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Epic 2017 day 4 conference notes

These are my notes for Day 4 of the EPIC2017 conference.

Vantage Points - papers

When ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’: Performance, Complicity, and Legitimacy in Corporate Attempts at Innovation

Josh Kaplan

“You can’t tell him he’s holding a turd; you hvae to tell him what to do with it”

Why do projects that seem to have an achilles heel move forward with it?

Internal research functions are set up to de-risk product development. But despite their work, products sometimtes get released despite eivdence of its risk, or its apparent achilles heel.

This talk focuses on the conditions that make this happen

Silicon Valley clip - ‘the emperor has no clothes’. ‘I’m not gonna be the one that tells the boss we’re behind schedule. but if you want to, feel free’

The notion of complicity explains partly how this happens. Tocqueville said of people with minority opinions who speak up: “Your fellow creatures will shun you as one who is impure. And even those who believe in your innocence will abnadon you, lest they too be shunned in return”

Everyone understand that survival in a company or field is a game that they have to play along.

Factors that encourage complicity:

Insularity = strong cultural bias to look inward

Characteristics of insularity:

Naturalised hierarchies like heads and bodies contribute to the feeling that staff provide inputs, not decisions. In Challenger crash, engineers were aware of key risks, but felt they were there to provide information not make decisions.

There is “a perceived risk of harm [in going against senior manager]”

Endemic internal competiton over resoruces; a climate of distrust.

Allocation of resources (staff, access to senior exec, budgets) is a sign of status and therefore closely guarded (and generates fear of losing it)

Abbreviations, abstraction and ‘opportunities not obstacles’ - communication norms obscure risk and information.

Most corporations have a sanctioned truth-telling functions - mkt research, user research etc. but the warnings these groups deliver is subject to constraints on their interpreation and dissemination that cacn make fomal recognition of risk

Companies can play with org conditions to facilitate communcation and appreciation of risk info.

At Google X, failure is valorised and staff given bonus for killing a project: We spend most of our time is trying to prove that we’re wrong. But, X has not removed the emperor has no clothes phenomenon.

Some checks and mitigating conditions orgs can put in place:

The View from the Studio: Perspectives on Design Ethnography Through the Lens of Organizational Culture

AnneMarie Dorland • University of Calgary

In order to invoke empathy with clients and take practices that we value, we need to look closer at org culture that informs the methods that we use - need to look inward at the studio

Ethnography - similar work is being done outside of the designing culture/field and it often goes by different names or is done differently.

How well does the ethnographic toolkit work outside of the field? For example in inquiry-based post-secondary education? In math, sciences, philosophy?

Ethnography comprises of Attitude, Aptitude, Approach. But ethnographers have been too focused on exporting the approach (not attitude and aptitude). we’re only giving tips and tricks. we’re losing something along the way. we educate and end up with clients who only want the surface

Project: shadowing graphic designers who have suddenly been tasked to change their practice into a knowledge production. they have to do design ethnographhy on the fly. they are making do. they are engaging in bricolage to put it together. How are they doing this and how does the framework of org culture within which they are operating affect their work?

Graphic designers referred to research as a bohica job - Bend over here it comes again job

Designers equate reserach with checking. They’re smushing together testing with exploratory research. and they don’t have any time to do it.

This all had to do with the org’s audit practices. To upend that: design team were actively involved in designing ethnographic framework, questions etc.

Design ethnography as defined by designers:

This rewards the designer’s bias towards forecasting and conjecture. they’re entering the deign phase with forecast rather than data because of the org structure.

They were actively engaging with a bias towards reflexivity that is again reinforced org values and structures.

Counterfactual empathy - synthetic empathy based on their conjectures

The studio shapes not only their research activities, their daily work, but also the culture .

How to change this? Do you need the aptitude? the ability? or just the approach?

The Ethnographer’s Spyglass: Insights and Distortions from Remote Usability Testing

Christopher Golias • American Eagle Outfitters

Vantage points inform and constrain, so what happens when you find participants elsewhere

UX-ification of research.

Why this might be happening and what possibilities might open because of it?

What are the implications of the UX-ification of research? should it be embraced? resisted?

Remote usability testing: set up parameters, put in questions or prototype, and pre-recruited participants complete the task. Turnaround is about half a day. get audio and video back.

This is one the predominant tools. there are some overlaps with ethnography. But less evident are the ways in which they differ:

To understand this tool, like the metaphor of spyglass. It creates insights (reach, footing), but also distortions (narrow aperture, shallow depth)

How to maximise the former and minimise the latter?

Opportunities: Reach Access new fields or revisit old fields quickly. Geographic distance, expedience and cost.

Opportunities: Footing Participant’s alignment - Erving Goffman. How two people relate to each other.

Grants access to participants, phone familiarity, micromoment (mimic contexts characterised by brief engagement and high distraction)

Limitations: Aperture Only brief snapshots of time in narrow contexts. Lack of narrative. On the clock.

Limitations: Depth lack of depth rapport, and connection. lack of associations, narrow context, not ethnography (which can stand alone - this can’t). Don’t have observational agency.

What if ethnography is a competency and not a methodology?

What happens when new remote interviews become possible.

How to adjust existing workflows to integrate this?

What if usability is in the process of archaeologizing - in 20th century archaeoglogy became stenography and struggled with its ability to make claims on the truth. It was said of it that it either would become anthropology or become nothing.

Same re: usability and ethnography. - not ux-ification of ethnography but instead We’re ethnographising usability.

The Object of Research: Considering Material Engagement Theory and Ethnographic Method

Jonathan Bean • Bucknell University School of Management, Bernardo Figueiredo • RMIT University & Hanne P. Larsen • Copenhagen Business School

Celebrity chef: Marcus Samuelsson - cooked first state dinner for obama white house. unicef ambassador, spoke at wef, author, and has styled himself as a celebrity.

Red Rooster Harlem. Qunitessential cosmopolitan place: off the beaten track but still accessible.

Fascinated by the cultural scene there and the way Samuelsson has parlayed his unique history (swedish, apn-african, pan-american) and how he has told this story. “Black Swedish Chef”

Autobiography and store tells overlapping stories. What are all the different elmenets of this complex brand? brand gestalt

Came up with 13 different motifs: granny, aspiration, cosmopolitanism, etc.

How is this brand putting all these things together and how are consumers experiencing this brand? all 13 simultan

Used Material Engagement Theory (How things shpae the mind - Malafouris 2013)

Meaning emerges in the moment of interaction. Not just vessels for pre-existing meaning.

How to study that? Researchers should focus on the moment of engagement between research participants and objects.

dscout Missions:

Supplemented with questions. i.e. How do you think this object or space is supposed to make you feel? did it work? if not, how did you feel instead?

What in your experience outside of this restaurant does this object or space remind you of? <- reflects part in material engaement theory about ‘shifting in and out’ of context

Samuelsson: Everything in restaurant is designed to spark conversations. Emerging stories: conversations and motifs

Broadly, two categories of objects.

Talkative Objects: i.e. the Little Richard print

Taciturn objects: i.e. the moose. was just seen as a symbol of sweden.

If buy into this idea of meaning being created at moment of interaction with objects, what method to use?

  1. inventory objects

  2. categorising objects into talkative or taciturn

  3. deploy objects in intentional ways

  4. use framework to analyse, reflect and predict

Doing Good is Hard: Ethics, Activism, and Social Impact Design as Seen from the Grassroots Perspective

Jeffrey Greger • San Jose State University

What does it mean to do good? paper focuses on two groups

First is FAIR Money in Silicon Valley. design researchers and social scientists formed a collective, and work against predatory lending to create more ethical altenatives.

Second is Plot London - similar objectives as FAIR Money.

The Challenges of Designing for Impact.

Lessons learnt:

Start humbly and listen - cast participants as experts in the way they manage their own money.

Slow down and reflect - took two years between field work and report. Gave chance to reflect ways in which people were good with money. This shifted focus towards storytelling and changing narrative. Plot London - design as provocation & catalyst. Not trying to create solutions for poverty but prototypes.

Opening up the practice: More seats at the table - monthly pot-luck lunch meetings. Essential for community buy-in. Openness is uncomfortable. It invites critique.

The importance of thin places that cross disciplines, orgs, etc.

Pedestrian Perspectives

Melissa Cefkin


Autonomous systems. What are they? how are we making sense of them?

The car is infused with cultural meaning. Automobiles have shaped our cities, environment, economies. they are mundane objects that mediate our interactions with the world

Autonomous vehicles raise the spectre of loss of control. But another frame to view that is that we are rearranging the relational engagements.

Autonomy is in what we perform, how we act, and what we achieve together.


Positioning: Of, With, By, and For. Different levels - On ground level, where are we specifically: industry, job role, etc.

Next level - What is the status of our competencies in those environments in which we do the work? How do we create authority or bring authority to the work that we are doing?

Other level - what is our positionality of ethnography in general to the world and other disciplines?

Too many possibilities of how the world is lived and how people do things to insist on everyone doing thing in one way. Take care in sharing and exposing what we do to not be fundamentalist about it.

Systems design

Not just asking questions about users and individuals but about structures and systems and social-technological complexes

different terms for it: design by society. ecological design. non-anthropocentric design. etc

The de-centered human-centric design. Designers and researchers are operating simultaneously at multiple scales. i.e. cities. stable infrastructures, human stakeholders, things that move through cities, etc (i.e. lots of different levels/scales)

The TED-ification of EPIC

Is EPIC too focused on performance, storytelling, and showcasing a good case study?

call for more debate and discussion in the community. There’s vulnerability in doing this.

Our work is to walk with others, to see their lives reflected in our own.

Pedestrian perspectives

What do we do when we put things into the world that might shift existing etiquettes and modes of communication

Dance - what’s beautiful about it is the ephemerality of the experience.

Ethnography is performative. Ethnography is embodied. We are in these environments.

Where do we get our ethnographic sensibilities and what it means?

Not just dialogue but correspondence:

How do we see things and find things that we didn’t know to look for?

Walking slows things down. Reminds us that much of the effort is in the discovery and process of arrival. It takes time and effort so figure out what is significant about what’s going on.

What does this mean in the era of sprints and agile? Reports and interventions, while often the tangible ways of impact, should not be the telos of the work of ethnographers.

To walk is to navigate. Ethnography is navigation

At the core of ethnographic practice is the attending to the every day. It’s the putting of one foot in front of another.

When we walk and engage with ethnographic sensibilties, we correspond. We look at and not for. We slow things down. We navigate. It positions us for this relational work. We live in the everyday. We trade in pedestrian perspectives.