heard in this process, and they have a partial view of issues at stake in the streetscape.  For example, there were probably relatively fewer public transportation users among the participants than some other Tower constituencies, an important point when it comes to redesigning bus stops and associated features like sidewalks and bike racks.

Tight format, short time:  For each design drill, the participants had 15-20 minutes to work through complex issues, like recommending placement of street furniture and other features all across the Tower District business core.  Each exercise time was followed by thirty minutes of often repetitive presentations from each table to the entire group.  The design charrette had us wrestling with important and potentially highly creative design issues, but the exercise/presentation format was too tight and the table debriefings often came off as uninspired.

Constrained approach to community participation:  Finally, with the design alternatives meeting coming up Tuesday, we wonder how much of Saturday’s charrette can really be incorporated into the process.  Again, we agree that Mark Steele and his colleagues (and by extension the city) are sincerely trying to listen.  But it’s hard to believe that Steele and company didn’t already have some designs in mind or drawn up before the charrette.  If not, then they would have to work day and night from Saturday afternoon till Tuesday night to synthesize ideas from a hundred participants and come up with some design alternatives to present – and even then, this time frame is probably too tight.  Surely they are working with the charrette data right now, but they also probably had some designs already laid on and ready for their return to Fresno Tuesday night.  This raises the question:  how much community input can really be incorporated when the goals, strengths, challenges and preliminary design work have all already been done before the community is consulted?  (In fairness, Mark has said that the design alternatives they will present Tuesday night will not be very detailed; we’re sincerely curious about the firm’s process for analyzing charrette data and incorporating it into their designs.)

What We Would Do

In our experience, facilitating dozens of participatory design charrettes, as well as observation of other charrettes and research of best practices, here’s how a truly participatory design charrette might look:

Participant focus:  At one point Saturday, Mark Steele said, “today we’re gonna make you into streetscape designers.”  In other words, the experts were ready to teach us how to do something of what they do.  But a community design event shouldn’t be about transferring knowledge about design practice from experts to community members.  Instead, we start from the principle that everyone is a designer already, without expert help.  In other words, we all have design ideas and practices related to our surroundings, including our streetscapes.  A community design charrette should be aimed at unlocking the design insights we already have (or could have, in the right context), and making those insights available to professional designers.  Professional designers apply their experience and expertise to produce the actual design, inspired by community input.

In practice, a participant focus means that you deemphasize the role of expert or facilitator.  No long and potentially intimidating statements of who has what degree or affiliation or expertise; instead, you dive right into the participatory design exercises and maximize the time that the participants have at center stage.

Recruitment means diversity:  If you open the event up to “concerned citizens and business owners,” you tend to get a self-selected group of the usual suspects, as we saw on Saturday.  Instead, we recommend targeted recruitment among all user groups to ensure a diversity of participants in the design process. This of course takes more work up front in recruiting and screening. The result is much more useful data that can more accurately influence the design process.

Loosen up the format, take your time:  Getting true participation takes time and flexibility.  We would have recommended a series of three participatory design charrettes, with smaller yet more diverse participants, and more creative exercises involving, perhaps, larger scale prototyping and methods drawn from theatre and the arts — this is after all the Tower!  (Diego said that they considered a skit-making exercise but time constraints precluded it.)  Participants could act out common Tower interactions with streetscape props. Examples we bounced around included: the bus stop, the sidewalk café, the tower rat hangout, bar hopping, Rogue, etc. This would give the designers data about our culture and spatial needs. Using audio and visual recording, can capture both the data and the process through which it was produced for later analysis.

Another method we thought would be useful is to have different tables focus on different areas of the project area. With twelve tables of participants at the event all focused on the same design drills never more focused than the entire project area, a lot of redundant results were produced. The area is easily broken into six overlapping parts. Each area is then worked on by two tables. This would get all of the project area equal focus. At Hank’s table and the three tables Kiel facilitated, we noticed input was light at the edges. Also at the 1”=30’ scale aerial photo that was the last of the design drills, it was hard to definitively place streetscape elements and furniture represented by stickers in our tool pallet that included: sidewalk cafes, potted plants, streetlights, handicap ramps, benches, bike racks, etc.

Some of these measures would increase costs at the event level.  However, we have Fresno-area expertise to accomplish participatory design and planning work and the savings from keeping the work local would more than pay for the changes we suggest.

True participation:  Let’s face it, whenever we create something, we become wedded to it: we want to defend it, sometimes not even consciously.  From talking with Mark, and Diego, observing how the community was prompted, and the tight timeline, it seems much of the design is already in place.  Community consultation should take place before any designer digs into a project or puts pencil to paper.

While we value and honor the expertise of MW Steele Group and the work done by the City of Fresno and the Tower community, this is our honest assessment of the design charrette process and how it could be improved upon. Please attend the next meeting Tuesday, July 28th 7-9pm at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre, where the design alternatives will be presented.

Tower District Streetscape Plan

Q & A with Diego Velasco

Tower District Streetscape charrette video

Bored in Fresno? Become an Anthropologist

ArcHop Construction Proceeds

Below, Tower District resident Jay Parks presents his table’s ideas from a design drill at Saturday’s Tower District streetscape design charrette while Diego Velasco of MK Steele looks on.

table 11

The AnthroGuys have been quiet but we’re still here, writing, moving, proposing, hiking, reading, researching, having our fall courses slashed, writing some more, and so on.

In the midst of all this I’ve had  something brewing about the relationship among data, insight/inspiration, and design — especially user-centered design.

First, I wonder if there is a false dichotomy brewing out there between design decisions based on “data” and those based on “insight.”  Second, I love how the data/insight issue mirrors some theoretical bugbears in anthropology and points to some affinities between good design and good anthropology.

Back in May, the New York Times ran a piece about Douglas Bowman, who left Google for Twitter, where he became creative director; his team is credited with adding the “trending topics” sidebar to your Twitter screen.  Apparently, Bowman left Google because, as the title of the Times article says, “data, not design, is king” there.  At Google, Web analytics rule the day and bold creative leaps are usually not welcome unless they are backed by solid data, which means that, in effect, they are not welcome.  Design Prof Debra Dunn of Stanford Institute of Design noted to the Times that Web analytics and related methods are good for some things (tweaking an existing design, or helping choose between option A and option B), but Web analytics do not produce broad design directions nor, typically, big leaps forward.  For that, Dunn said, one needs close-in engagement with users, understanding what they do and their pain points, and then some healthy design decisions can flow from that — decisions which can then be subjected to the Web analytics, but which cannot be inferred from Web analytics.  Bowman, who credits Google with doing what they do well (who doesn’t?), said nothing about user experience research per se, but noted that Twitter fits his sensibilities better because the organization is more open to inspirational leaps and design innovation.  (As far as I’m concerned, the trending topics bar is a super addition to Twitter, especially considering that they fielded it before #iranelection hit the mainstream news; at this writing, it’s still in the top 10).

The Times story stuck with me, perhaps because the “data is king” line about Google implies (perhaps unintentionally) that Web analytics generates data while Dunn’s suggested approach (going out and being with users, watching them, etc.) does not.  User experience blogger Andrew Hinton got me thinking even more with a thoughtful discussion of some of the same issues.

Hinton considers data to be both quantitative and qualitative, valuable and often essential, a great use in challenging ones own design biases, something clients often demand , BUT, not by itself the end of the story: “It’s just that data doesn’t do the job alone. We still need to do the work of interpretation, which requires challenging our presuppositions, blind spots and various biases.”  I love this quote from Hinton because it up-ends the positivist assumption that the data speaks for itself.  Data never speaks for itself, it always requires an act of interpretation (yes, even statistics are mute until we give them meaning!).  In design, the fact that data doesn’t speak for itself is especially obvious, since, as Hinton says, “Data cannot tell us, directly, how to design anything.”  What then should user experience professionals do?  According to Hinton, we should “use data to inform the fullest possible understanding of the behavior and context of potential users, as well as bring our own [design] experience and talent to the challenge.”  In other words, research-savvy designers need both data and designerly inspiration for good UX practice.

All of this reminds me of the anthropology as science vs. interpretive anthropology divide in my own discipline.  While explanatory science vs. interpretive understanding is not a necessary dichotomy, many have practiced anthropology as if it were.  On the science side, we have data (quant and qual), variables, causes-effect relationships, comparisons, and scalable conclusions.  The best work in this vein often leads to modest but reliable conclusions about human behavior.  On the interpretive side we have data (mostly qual), its interpretation, some insightful leaps, compelling illustrations, and a story that, if it’s well done, quite often takes us toward a deep understanding of another culture.

But wait!  A few decades of STS have shown us that science, like everything else man-made, only works via social and cultural means, and that capricious insights and idiosyncrasies — personal, social, cultural — matter greatly in how the work of science gets done.  Likewise, every piece of (good) interpretive anthropology begins with data, usually generated by fieldwork involving first hand, face to face contact with others.  So scientific and interpretive anthropology both involve data and inspiration.

Sometimes, the criticism is leveled at the interpretive folks that their findings are ultimately based on some mysterious leap of interpretation, and their conclusions are unverifiable and probably hinge on the ineffable qualities or skills of the researcher himself.  However, in my opinion, the masterpieces of ethnographic writing in anthropology have been produced by interpretive-leaning anthropologists, and they succeed in conveying some feel for what life is like in other cultures in a way that science-oriented anthropology often does not.  If deep understanding of another culture — flawed and open to debate, for sure — comes from leaps of inspiration and insight, then so be it.  The result can be beautiful (or well-designed, if you like).  The most recent work of well-designed interpretive anthropology that I read was Steven C. Caton’s Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation.  Caton has data, but he also takes liberties (in my opinion, warranted), and by the time you are done the people of whom he writes are less “subjects” and more “characters,” different but comprehensible.

No wonder design and anthropology go together so well.  In research-driven design work, data and insight are essential ingredients, just as they are in any good bit of anthropology.  If data and insight are in tension, it’s a productive tension — in both fields.

I close with a nice quote from Bonnie McDaniel Johnson in Design Research (edited by Brenda Laurel):

“Design research is inherently paradoxical: it is both imaginative and empirical.  It cannot be simply empirical because the ‘typical’ customers that researchers need to understand are rarely able to articulate their needs.  Design researchers must go beyond what they can find: to see more than is visible, and to learn more than can be heard.  Accordingly, design research is an act of imagination, just as much as design itself.  Yet it must also be grounded in empirical evidence, for no business manager wants to think that the research on which her profits depend is made up in the research department” (Laurel 2003:39).

On Friday, June 26, the Anthro Guys plus one (IPA research associate, Elfego Franco) attended the Innovation, Design and Serious Games Exchange at Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco.  Billed as an “unconference“, the event delivered on the promise of user-driven topics and format.  After playing an introductory game, A Strong Wind Blows, we had about twenty user-designed sessions over the next six hours broken up by some superb Indian food.

The mix of people was the best you could hope for.  There were marketing types, user experience and usability folks, process people (I learned that CSM stands for “Certified Scrum Master”; see also blog postings by Jeff McKenna and Doug Shimp), programmers, and a few anthropologists (i.e. me, TheAnthroGeek and Elfego).  The focus was on sharing experiences using games to spark product and organizational innovation.  Some of this was great fun.  For example, in one session, led by Dave Blum (aka Dr. Clue, who was in the SF Chronicle today), I was privy to a very lively conversation about games in and for social media which did eventually get down to my big question:  What games can we play with social media that can help inspire product innovation?  One of the best ideas was to adapt the innovation game, Speed Boat, for use on a social media site.  In another session, led by Professor of Game Design, Carrie Heeter, we got a peek at how game design works and I actually feel like I could create some simple games for use in some of the innovation exercises we use in our product development work.

Other things I encountered left me ambivalent.  For example, most participants were familiar with the book Innovation Games, by organizer Luke Hohmann.  Hohmann’s book has been influential in spreading the use of innovation games and the spirit behind the book was the same as the one behind the unconference:  serious play can spark powerful new ideas.  (This is why the Anthro Guys were turned on to this unconference in the first place — when we’re not in the field practicing ethnography, our workshop methods are all about breaking the mold with movement, laughter and play.)  One of the games Luke describes in the book and on one of the handy game cards that come with it is called “Me and My Shadow.”  From Luke’s website:

Shadow your customer while they use your product or service. Literally, sit next to them and watch what they do. Periodically ask them “Why are you doing that?” and “What are you thinking?” Take along a camera or camcorder and record key activities. Ask for copies of important artifacts created or used by your customer while they are doing the work.

I first heard about Me and My Shadow in one of the sessions last Friday, and I immediately recognized it as as stripped down version of ethnography, the basic and distinctive research philosophy of my field, cultural anthropology.  Since I believe that ethnography, with its open-ended, inductive approach to human behavior, is a very powerful tool for learning about human life and for turning up innovative ideas for improving our lives, I feel thankful to Luke for bringing its essence (“go out and be with people”) to a large number of people who may not have otherwise encountered it.  My only ambivalence was in seeing one of the core competencies of my discipline and the focal point of my professional practice reduced to a “game” that neatly fits on a small index card.

I fear this sounds snooty and academic — as in, “how dare you simplify my discipline like that!” — but it’s not intended that way.  The more people absorb the ethos of ethnography (if you want to learn about people, go out and be with them) the better.  Luke obviously gets that, hence, Me and My Shadow.   He also notes the deeper roots of the game in the ethnographic tradition.  It’s just that…it’s a little unnerving to see your life’s work distilled down to one 3×5 card.

All in all, we made some good connections and learned some things.  Thanks to Luke Hohmann, Nancy Frishberg and Kaliya Hamlin (aka Identity Woman) for the work of organizing Friday’s unconference.  We’ll carry some of the lessons we learned back to Fresno and incorporate them into our practice at the Institute of Public Anthropology.

PS. Search twitter #IDSGE for more buzz about this.

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