Ethnography and User Experience Research

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Context

Observing, analyzing, and interpreting shared cultural systems where they are practiced, negotiated, and embodied through strategic ethnographic fieldwork

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Insight

Locating and teasing out the implicit assumptions that are never articulated but mutually understood between people about how to behave and what everything means

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Innovation

Analysis is both the means for situating sites as places of action and generating meaningful value from them in order to inform design and provide cultural, human-centred kindle to innovation processes

Design Anthropology (DA)

Design Anthropology is a more future-oriented, interventionist field of anthropology that is the culmination of decades of work in design and human-computer interaction, particularly in collaboration with participatory design, CSCW, ubiquitous computing, and user-centred design and drawing inspiration from participatory- speculative- and critical-design movements. Formalizing the relationship and developing new forms of speculative fieldwork and participatory methods meant to critically engage transient design concepts with existing and relevant sociocultural practices to better accommodate and inform iterative design processes. Conducting strategic participant observation “of the possible” to analyze emerging practices and meaning-making in moments of change and innovation within design intervention and evaluation contexts.

LATEST PROJECTS

A collection of my writing, ethnography and research on design, business, and technology. Check back often for more!

A Comparative Analysis of The Curatorial Presentation of Mesoamerican Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art

Design Anthropology

THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Users and consumers of products, services, and systems experience these across cultural, social, psychological, and physical dimensions. Ethnography itself includes a host of methods in its toolkit, but no field of knowledge or method can encompass every facet of the human experience (despite what some may claim). This is why matching the appropriate research method or methods to the questions and objectives of the study through an initial discovery phase is important to ensure that credible answers, insights, and conclusions can be drawn from the data.

So what is anthropology? In simple terms, anthropology is the study of culture and is most commonly known for developing the ethnographic method that has set the standard for observational forms of research. Beyond just taking notes and snapping pictures of people, anthropology addresses complex questions that are prerequisite or that logically follow from this form of investigation: What is culture? Where does culture come from? What influences culture and cultural change? How do you compare cultures? How do cultures interact and influence each other? How do you go about recording and describing cultures? How does culture influence peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions? Anthropology is an interpretive science with over 150 years of theorizing in this area, with its own set of subfields, movements, and philosophical branches.

Through an educational foundation in a four-field anthropology program, anthropologists develop habits of thought for objectively and thoroughly analyzing implicit social and cultural knowledge that have demonstrated uses for revealing opportunities and implications in the work of producing and reformulating the future. Applied Anthropology takes this breadth of knowledge and translates findings into actionable insights that help businesses to understand their customers and users in order to create better products, services, and systems. The value of hiring a trained anthropologist to conduct ethnographic fieldwork and qualitative research is a forged ability to circumvent the natural human inclination to interpret what is observed “through already constituted frames of understanding” and enter into a site equipped with an analytical toolkit that covers the discipline’s investigative perspectives across:

Cultural Anthropology

Analysis of culture as “shared and negotiated systems of meaning informed by knowledge that people learn and put into practice by interpreting experience and generating behavior.” While many aspects of cultural systems exist beyond what can be articulated on a conscious level or observed in a surface-level investigation, emphasis is placed on the “natives point of view.”

Physical Anthropology

Analysis of the evolution of humans and their cultural systems, focusing on biological and ecological factors.

Linguistic Anthropology

Analysis of the organization and classification of human languages as distinct systems of interconnected signs that influence human thoughts and perceptions, as well as how language reflects culture-based world views and the ways in which it mediates reality.

Archaeology/Material Culture

The analysis of artifacts, such as tools, household items, art, religious objects, and architectural structures, and their organizational and symbolic place within the cultures that use them.

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