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Gathering Real-World Insights with Anthropology

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The work of cultural anthropologists can help deepen your understanding of your customers, refine your business objectives, and even assess the success of your efforts! This presentation will …

The work of cultural anthropologists can help deepen your understanding of your customers, refine your business objectives, and even assess the success of your efforts! This presentation will introduce you to the ways that cultural anthropology and its focus on gathering data in natural settings can yield actionable insights to fuel your designs and strategies.


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  • 1. Gathering Real-WorldInsights from the Field with Anthropology Matt Baline Sr. User Experience Strategist Idea @MattBaline http://www.mattbaline.net/anthro
  • 2. An anthropological approachwill provide you with unique,exciting, and actionableinsights that are grounded inwhat people really do.
  • 3. ✔ ✗(Ervin 2005:1)
  • 4. Unique Insights
  • 5. CultureHolismRelativismTheory
  • 6. Culture
  • 7. Culture is “an integratedsystem of shared ideas(thoughts, ideals, attitudes),behaviors (actions), andmaterial artifacts (objects),that characterize a group”. (Jordan 2003:40)
  • 8. Holism
  • 9. Holism is “pulling back fromthe specific problem, event,or situation under study andputting it in a larger context.” (Jordan 2003:108)
  • 10. Motorola Social TVInterruptions
  • 11. Motorola Social TVInterruptions Video: A young mother with a baby contrasts her loud alarm clock to her baby’s soft coos. A college student describes his frustration with his neighbors who always want to hang out.
  • 12. Caution! Holism may have the following side effects: ✴ The tendency to suggest research every time ✴ Business stakeholder frustration ✴ Project manager heartburn
  • 13. CulturalRelativism
  • 14. Cultural relativism involves“trying to understand behaviorfrom the participant’s point ofview rather than your ownpersonal one.” (Jordan 2003:2)
  • 15. Literal Point of View Video: An engineer walks from a loud warehouse full of industrial equipment, across a dusty yard full of pipes, and into a trailer.
  • 16. Figurative Point of View
  • 17. Theory
  • 18. Theory helps us to guide ourfocus on and make sense ofwhat we see in the field.
  • 19. “Institutional ethnography”draws attention to thereduction of people to “cases.” (Escobar 1995:110)
  • 20. Taking a “vertical slice” of asituation leads us to study upand down. Television Viewing Producers Broadcasters Distributors Viewers (Nader 1972:292)
  • 21. “Liminality” directs ourattention to when people arebetween states. (Turner 1969:167)
  • 22. CultureHolismRelativismTheory
  • 23. Exciting Insights
  • 24. Anthropological methodsAbandoning preconceptionsMaking the invisible visibleBeing FlexibleBeing Ethical
  • 25. Anthropological Methods
  • 26. “Participant observation is thegathering of data about thedaily life and customs of apeople while participating, tothe extent possible, in that life.” (Jordan 2003:21)
  • 27. Participant Observation Video: A montage of engineers working with technology in cramped, loud, cold, hot, and dirty situations.
  • 28. Observer Participants Video: Two video diary entries. 1. An engineer describes how he and a peer used their mobile phones during a late-night telephone cutover. 2. An engineer demonstrates how he uses his phone to document fiber connections in a networking closet.
  • 29. Interviewing enriches yourunderstanding of what you see. Video: An engineer explains the concept of a “pimp check.” He describes how when one engineer interrupts another engineer for help, the interrupting engineer gets “minus one” and the other gets “plus one.”
  • 30. Analysis of events focuses yourattention on action.Analysis of relationshipsfocuses your attention onrelationships.
  • 31. AbandoningPreconceptions
  • 32. Casting off yourpreconceptions meansoperating like you don’t knowanything.
  • 33. The Realities of Breakfast
  • 34. Millions Wasted? Video: An engineer explains why he does not turn to Cisco.com first for technical support.
  • 35. Making theInvisible Visible
  • 36. Making the invisible visiblemeans seeing what others missand getting at the unspokenand unrecognized.
  • 37. Mobile Phone as Directory Video: An engineer looks up a phone number on his mobile phone, but dials it on his desk phone.
  • 38. Being Flexible
  • 39. Anthropological methods canbe used almost any time. ✴ Early design research ✴ Evaluation ✴ Re-design/Re-contextualization
  • 40. Combine methods throughtriangulation to gather datafaster. ✴ Observation + Interviewing ✴ Focus groups + Observation ✴ Qualitative + Quantitative ✴ Designers + Researchers + Specialists
  • 41. Being Ethical
  • 42. Don’t do harm to anyone ifyou can possibly help it.Don’t deceive people ormisrepresent either yourself orwhat you’re doing.Try to be as impartial aspossible.
  • 43. Anthropological methodsAbandoning preconceptionsMaking the invisible visibleBeing FlexibleBeing Ethical
  • 44. Actionable Insights
  • 45. AnalysisPresentation
  • 46. Analysis
  • 47. Inductive AnalysisObservation Observation Pattern 1 Pattern 2 Implications, Observation ↺ Analysis Pattern 3 Recommendations, and Ideas Observation Pattern ... Observation
  • 48. Pawing Through and Marking Up ↺ Atlas.ti (Ryan and Bernard 2003)
  • 49. Presentation
  • 50. Make Your Findings Stick ✴ Involve your team in analysis ✴ Provide “scaffolding” around your exciting data ✴ Situate participants and action in context (Cramer et al. 2008:120)
  • 51. Situate Participants and Action
  • 52. AnalysisPresentation
  • 53. An anthropological approachwill provide you with unique,exciting, and actionableinsights that are grounded inwhat people really do.
  • 54. This is an approach you can adopt now.
  • 55. Works CitedCramer, Meg, Mayank Sharma, Tony Salvador, and Russell Beauregard 2008 Video Utterances: Expressing and Sustaining Ethnographic Meaning through the Product Development Process. Proceedings of EPIC 2008:116-127.Ervin, Alexander M. 2005 Applied Anthropology: Tools and Perspectives for Contemporary Practice. New York: Pearson.Escobar, Arturo 1995 Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Jordan, Ann 2003 Business Anthropology. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.Nafus, Dawn and ken anderson 2006 The Real Problem: Rhetorics of Knowing in Corporate Ethnographic Research. Proceedings of EPIC 2006:244-258.Turner,Victor 1969 The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers.Ryan, Gery W. and H. Russell Bernard 2003 Techniques to Identify Themes. Field Methods 15(1):85-109.
  • 56. Photo Credits Slide 3 Jeters - thejcgerm http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcgerm/3769815547/ Men - Pine Street Inn http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinestreetinn/4167378656 Woman - Miss_Colleen http://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenmorgan/2701052370 Slide 4-5; 19 Alyssa L. Miller http://www.flickr.com/photos/alyssafilmmaker/5358329756 Slide 7 V&A Friday Late http://www.flickr.com/photos/fridaylate/ Slide 18 redjar http://www.flickr.com/photos/redjar/113959474/ Slide 20-21; 35 Americo Aperta http://www.flickr.com/photos/aaperta/5715797525/ Slide 28 Tenuto http://www.flickr.com/photos/70417572@N08/6648404733 Slide 36-37; 42 Anders Illum http://www.flickr.com/photos/aai/6936657289/ Slide 55 Justin Henry http://www.flickr.com/photos/benton/247994083/