Parsons design journal ethnography of design

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Parsons design journal ethnography of design

  1. 1. It has been said that the greatest insights for innovative design will come from the consumer. Ethnography of Design Design of Ethnography tIMotHy De wAAL MALefyt it has been said that the greatest insights for innova- a method of study and form of analysis. as a method thus, ethnography has a unique set of goals when this important role of ethnography, the department tive design will come from the consumer. With this of study, ethnography holds that the researcher is taught as a pedagogical tool of design research. of design and management at Parsons supports in mind, today’s design students must mine insights at once an outsider, observing patterns of human unlike other methods of quantitative research, which its teaching as an essential component of the not only from more informed practices of their trade, behavior and systems of meaning from a detached seek to isolate and define categories of human core curriculum. but also from the various research methodologies objective framework; and yet at the same time the experience as precisely as possible before a study What academics and students of design value in that drive “human-centered” design. much of design researcher is also an insider, as a fully engaged sub- is under way and then determine the relationship ethnography for its power to evoke insights in the research in fact borrows from the methodologies of jective participant who actively partakes in generating between them, the goal of ethnographic research user experience, the world of business has likewise the social sciences, and in particular, ethnography. shared meaning as a member of that culture. from seeks to isolate and define native categories of discovered in ethnography’s ability to uncover the While the historically situated meaning of ethnography this dual perspective one learns not only to empa- experience during the process of research (mcCracken unspoken need of the consumer. Businesspeople refers to the study of a culture that a given group of thize with a cultural member, but also that learning 1988, 16). While the aim of the former method is and designers acknowledge that consumers often people more or less share, its practice and pedagogy what other members do—whether taking a subway, to reduce variables, the latter seeks to expand and cannot articulate what they want in a product or ser- for design students represent an unparalleled means playing a video game, or ordering a pizza—involves draw out possibilities. it is in this “doing” of eth- vice, let alone explain why they might want something to study the “lived experience” of people and the way the embodied practice of a tacit cultural form, and nography that the design student discovers insights in the first place. ironically, initial focus groups disap- people use artifacts to construct meaning in their lives. embodiment informs the interpretation of meaning and new possibilities for interpreting, analyzing, and proved of the idea of atms, sony Walkmans, and the (deWalt/deWalt 1998 [2000]). the data-collecting designing artifacts that can lead to an enhanced ethnography for anthropologists, sociologists, and first Seinfeld pilot. so rather than depending on what and analytical sides of ethnography, then, involve user experience. so whether the cultural expression psychologists refers to fieldwork, or, more formally, consumers may state unreliably in front of others in learning to traverse fluidly back and forth between under investigation is an art museum, a ballpark, participant-observation, that is conducted by an inves- focus groups or by themselves in surveys, businesses these perspectives—the detached observer and the playing the latest videogame, shopping in a store, tigator who “lives with and lives like” those being increasingly realize the need to understand what is engaged participant—to get beneath the surface of using a cell phone, or driving an automobile, the studied (Van maanen 1996, 263). for the student not being articulated by consumers. for this, they behavior to the piled-up levels of inference and impli- student is trained to seek out the interrelationship of design, the participant-observation approach of turn to ethnography for observing and recording what cations and the hierarchy of structures of meaning between and among cultural patterns and ultimately ethnography presents a powerful investigative tool people do in the actual context of consumption. that are produced, perceived, and interpreted in a apply those insights to the design of artifacts. given because it offers a dualistic critical stance as both continued > cultural study (geertz 1973). 12 the journal of design & management Spring 2006 the journal of design & management Spring 2006 13
  2. 2. ethnography of design: design of ethnography ethnography of design: design of ethnography (continued) Companies such as microsoft, johnson & johnson, this style of interviewing encourages the respondent Whirlpool, mtV, and Procter & gamble support this to generate creative outputs through storytelling, method of research and attribute the success of narrative descriptions, and fantasy expressions. in many new products to the use of ethnography. for the elicitation of such descriptions, figures of speech Indeed, learning the intricacies of instance, when msn studied the way families used often emerge, such as metaphors and metonyms, the internet, the company discovered that parents as well as narrative pauses, exclamations, and the ethnographic research approach liked features that let them see which sites their chil- intonations, that can all be analyzed, in turn, for their facilitates the potential for better dren have visited and for how long. the language of creative content. thus, the active interview not only “parental controls,” however, was unappealing since generates a wealth of language codes to analyze, design. As Brenda Laurel states in many parents didn’t see themselves as controlling but also joins with ethnographic observations to the introduction to Design Research, their kids. “safety and security,” on the other hand, assist the design student in formulating insights tapped into parents’ concerns over what might hap- and ideas for improved products and artifacts. “Designers who can harness the pen to their kids. indeed, learning the intricacies of the ethnographic power of research will help design ethnography, as taught from an anthropological inter- research approach facilitates the potential for better to become a more muscular disci- pretive framework, nevertheless transcends the more design. as Brenda laurel states in the introduction functional scope of marketing which typically limits to Design Research, “designers who can harness the pline, acknowledging and utilizing its research to observations alone. Beyond observing power of research will help design to become a more its implicit power in explicit ways.” cultural patterns and material artifacts of consumer muscular discipline, acknowledging and utilizing its behavior, ethnographic approaches that include implicit power in explicit ways.” much of the implicit respondent interviewing can be taught as a way to power of design insight we realize comes not from conceive and observe language as a form of human what people tell us, but from what we can observe, behavior. Whereas a conventional approach to inter- record, and analyze about how and why they say it. viewing that might be found in marketing surveys research approaches, such as ethnography, which and questionnaires views the subject as a passive acquire insights from the spoken and unspoken pat- vessel full of answers simply waiting to be extracted terns of communication and tacit observations of by proper questioning, the active interview perspective artifact use, allow design research and the designers regards the interview as an actively constructed who use it to move their ideas to the front end of encounter between a researcher and a thinking and development, rather than being relegated to the end feeling subject. By including the reactions and interac- cycle. this helps design and designers become major tions of the respondent, the active interview style aids contributors to creating and designing products and the information-gathering process through a collabora- services that, in the words of laurel (2003, 17), work tive union. to serve and delight people. dewalt, Kathleen and Billie dewalt. “Participant observation.” in Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology, ed. h. russell Bernard. Walnut Creek: altamira Press, 2000. geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. new York: Basic Books, 1973. laurel, Brenda, ed. Design Research: Methods and Perspectives. Cambridge: mit Press, 2003. mcCracken, grant. The Long Interview. Vol. 13, Qualitative research methods. london: sage Publications, ltd, 1988. Van maanen, john. “ethnography.” in The Social Science Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., eds. adam Kuper and jessica Kuper. london: routledge, 1996. 14 the journal of design & management Spring 2006 the journal of design & management Spring 2006 15

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