Category: "design anthropology"
Some years ago, the researchers observed how people talked on the phone while watching the same TV show. Now Motorola-anthropologist Crysta Metcalf and her team are designing a Social TV, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The researchers designed a prototype and recruited friends of friends for the first phase of testing. “It looked like a PC attached to a television with a big microphone on a coffee table,” Metcalf says.
There are several publications by her and her team online, among others Ambient social tv: drawing people into a shared experience. There is also a pdf of a presentation at a conference by the Society of Applied Anthropology Investigating the Sharing Practices of Family & Friends to Inform Communication Technology Innovations
(via Bits and Bytes) The true value of IT will come not from information or technology per se but from the social side. Therefore anthropologists and other social scientists will become more important to Information Technology (IT) Departments than IT itself, says IT analyst Tom Austin in an interview by Fast Company.
The interview does not deal with user centered design but with shaping a climate of creativity in the workplace in the Web 2.0 era with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis and other online social network tools:
A new species of Information Technologist is emerging from the primordial ooze of Web 2.0 – social scientists and humanists who focus on human behavior more than software code. (…) As computer systems become ever more automated and transparent, attention will shift to how to use these tools as social lubricants in the workplace.
MySpace or Facebook will become models for business interaction, Austin thinks:
Look at teenagers today. They’re teamagers. They work on projects as a group and think nothing of doing it that way. I expect to see that kind of thing percolate through the enterprise as an unstoppable force over the next two decades.
Austin tells about companies that are using websites like Facebook to help reinforce or build a social network inside the company to enhance collaboration and productivity:
They use a variety of tools where employees are encouraged to create a personal page where they share not only name, rank, and serial number but also information about prior jobs, interests, hobbies, other skills they may have, projects they’ve worked on, and so forth. That becomes a dynamic and important tool for navigating through the network of people inside the company to find others who may be able to help you.
In this world of the “ad hocracy” that we live in, where people get thrown into project after project, it helps to look at information and figure out, these three people I’m meeting with tomorrow who I’ve never met before. What are they like? Is there something we share in common – a hobby, a background, education, a boss we hated – that you can use to strike up a conversation?
The problem with IT today is there are too many engineers and not enough social scientists. Look at the numbers of features and controls we put on how things are done. That’s an engineer’s approach, versus some of the free form approach of Enterprise 2.0 and social networking.
There is another business anthropology story in the news: In the article Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?, New York Times author Sara Corbett writes about the work done by Nokia-researcher Jan Chipchase, a “human-behavior researcher” and “user-anthropologist” (but with a degree in design, not anthropology):
His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company — to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia.
He works in a similar way as many design anthropologists:
Rather than sending someone like Chipchase to Vietnam or India as an emissary for the company — loaded with products and pitch lines, as a marketer might be — the idea is to reverse it, to have Chipchase, a patently good listener, act as an emissary for people like the barber or the shoe-shop owner’s wife, enlightening the company through written reports and PowerPoint presentations on how they live and what they’re likely to need from a cellphone, allowing that to inform its design.
The whole article in The New York Times is interesting but quite long. For a summary including comments see the post over at Neuroanthropology Cellphones Save The World. For more information, see Jan Chipchase’s blog
For an earlier entry on Jan Chipchase, see Capitalism and the problems of “High speed ethnographies”
UPDATE (14.4.08) Anthropologists are part of a research team that wants to find out how mobile phones might be used to allow people to share content with each other >> more information at The Engineer
Another example of anthropologists in product development: As a consequence of anthropological research, Xerox is developing a new kind of paper where the printed information simply disappears within about 16 hours, allowing the paper to be reused.
Why this? Xerox-anthropologist Brinda Dalal, an anthropologist at Xerox, found out that 21 percent of copier documents ed up in the recycling bin on the same day they are produced. In most offices, paper is used as a medium of display rather than storage. Paper is only only printed out or copied when needed for meetings, editing and annotating, or reading away from a computer. The result is, of course, an enormous quantity of waste paper and environmental problems.
Actually, the New York Times wrote about this self-erasable paper one year ago. They called anthropologist Brinda Dalal for “garbologist”. She told, she was surprised by the results: “Nobody looks at the ephemeral information going through people’s waste baskets.”
>> Publications by Brinda Dalal (several papers to download)
Things are changing: See how an anthropologist is introduced in this story: "As many anthropologists these days he holds a strategic position inside a global corporation." Juliana Xavier writes about Timo Veikkola - anthropologist at Nokia. His jobtitle: "Senior Future Specialist":
As Senior Future Specialist at Nokia Design, he looks at society to comprehend how there are going to be shifts in behavior and culture that can inspire their design team. Timo is a future teller.
Veikkola was one of the speakers at an innovation conference in London (by PSFK). Juliana Xavier has been there and writes that this was the second time in less than an year that an anthropologist came to speak at a planning/marketing/advertising conference:
Last year, Bob Deutsch from Brain Sell (...) talked about treating people as people rather than as consumers. Timo talked about that as well, but also about that as a crucial part of his work at Nokia, or better saying: about how to envision the future through trends, observation and – an expression that I liked a lot – informed intuition
Timo’s trend team is composed of a diversity of people from Brazil to India, from Chile to China - everyone sitting in the same room. It is a way to cultivate the atmosphere in the office, an atmosphere of global and cultural diversity. A good observer of the present wants to be close to people, is keen to get involved and has to seek stimulation through real experience.
Veikkola's presentation is available online
Where do anthropologists work outside the university? And how do you get a relevant job? Andreas Lloyd has been at the annual Career day at his old anthropology department (University of Copenhagen) and gives ut a great summary of eight presentations and eight ways to make an anthropology career.
He writes about both old and new careers. Inger Merete Hansen for example is now close to 60, has combined her anthropology degree with primary school teaching:
Anthropology gave her both a method and outlook which proved vital to her work, especially in order to work against the heavy-handed and indirectly racist school bureaucracy and work towards new ways of integrating immigrant children into the Danish society.
Kirsten Becker works to build relationships between the department and the “real world” outside. She told about the growing popularity of our discipline. Anthropology is being hyped at all of the conferences on innovation these days:
“Before, nobody really paid attention when I spoke at conferences, but now everybody shushes and listens to every word. Being an anthropologist is like being a shaman - the industry thinks we have some secret magic they need. My job is to maintain that impression.” Another grin.
Anne Weber is working as a recruiter. She argued that anthropology is just as much a way of personal development as it is an academic discipline. This is because anthropologists invest themselves so much in their work, learning new ways of being present, of observing and of being surprised. Thus, for an anthropologist, it is much more a matter of personality that it is about grades and recommendations when applying for jobs in the real world.
The most repeated and probably most important refrain was, Lloyd writes, mot offer up some easy and shrinkwrapped solution, but saying “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know how to find out.”
Looking at my travel schedule for the next few months I'm left wondering what can I expect to learn from the relatively short amounts of time spent the field in different countries? At what point does spending a few days in a culture become nothing more than tour bus ethnography?
When I read posts like the one above, I remember being taught how the discipline of anthropology really only emerged when we gave up the colonial past-time of "armchair" anthropology and actually got out in the field ourselves.
But spending too much time analysing data outside the field might have some other implications:
When scholars were tasked with making sense of all the data brought back from the colonies, they had plenty of time to reflect on it. (In fact, I've always suspected that the sheer amount of "down" time and distance from the people studied actually encouraged anthropologists to come up with those complex hierarchies of cultural traits that became so instrumental in the administration of the colonies and the oppression of so many people. You know, idle hands and all...)
(via Putting People First) Peter Merholz at Peterme.com writes about an "enjoyable dinner brought together by local members of the anthrodesign mailing list". He was particularly excited talking to an anthropologist who's started working for an architecture firm (MKThink), "because he's getting MKThink to move beyond standard architectural practice and consider ethnography as a method toward constructing better built environments".
It's no longer news that high-tech companies are deploying ethnographers and anthropologists. The first-ever Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC), organized by ethnographers at Intel and Microsoft was held at Microsoft's campus on November 14-15, as TechnologyReview reports:
One talk examined an ongoing effort by ethnographers to root out organizational problems slowing down a software company's development process. Another examined how bi-lingual, multinational teams could be formed more effectively, while yet another examined how technology affects, and is affected by, the trend toward "great rooms" in private U.S. homes. (...) It was an ethnographer who figured out that Japanese people don't use instant messaging on their PCs, because interruptions are considered impolite.
The conference was "a coming-out party" for ethnography, said Marietta L. Baba, an ethnographer at Michigan State University.
All conference papers are available online! (pdf)