Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Things I can't do yet

What are you thinking about right now?

I mean right this very minutes. This isn't a complicated question and I don't want you to think too hard about your reply.

Let me help you by using myself as an example... ask me the question. What am I thinking about right now? Let me tell you.

1) Losing (more) weight
2) Picking kids up from school - and who will do it? Me or my wife?
3) My architectural scale model of the Taj Mahal and where to put it. Bought in a Belgian flea market for €5 without thinking about where it might go and it's been sitting on our dining table ever since.
4) Organising the under-stairs cupboard
5) Our dodgy septic tank. Don't ask.
6) Driving from our home in Belgium to a 60th Birthday party in the UK this weekend

This list took me 90 seconds to type out. There could be other things but these are more top of mind than most. I could have mentioned a burglary at my in-law's last week which netted the balaclava wearing gentlemen £25,000 in gold jewellery. Uninsured. I could also have mentioned the on-going challenge of building a team of offshore developers in India. But I'm happy to leave these out and share the 6 listed above.

I can categorise them by:

Trips - 2 and 6
Health - 1
Home/DIY - 3, 4 and 5

I can also organise them by due date:

ASAP - 1, 3 and 4
End of today - 2
End of the week - 6
Before Xmas - 5

Let me stress I am not making any of these up. They are all live things floating around my head right now.

And here is the point of this post: most research is carried out retrospectively. Questions are posed after the event in order to explore and understand. The one thing I haven't been able to do yet, and nor can you, is to get to people before something happens and join them for the ride.

Take my list of things that I'm think about. Let's take my drive to the UK from Belgium this coming Friday night with my family of five. If I was able to broadcast my list, and organisations were able to follow (and compensate) me at very short notice, what would you call this kind of research?

Car manufacturers, ferry companies, any travel organisation and more, should and will be interested in joining me and a few thousand other, for the ride. 

But as the moment, I can't do this. Soon I will.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I am the antithesis of an entrepreneur

Someone once called me an entrepreneur who can never sit still. In fact I can not only sit or even lie still for extended periods with a laptop on my chest. I also have never had the funds that are needed to be an entrepreneur. Preferring always to raid my own savings to fund my initiatives. But I concede to being someone who always needs a new challenge, venture or 'first' to work on. After all, the first commercial ethnographic research unit (JWT 1995) you can argue about this all you like, the first mobile ethnography app (EthOS) and, today, the first 'something else' which we don't yet have a name for and I am not supposed to be writing about.

This 'something else' is the first time I have reached out and asked others to collaborate with me. A long established and well respected research house. And what we are cooking up is not just a game changer. It's stopping the game and moving to another field altogether. It's the very antithesis of how research has always been done. And for some very important reasons...

Every heard the expression about how placing a thermometer in a glass of water to take its temperature will, itself, change the temperature of the glass of water? Hold this idea. Ever thought about legitimising a 'no comment', opinion or view? Hold this thought too. Ever though about including things that people don't do or say in your findings?

In November we start work and by March/April 2014 I will be screaming about it on this here blog.

In the meantime, can anyone tell me what the next big thing will be in qualitative research?


Monday, November 11, 2013

I'm crazy about street photography

Here is a fantastic series of images which are beautifully narrated. Anyone who conducts video ethnography, even though these are still images, must watch and learn something about 'adding meaning'. Here is a link to the exhibition.

Imagine a client debrief delivered like this...


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The hidden lives of ordinary things

I wanted you to read about it here first.

Which is why I have rushed it to print with not much commentary. But it looks fantastic, and the little that I have read, I love.



Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vantage points and the real question

I'd like to share with you a simple exercise I take students through. Or anyone who cares to listen, frankly.

Here goes the exercise:
Every morning I walk into the bathroom to brush my teeth. One particular morning I pick up the toothpaste and find that someone has left the cap off. Something that happens all the time and annoys me a lot. I shout out: "Who left the cap off the toothpaste AGAIN?"

No one replies.

So hold the above picture in your head. Better still, freeze frame the film. You are a design student with a brief to identify NPD opportunities for toothpaste. You have just watched the above event on film. Listening to me, you would quite rightly think you have identified a need for caps that are connected to the toothpaste tube or caps that somehow encourage people to close the toothpaste tube. You may well come up with many concepts around toothpaste tubes and caps which cannot be separated for very long. Whatever, my cry has sent you, the designer, down a specific design path.

So let's replay the above scene again and think to ourselves: what is the real question I (me the subject) should have asked? Instead of trying to identify the culprit (one of my three kids or my wife) perhaps I should have taken a step back and asked:

"How do we make sure the cap is never left off the toothpaste tube again?"

This time, family members not feeling threatened, give me a bunch of suggestions.

I could also have asked:

"How can we make sure the toothpaste is put away in the drawer or cupboard - forcing people to replace the cap?"
"How can we not have toothpaste at all to avoid the problem of the left open cap?" Extreme I know.
"How can we never have to take the lid off the toothpaste tube yet still be able to use to it?"

Once asked, the designer has many more routes to travel down, and more opportunities begin to reveal themselves.

Another way of describing this process is what I can only explain as finding new vantage points to look at the same situation. Vantage points the participant will never see or speak from.



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The work of a cobbler

Another one of my masterclass teams conducted a day of filming with various cobblers in Pune. Note this film has no sound because they were narrating it and pointing out sequences themselves.

Broadly, the learnings were as follows:
  • They rely on passing footfall and need to be as visible as possible
  • Yet they need to watch out for police or trading officials so they can quickly pack up and disappear
  • All of their tools are homemade or found
  • Any boxes or stands are home made
  • Health and safety is non-existent
  • Often they provide replacement flip flops while repairing shoes
  • The idea of closing shop is fascinating - even while putting away tools they keep an eye out for potential new customers - and things are never completely put away until they absolutely need to be
  • Transporting their stall to and from different locations is extremely challenging
  • Any design solutions should not simply address their current situation. These people are striving for better lives.
The subjects all agreed to be filmed once they were reassured we were not journalists or trading officials.

The design solutions were fantastic.

Next up will be the hospital ethnography.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Railways station ethnography - can you see what my students saw?

Here is the first of a bunch of films I will be sharing with you. They were made by a team of students from my ethnography week at DSK Pune Industrial Design School.

This exploration included the waiting areas, ticket office, platforms and, obviously, the passengers navigating and interacting with these areas. I won't go into too much detail but the theme they cut these edits together for was 'waiting'. Trains are never on time and people have no idea how late the trains will be. Yet if they knew how long, the wait would be far less stressful and much more productive.

The design brief, based on films, disentangled observations, insights and a thinking framework for the design team aimed to create a physical rather than a service based product. Again, I won't share unless readers twist my arm. This post is to showcase they film which they narrated beautifully and insightfully during their presentation.

My challenge to reader: Can you see what they say on these films? Answers in comments please.