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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 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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Gathering Real-World Insights with Anthropology

  1. 1. Gathering Real-WorldInsights from the Field with Anthropology Matt Baline Sr. User Experience Strategist Idea @MattBaline
  2. 2. An anthropological approachwill provide you with unique,exciting, and actionableinsights that are grounded inwhat people really do.
  3. 3. ✔ ✗(Ervin 2005:1)
  4. 4. Unique Insights
  5. 5. CultureHolismRelativismTheory
  6. 6. Culture
  7. 7. Culture is “an integratedsystem of shared ideas(thoughts, ideals, attitudes),behaviors (actions), andmaterial artifacts (objects),that characterize a group”. (Jordan 2003:40)
  8. 8. Holism
  9. 9. Holism is “pulling back fromthe specific problem, event,or situation under study andputting it in a larger context.” (Jordan 2003:108)
  10. 10. Motorola Social TVInterruptions
  11. 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. 12. Caution! Holism may have the following side effects: ✴ The tendency to suggest research every time ✴ Business stakeholder frustration ✴ Project manager heartburn
  13. 13. CulturalRelativism
  14. 14. Cultural relativism involves“trying to understand behaviorfrom the participant’s point ofview rather than your ownpersonal one.” (Jordan 2003:2)
  15. 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. 16. Figurative Point of View
  17. 17. Theory
  18. 18. Theory helps us to guide ourfocus on and make sense ofwhat we see in the field.
  19. 19. “Institutional ethnography”draws attention to thereduction of people to “cases.” (Escobar 1995:110)
  20. 20. Taking a “vertical slice” of asituation leads us to study upand down. Television Viewing Producers Broadcasters Distributors Viewers (Nader 1972:292)
  21. 21. “Liminality” directs ourattention to when people arebetween states. (Turner 1969:167)
  22. 22. CultureHolismRelativismTheory
  23. 23. Exciting Insights
  24. 24. Anthropological methodsAbandoning preconceptionsMaking the invisible visibleBeing FlexibleBeing Ethical
  25. 25. Anthropological Methods
  26. 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. 27. Participant Observation Video: A montage of engineers working with technology in cramped, loud, cold, hot, and dirty situations.
  28. 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. 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. 30. Analysis of events focuses yourattention on action.Analysis of relationshipsfocuses your attention onrelationships.
  31. 31. AbandoningPreconceptions
  32. 32. Casting off yourpreconceptions meansoperating like you don’t knowanything.
  33. 33. The Realities of Breakfast
  34. 34. Millions Wasted? Video: An engineer explains why he does not turn to first for technical support.
  35. 35. Making theInvisible Visible
  36. 36. Making the invisible visiblemeans seeing what others missand getting at the unspokenand unrecognized.
  37. 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. 38. Being Flexible
  39. 39. Anthropological methods canbe used almost any time. ✴ Early design research ✴ Evaluation ✴ Re-design/Re-contextualization
  40. 40. Combine methods throughtriangulation to gather datafaster. ✴ Observation + Interviewing ✴ Focus groups + Observation ✴ Qualitative + Quantitative ✴ Designers + Researchers + Specialists
  41. 41. Being Ethical
  42. 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. 43. Anthropological methodsAbandoning preconceptionsMaking the invisible visibleBeing FlexibleBeing Ethical
  44. 44. Actionable Insights
  45. 45. AnalysisPresentation
  46. 46. Analysis
  47. 47. Inductive AnalysisObservation Observation Pattern 1 Pattern 2 Implications, Observation ↺ Analysis Pattern 3 Recommendations, and Ideas Observation Pattern ... Observation
  48. 48. Pawing Through and Marking Up ↺ Atlas.ti (Ryan and Bernard 2003)
  49. 49. Presentation
  50. 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. 51. Situate Participants and Action
  52. 52. AnalysisPresentation
  53. 53. An anthropological approachwill provide you with unique,exciting, and actionableinsights that are grounded inwhat people really do.
  54. 54. This is an approach you can adopt now.
  55. 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. 56. Photo Credits Slide 3 Jeters - thejcgerm Men - Pine Street Inn Woman - Miss_Colleen Slide 4-5; 19 Alyssa L. Miller Slide 7 V&A Friday Late Slide 18 redjar Slide 20-21; 35 Americo Aperta Slide 28 Tenuto Slide 36-37; 42 Anders Illum Slide 55 Justin Henry