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Ethnographic primer and observation skills workshop

Ethnographic primer and observation skills workshop


Laura Yarrow

March 14, 2019


  1. 1 An Ethnographic Primer @laura_yarrow

  2. “ehipassiko” An invitation to “come and see” in the ancient

    Pali language 2
  3. 3 You are not a researcher. You are an explorer

    of the world.
  4. Today’s Itinerary 1. Introduction 2. Some concepts/lenses 3. Observation activity

    4. Reporting back 5. Analysis and mapping 6. Wrap up 4
  5. 5 Are your observation skills as good as your listening

    and driving skills?
  6. Ethnography ἔθνος : ethnos "folk, people, nation“ and γράφω :

    grapho "I write" 6
  7. Anthropology “The systematic study of people and cultures” 7

  8. What is it? ▪ Offshoot of anthropology (“What does it

    mean to be human?”) ▪ Complete and realistic view of natural behaviours, preferences and day to day activities ▪ Studying users in their own natural environment ▪ A qualitative method 8 Science Art Ethnography
  9. Why? 9 ▪ To support a designer’s deeper understanding of

    the design problem ▪ Immersion is key – connections and empathy flow from it ▪ To learn more about: - Audience(s) and people - Culture and beliefs (“there is a god called Ganesh” / “we believe the customer comes first”) - Language and terminology used (“Cinema” or “Pictures”) - Processes and information flows - Goals - Context(s) of use - In other words, as much as you can possibly learn!
  10. When? 10 ▪ Early stages of a project, to develop

    understanding of the design problem ▪ This helps to support future design decisions @bradee from the Photoshop design team
  11. The good, the bad and the ugly... ADVANTAGES ▪ When

    you are in situ, different and unexpected issues will be found to those in user testing. ▪ Less assumptions during design/development ▪ Quicker to find the right solutions ▪ Increased Customer Experience – a relationship is built during research 11 DISADVANTAGES ▪ Time Consuming - Planning - Travel time - Time in the field - Lengthy analysis - Extensive reporting ▪ Expensive - All of the above costs money
  12. Some observation concepts OBSERVE WITHOUT JUDGEMENT Strip away preconceived perceptions,

    nostalgia and judgements (“Exciting vibrant street”) 
 12 “ZERO’S” What isn’t said? What is missing? Where are the “negative” spaces? USE DIFFERENT LENSES Uses by different people, times of day, lighting, seasons, smells, abilities, sounds... OXYMORONICALLY ASK QUESTIONS How can something so ordinary be so interesting?
  13. Oxymoron
 ὀξύς : oksús 
 “sharp, keen, pointed“

 μωρός : mōros 
 “dull, stupid, foolish"
  14. Framing your observations INFORMATION FLOWS People and systems, hierarchies, roles,

    responsibilities, interactions TASKS Primary, secondary and tertiary, task intent, steps, possible errors CULTURE Beliefs, values, frustrations, pressures, differences, rituals or patterns, language 14 ARTEFACTS What is found in the space (calculators, diaries, calendars…), limitations, work arounds and efficiencies SENSORY DATA Tangible and intangible, music and sounds, smells, decor, artwork, PHYSICAL Floor plan, list and locate elements in a space (printers, desks,
  15. Framing your observations 15

  16. Let’s explore “Map the street” activity 16

  17. Map the Street 17 “Find an interesting street. Describe the

    street building by building, object by object, don’t neglect the alley or disused building. Pay attention to detail and explain why the details you choose are worth noting”.
  18. Map the Room 18 “Find an interesting room. Describe the

    room area by area, object by object, don’t neglect the ‘boring’ bits. Pay attention to detail and explain why the details you choose are worth noting”.

  19. The intended outcome of “Mapping the street” is not to

    learn about the street, but to improve our observational skills and learn how fieldwork is located in time and place. 19 Learn how to ask oxymoronically about the street. Learn how to see the familiar as if it were unfamiliar. To inspire us to strip away our preconceived perceptions about the place.
  20. 20 The research question to guide your observations is: How

    accessible is this space?
  21. Research debrief 21 Exploring your findings # Where did you

    go? # Did you answer the research question? # What zeros did you find? # Which bits were so ordinary they were interesting? # What surprised you? # What cultural aspects did you observe? # What was the most interesting sensory data? # Any unusual artefacts? # Did you observe any rituals?
  22. Mapping exercise 22 • Using the resources on the table,

    map out the physical space and overlay your findings • Explore the relation between sociocultural behaviour and physical environment
  23. Summary • Always be looking • Everything is interesting -

    especially if you look close enough • Alter your course • Observe for both long and short durations • Notice the stories that happen around you • Notice the patterns and make connections • Document everything - not just in words 23
  24. Summary (continued) • Observe movements of people, objects and information

    • Trace things back to their origins • Open a dialog with the environment • Use all of your senses when your in the field • All of your most important tools exist in your body already! 24
  25. 25 T.S Eliot, “The four quartets” “We shall not cease

    from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”
  26. 26 “ehipassiko”

  27. Thank you for your time! 27 If you have any

    questions please contact me here: ▪ www.laurayarrow.net ▪ laurayarrow@gmail.com ▪ @laura_yarrow