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Posts in category 'Ethnography'

13 February 2013

From GoPros to vanity camera drones

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Nicolas Nova went skiing and saw a lot of GoPro cameras on people’s heads. He got intrigued, and wrote an Ethnography Matters column where he questions informal urban bricolage, weird cameras, curious gestures and wonders about their cultural implications.

“Head-mounted cameras, necklace cams, vanity drones… all these artefacts highlight how digital photography evolved and how their design encapsulates assumptions about their use. One can see a trend towards the automation of data collection, which correspond to common practices on the Web and social media. To put it differently, these devices reveal the intricate relationships between their design and our information ecosystem.”

10 February 2013

Interview with Michael Griffiths, Director of Ethnographic Research, Ogilvy & Mather China

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Michael B Griffiths is Director of Ethnography at Ogilvy & Mather, Greater China, Associate Research Fellow, White Rose East Asia Centre, and External Research Associate, Centre for International Business, University of Leeds, UK. He is also the author of the recent book Consumers and Individuals in China: Standing Out, Fitting In.

Book abstract:

Breaking new ground in the study of Chinese urban society, this book applies critical discourse analysis to ethnographic data gathered in Anshan, a third-tier city and market in northeast China. The book confronts the – still widespread – notion that Chinese consumers are not “real” individuals, and in doing so represents an ambitious attempt to give a new twist to the structure versus agency debates in social theory. To this end, Michael B. Griffiths shows how claims to virtues such as authenticity, knowledge, civility, sociable character, moral proprietary and self-cultivation emerge from and give shape to social interaction. Data material for this path-breaking analysis is drawn from informants as diverse as consumerist youths, dissident intellectuals, enterprising farmers, retired Party cadres, the rural migrant staff of an inner-city restaurant, the urban families dependent on a machine-repair workshop, and a range of white-collar professionals.

Consumers and Individuals in China: Standing out, fitting in, will appeal to sociologists, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars, China Studies generalists, and professionals working at the intersection of culture and business in China. The vivid descriptions of living and doing fieldwork in China also mean that those travelling there will find the book stimulating and useful

Shanghaiist interviewed Michael Griffiths (part one | part two) about his book and insights:

Chinese people – and this is what my research seeks to show – like people everywhere, take up positions in relation to dominant cultural narratives or discourses.

This doesn’t mean that all those things about Confucianism (for example) are not true or relevant, it just means that – in terms of what individual people do on the ground in an everyday way – it’s intensely more complicated than that.
So that’s the sort of broader background to my book. The real value of the research is the way I set out to show that. It’s a systematic analysis; basically its structural anthropology though in a postmodern way. It’s about looking at the different ways that people position themselves through their speaking and acting, and disaggregating that into, let’s say, the most reducible … I’m tempted to say elements but that’s not right… discourses. Discourses are simply systems of meaning that have a certain internal integrity whilst also being connected to everything else.”

The first part of the interview is more general, while the second part strongly focused on cultural context of the advertising industry in China.

29 January 2013

New MA at UC London combining anthropology, materials and design

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“The material world is a world of social potential. Social scientists should be better equipped to engage with materials and objects through ethnographic, critical, analytical, presentational and collaborative skills. Designers, artists, engineers, architects and curators should be better equipped to work with people using similar skills.

The MA in Culture, Materials and Design is for people who are interested in developing their people-skills, and ways of thinking about culture and society, to work alongside, and with, designers, engineers, heritage professionals, environmentalists, materials scientists, and others with a pragmatic interest in materials and design.

The course is about anthropological analytical skills and ethnographic methods, with some presentational and studio group-work skills. We mainly apply these skills to exploring the cultural and social implications of materials and design. We do social science in ways which have an affinity with design and related fields.”

20 January 2013

Book: Ethnography and the City – Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork

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Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork
Richard E. Ocejo (Editor)
Routledge, 2012, 272 pages
(Amazon link)

The only collection of its kind on the market, this reader gathers the work of some of the most esteemed urban ethnographers in sociology and anthropology. Broken down into sections that cover key aspects of ethnographic research, Ethnography and the City will expose readers to important works in the field, while also guiding students to the study of method as they embark on their own work.

> French book review by Daniel Cefaï

15 January 2013

A sustainable building promotes pro-environmental behavior

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A Sustainable Building Promotes Pro-Environmental Behavior: An Observational Study on Food Disposal
by Wu DW, DiGiacomo A, Kingstone A
PLoS ONE 8(1): e53856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053856 – January 2013

In order to develop a more sustainable society, the wider public will need to increase engagement in pro-environmental behaviors. Psychological research on pro-environmental behaviors has thus far focused on identifying individual factors that promote such behavior, designing interventions based on these factors, and evaluating these interventions. Contextual factors that may also influence behavior at an aggregate level have been largely ignored.

In the current study, we test a novel hypothesis – whether simply being in a sustainable building can elicit environmentally sustainable behavior. We find support for our hypothesis: people are significantly more likely to correctly choose the proper disposal bin (garbage, compost, recycling) in a building designed with sustainability in mind compared to a building that was not.

Questionnaires reveal that these results are not due to self-selection biases. Our study provides empirical support that one’s surroundings can have a profound and positive impact on behavior. It also suggests the opportunity for a new line of research that bridges psychology, design, and policy-making in an attempt to understand how the human environment can be designed and used as a subtle yet powerful tool to encourage and achieve aggregate pro-environmental behavior.

9 January 2013

Ethnographic research on vehicular design in China

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Zach Hyman is based in Chongqing, China on a year long ethnographic dive into creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. After four months in the field, Zach shares with Ethnography Matters his first field update.

His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring a car designed for Western users does not appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers. It’s no surprise to an audience of ethnographers that cultural values inform design decisions, but companies like GM are having to learn the hard way.

A deep understanding of workers’ current vehicle practices reveals new opportunities to develop vehicles that challenge the current domination of resource-intensive cars. One entrepreneur, Joel Jackson, created Mobius One in Kenya with local welders to overcome transport challenges. The result? A $6,000 low-tech car made for Africa. Like Joel, Zach’s research contributes to a growing group of designers and entrepreneurs who will create a new class of vehicles.

4 January 2013

Steelcase’s anthropologist on remaking offices to create happier workers

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Anthropologist Donna Flynn directs Steelcase’s WorkSpace Futures, a 19-member independent research group within the global office design company, that is responsible for “thinking into the future”: understanding the trends shaping the ways we work and sharing that intelligence with Steelcase and its customers.

The initiatives that WorkSpace Futures tackles are so big they call them “quests,” as they are long, oft-meandering journeys of discovery.

Flynn talked with Fast Company about a few of the most pressing quests for leaders to wrap their minds around: the ongoing redefinition of collaboration, the role of privacy in getting work done, the progression of worker well-being, and how all of these trends relate to the places in which we work. Places that are changing.

24 December 2012

How are students actually using IT? An ethnographic study

educause

This ECAR research bulletin describes an anthropological ethnographic analysis of student practices relating to the use of information technology on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) campus.

Using EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) studies as benchmarks, this imaginative research examines learning management system usage and satisfaction, student ownership and use of technology devices (especially mobile devices), and where on campus students choose to compute. Field data for the project were collected from four sources: notes on participant observation of student practices, unstructured interviews with a selection of technology users, an online survey for enrolled students, and the shadowing of consenting students while they were on campus.

20 December 2012

Seven questions with library anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster

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In her work anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster applies anthropological principles to the study of the university’s libraries and their users. By focusing on the work that people are doing inside these spaces, they can identify needs and imagine new solutions to address those needs.

“My background provides me with a lot of field experience and a grounding in anthropological theory, all of which I apply when I look at what happens in libraries or, more generally, in academic work. At the same time, I have read and received on-the-job training in work-practice study and user-centered design, which are more recent applied social science traditions.

In participatory design projects we learn about the work practices of faculty members, grad students, undergrads, and our own colleagues in the library. As we learn, we discover opportunities to provide better technology, services, and spaces. To dig a little deeper, the way we learn is by including a lot of different kinds of experts in the design process—both the traditional experts such as software engineers and the people who are experts on the work that is to be done and how best to do it.

My broader studies—the projects that are not specifically related to building a piece of software, but are more generally about investigating how people do their work—resemble ethnographic studies. The focus is always on the work that people are doing: how they are working, where they are encountering obstacles, what they are trying to achieve. We are looking at people’s work practices in their broader life context and our goal is to understand and support their work.”

Read the interview

12 December 2012

On Digital Ethnography: mapping as a mode of data discovery

wendyhsu

While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that.

In the first of her four-part guest post series on Tricia Wang’s Ethnography Matters, she showed how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities.

Part 2 of of Wendy’s Digital Ethnography series focuses on the processing and interpreting part. In fascinating detail, Wendy discusses mapping as a mode of discovery. We learn how using a customized spatial “algorithm that balances point density and readability” can reveal patterns that inform the physical spread of musicians’ fans and friends globally. Geo-location data clarified her qualitative data.

In her next post she will talk about how we can discern patterns and discover new knowledge as take our data into other sensory dimensions such as the sonic. She will also formulate some thoughts regarding the issues around big data (or small data) from the perspective of ethnography.

5 December 2012

Using ethnography to study asthma

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Ethnography can be used to inform important health and policy decisions. But there are few public case studies that illustrate the value of ethnography for this specific context. When Erik Bigras of EthnographyMatters learned about The Asthma Files, a project where ethnographers were not only gathering data to better understand asthma but also openly sharing the data, we became very excited to feature their work.

The Asthma Files was first envisioned in 2006 by Kim and Mike Fortun, who wanted to address the contested space of asthma research. One of Kim’s graduate students, Erik Bigras, became involved in the project in 2009. Although Erik’s original dissertation topic was on game design, his research evolved to include the Asthma Files as one of his fieldsites.

In the first post of their three-part series, Erik and Kim tell us about how they conceptualized The Asthma Files, why asthma deserves research attention from ethnographers, and how research data is shared on an open content management system.

Erik and Kim’s second post details the exciting process of choosing the best data sharing platform for their project, Plone. We learn about how the Tehran Asthma Files was born out of a close collaboration with the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine.

The final post in this series will discuss how other researchers from social scientists to epidemiologists and global health experts can participate in the research project and make use of the data.

26 November 2012

Unpacking cars: doing anthropology at Intel (paper by Genevieve Bell)

unpackingcars

The fall 2011 issue of AnthroNotes (pdf) starts off with an article by Genevieve Bell, senior cultural anthropologist at Intel.

She describes her latest research project, designed to understand how cars around the world can serve as windows into the future of mobile technology and computers. The article also contains an ample but simply worded expose on why Intel has anthropologist and what they do.

“We wanted to see what people carried with them [in cars] and to understand how cars functioned as sites of technology consumption and human activity, and how they became imbued with meaning.” [...]

“Cars are a contested space when it comes to new technology. What makes sense to bring into a car, to leave in a car, or to install in a car – all are still being negotiated. This negotiation is being impacted by many factors – legislation, social regulation, guilt, perceptions of safety and crime, urban density, parking structures, commute time, just to name a few. As such, imagining and designing technologies for cars, for technologies to be used in cars, and for the worlds that cars will inhabit is a more nuanced undertaking than many imagine.” [...]

“Cars are so much more than forms of transportation. They are, in point of fact, highly charged objects. They say something about who we are and who we want to be. They are also part of much more complex systems, ecosystems, environments, and imaginations. In this way, cars resemble many other contemporary technologies: our smart phones, tablets, even tablets and e-readers.”

UPDATE: Video version is here.

15 November 2012

Interview with public health ethnographer and Facebook UX researcher

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Judd Antin is a social psychologist and user experience researcher who studies motivations for online participation at Facebook. In 2011, he was named an MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35. Prior to joining Facebook as a user experience researcher, he worked with Yahoo Research. His educational background includes Applied Anthropology, Information Science, and training at the French Culinary Institute.

Tamar Antin is a research scientist who uses mixed and especially qualitative methods to critically examine public health policies and narratives. She has several years of experience in public health research. One of her recent publications is Food Choice As a Multidimensional Experience. Her dissertation combining three papers on food choices and body image is excellent reading for any student of qualitative methods.

Rachelle Annechino talked with them both about anthropology, social science, stigma, Big Data and Small Data, “and other interesting things.”

Here is what Judd says about his work at Facebook:

“Most people who use Facebook do not live in the United States, and yet here we are in Silicon Valley, and we are working pretty hard to understand the perspectives of people who are getting on Facebook in Nigeria and Indonesia, in Vietnam, and Russia. We have hundreds of millions of people in these places. And so recently people on my team did this almost ethnographic trip where they went to a bunch of different countries, trying to understand the environment there as it related to the use of social media, and basic phones, and the technical infrastructure, and the social conventions and norms. I think that kind of work is going to become ever more important. If you believe that culture is important to the way that people use technology and that it should be baked in, and that you can’t form assumptions based only on this ethnocentric point of view, then I think you have to be an anthropologist. You have to be interested in cultural differences and frames of reference, and how they relate to technology use.”

13 November 2012

Nicolas Nova interviewed on Ethnography Matters

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The people from Ethnography Matters, an ethnography group blog that is celebrating its first year anniversary today, interviewed their new regular contributor Nicolas Nova. He joins the all-woman team of Tricia Wang, Heather Ford, Rachelle Annechino, and Jenna Burrell.

Nicolas teaches at the Geneva University of Arts and Design, works closely with design and corporate firms throughout Europe, co-founded Lift, a conference that has often been described as the cozier & smaller version of TED, and has been blogging about his research since 2003 on Pasta & Vinegar.

The interview is a very nice read. Congratulations, Nicolas. Looking forward to reading your posts. And congratulations, Ethnography Matters team, with one year of inspiring contributions.

13 November 2012

How 3 million hours of user-testing fixed the Jawbone Up

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Pulled from store shelves after a month, the first high-profile wearable activity tracker was a humiliation for Jawbone. Now, the Up is back, and anyone vying for a stake in wearable tech should pay close attention to the product’s resurrection, according to Fast Company.

Interestingly, Jawbone advocates an entirely new (and rather questionable) use of the term ‘ethnographic’.

“Their own internal product testing was coupled with what Jawbone calls “one of the largest ethnographic studies you could imagine.” While they say most consumer gadgets might see eight weeks of limited field testing, theirs lasted 46 weeks, or just short of three million hours of beta testers living with the Up.”

In fact, it was more about a huge series of iterative prototypes:

“It was ultimately ‘hundreds and hundreds of different designs, each being tested one by one’ that evolved the Up into what’s returning to store shelves today. That’s hundreds and hundreds of different designs that the end user will never see, that can’t be slapped on a box as a selling feature, and that very few small companies could ever afford to do. But in the end, the Up may go down in history as one of the first wearable devices that just works (the second time around, at least).”

12 November 2012

Book: Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments

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Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities
Edited by Brigitte Jordan
Left Coast Press
November 2012, 224 pages
[Amazon link]

Abstract
In this innovative volume, twelve leading scholars from corporate research labs and independent consultancies tackle the most fundamental and contentious issues in corporate ethnography. Organized in pairs of chapters in which two experts consider different sides of an important topic, these provocative encounters go beyond stale rehearsals of method and theory to explore the entanglements that practitioners wrestle with on a daily basis. The discussions are situated within the broader universe of ethnographic method and theory, as well as grounded in the practical realities of using ethnography to solve problems in the business world. The book represents important advances in the field and is ideal for students and scholars as well as for corporate practitioners and decision makers.

Brigitte Jordan, PhD, an independent consulting corporate anthropologist, has held positions as Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Learning, Principal Scientist at Xerox PARC, and Professor of Anthropology and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Corporate Research Award in Excellence in Science and Technology from the Xerox Corporation and the Margaret Mead Award of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology. Dr. Jordan specializes in research methodologies and the design of lifescapes of the future. She is the author of almost one hundred scholarly, technical, and professional publications, some of which have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German and Japanese. Her website is www.lifescapes.org.

Download excerpt
Table of contents

11 November 2012

Finally a serious research study on tablet use in schools

 

Although there are many tablet deployments in schools worldwide, there is a glaring lack of serious research on what actually happens in the classrooms with these devices. In fact, there is so far no aggregated evidence that tablet technology significantly aids learning. Obviously, official endorsement for the widespread use of tablets in schools cannot really happen without substantiated, independent evidence to convincingly prove the case for tablet technology.

Carphone Warehouse (corporate site), a UK mobile phone retailer, recently commissioned the Family Kids and Youth research agency to conduct a qualitative study of schools situated in Belfast, Kent and Essex where children are already benefiting from tablet use. The aim of the research, which ran from April to July 2012, was to find out more about how tablets are actually being used in education.

Family Kids and Youth carried out focus groups and ethnography at one of the schools (Honywood Community Science School, Coggeshall, Essex), interviewing pupils, staff and teachers, and observing the way in which different subjects and age groups used tablets in learning. Research was also undertaken with teachers, pupils and parents in one control school and two primary schools. In addition, an online quantitative research study was carried out between 22 June – 2 July with a UK nationally representative sample of 1,120 parents of children aged 3-16, 933 children aged 7-16, and 202 teachers.

The research findings (pdf) are generally rather positive (assuming that Family Kids and Youth has done its research properly, given the obvious interest of Carphone Warehouse in tablet sales): tablets enhance learning, improve communication, engage and motivate pupils, and stimulate proactive querying, initiative taking and creativity. Interestingly, the study points out that particularly less engaged pupils, those who had previously struggled with their homework, and pupils with special educational needs appear to be benefiting most from tablet use in schools (read the short report for more details).

Often cited fears – about distraction, misuse such as gaming and texting, time spent, theft, loss of writing skills, challenges in terms of classroom management – were clearly not confirmed by reality.

Yet, it is worthwhile underlining what Carphone Warehouse considered to be three primary issues regarding the use of tablet technology in schools (as summarised in the introduction of a follow-up project that is running during the school year 2012-2013):
1. A lack of specialised training for teachers around the use of tablet technology
2. Concerns for students when faced with sitting traditional paper-based examinations
3. The growing mass of unregulated content in the app world and the lack of appropriate interactive content
(“Teachers have the impression that educational publishers are merely publishing text books in the form of an app without fully appreciating the possibilities that tablets can offer.”)

If you read French, you may also be interested in the dossier “Tablette tactile et enseignement (école, collège, lycée)” – on the website of the French Ministry of Education. The (very long) web page provides an overview of what is currently going on in France, contains many links, but does unfortunately not include a deeper analysis (unless you delve deeper into the linked reports, such as this one from Paris and this one from Fribourg, Switzerland).

5 November 2012

Building software to conduct ethnographic research of online communities

wendyhsu

While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that.

In the first of her three-part guest post series on Tricia Wang’s Ethnography Matters, she shows how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities.

By drawing on examples from her own research on independent rock musicians, she shares with us how she moved from being an ethnographer of purely physical domains to an ethnographer who built software programs to gather more relevant qualitative data.

“In this post, I’d like to foreground computational methodology in thinking about how we as ethnographers may deploy digital tools as we explore communities within and around digital infrastructures. I am particularly interested in how we use these tools to study communities that are digitally organized. How do we use and think about data ethnographically? How does one use computational tools to navigate in digital communities? What are the advantages of leveraging (small) data approaches in doing ethnographic work? While this post is focused on the study of digitally embedded communities, in my later posts, I will speak more broadly about how the digital may extend how we look at communities where face-to-face interactions are central.”

Wendy is currently a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. She recently completed a Ph.D. in the Critical and Comparative Studies program in the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia.

4 November 2012

Book: Digital Anthropology

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Digital Anthropology
Edited by Heather A. Horst, Daniel Miller
Berg Publishers, Oct 2012
328pp

Anthropology has two main tasks: to understand what it is to be human and to examine how humanity is manifested differently in the diversity of culture. These tasks have gained new impetus from the extraordinary rise of the digital. This book brings together several key anthropologists working with digital culture to demonstrate just how productive an anthropological approach to the digital has already become.

Through a range of case studies from Facebook to Second Life to Google Earth, Digital Anthropology explores how human and digital can be defined in relation to one another, from avatars and disability; cultural differences in how we use social networking sites or practise religion; the practical consequences of the digital for politics, museums, design, space and development to new online world and gaming communities. The book also explores the moral universe of the digital, from new anxieties to open-source ideals. Digital Anthropology reveals how only the intense scrutiny of ethnography can overturn assumptions about the impact of digital culture and reveal its profound consequences for everyday life.

Combining the clarity of a textbook with an engaging style which conveys a passion for these new frontiers of enquiry, this book is essential reading for students and scholars of anthropology, media studies, communication studies, cultural studies and sociology.

Authors/Editors
Heather A. Horst is a Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, Australia.
Daniel Miller is Professor of Material Culture at the Department of Anthropology, University College London, UK

Contributors
Tom Boellstorff, Heather Horst, Lane DeNicola, Faye Ginsburg, Stefana Broadbent, Danny Miller, John Postill, Jelena Karanovic, Bart Barendregt, Jo Tacchi, Adam Drazin, Haidy Geismar and Thomas Malaby

4 November 2012

Anthropology of mid-sized startups

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In their natural habitats, social species organize into characteristic groups. Gazelles form herds, wolves form packs, and ants form colonies. Humans, in the same way, form tribes.

Of course, we’re pretty far removed from our natural habitat these days. But tribes are a large and fundamental part of our evolutionary heritage, and they have a corresponding influence on our mental and social lives. Organizing ourselves into tribes is one of the ways we manufacture normalcy. It helps our paleolithic minds perceive and act, more or less sensibly, in an increasingly complex modern world.

Humans also form kingdoms, nations, states, and civilizations, but those units of organizations aren’t as fundamental to our psychology.

So let’s see what happens when we treat startups as tribes.