Long time, no post. I’ve not blogged at all about my recent contract work with a design agency / software house here in Vancouver – whoops – but indulge me in a few words about a fun talk last week:

The talk was organised by the Vancouver User Experience Group and was entitled “Design ethnography in practice: How to do it, when to do it, and how to sell it”. Alas, an exciting bug in Simplenote means I’ve lost the notes I jotted on my phone at the time, but I’ll go through what I recall.

Our speaker was Gus Waller, a fellow Brit who moved to Vancouver a few months ago. He comes from anthropology, and it shows: he opened by asserting that design thinking should be called anthropological thinking, an intriguing argument. Later, he showed a framework of where UX and design may sit in relation to anthropology:

a design/anthropology framework

I can see the logic of this diagram, and would love to hear what social scientists from other disciplines than anthropology think of it: Can we view design thinking as sociological thinking, or as psychological thinking? When might it be helpful to transition from one of these views to another?

Gus took us through examples of ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ ethnography, with the former consisting of interviews, shadowing and diary/camera studies, and the latter being longitudinal field studies. His tips for each:

  • in ‘micro’ approaches (recommended for established products and services): document the process; interview participants before and after; adapt tools to the context at hand
  • in ‘macro’ ethnography (recommended for brand new products or services): be reflexive; use a log book; keep on top of research and business goals; prototype early.

I don’t have a background in anthropology (though coincidentally, my current reading is in this area – Miller’s excellent book entitled Social Media in an English Village), but the advice given seemed practical enough – not earth-shattering, but then that wasn’t the premise of the talk. That said, how many commercial companies have the resource and commitment to conduct longitudinal work?

I particularly enjoyed the discussion of human value systems, and how concepts such as “increased sense of control and competence” or “building human networks” might translate to the web – this harkens straight back to my doctoral studies, where I examined the ways in which we might redesign physical experiences to digital contexts, and vice versa.

As ever, it was fun to engage in discussions of technology and design with folk from a variety of disciplines. Thank you VanUE and Gus for the event.