Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dinner in Milan

Many years ago now, Peter Cooper, a friend and former colleague/boss, returned from a meeting with Unilever (London) and called me into his office.

"Well, my dear boy, I told them what you told me to tell them..."
"They didn't get it!"

Here is what, Peter had told some very senior folks at Unilever, Blackfriars:

"The difference between good and great ethnographic research is that you need to scrutinise the video repeatedly. Many, many repeat viewings. Once is never enough."

The Unilever client questioned the need to ever look at any video more than once. Why bother? When you have seen it you have seen it! Right?


"Peter, I hope you explained that the more you watch a scene/event/happening the more you see."
"She (client) never let me get that far!"
"Didn't you show them the clips?"
"They didn't have an LCD projector."

Twelve years on, I would like to invite you all to watch this short video. A study for the Arts Council following an art teacher around London:

Only don't watch it once. Watch it at least three times. And then tell me what you perceive each time. It can be one word or several sentences. And I'm not interested in quotes you might find interesting. I want MEANING. There is a seriously good prize for the best answers, which I will share in a new blog post.

It frightens me to death (truly it does) how little time we ALL spend repeat watching films. And there are ways of watching films from everyday life do decode meaning (separate post). Transcriptions only tell a quarter of the story and one view of a film will yield nothing more than what any lay-person can see. There is no short cut. And it's important for client side people to dedicate some time each week to watching and thinking - don't just rely on your consultants.

Now to my dinner in Milan. I was enjoying an evening out with fellow delegates from Qual360 and happened to sit opposite a US colleague who I knew nothing about - I had no idea what he did.

"Does your platform," he asked between mouthfuls, "allow you to add different codes to the same sequence of video?"
"Do you mean giving different codes to different sections of various clips and then being able to view all of the cuts/codes end to end in one go?"
"Exactly what I mean!"
"Not really - we don't usually receive entries longer than 3 minutes."
"Well, our platform does!" He replied triumphantly.

I nearly choked on my Ravioli.

"You have a mobile research platform?" I asked.
"Not exactly... we can't send video like you... yet." Then he chuckled to himself before adding. "You know what though? No one ever uses that feature!"

He went on to tell me how much time and effort they had invested.

Incidentally, one of the wonderful things about Qual360 - where I met this and many other like minded people - is that they are small events and very intimate. So lots of frank and honest sharing takes place, especially over food and wine.

The interesting thing about this exchange is that there appears to be two distinct way of thinking about video.

1) Code/transcribe and cut it to use the correct sections for illustration
2) Watch and watch again to begin to 'see' what others have not seen and think what others have not thought.

The former lends itself to quantitative thinking and the former to qualitative thinking. And as harsh as this may sound, if you don't have time to watch films, don't set them as tasks for your respondents in the first place. Stick with audio and pictures. Seriously.



  1. Seriously love this blog and your work. Here are my observations:

    First viewing: Can't remember what I saw. I was listening more. He likes the human face (so he says).
    Second viewing: why does he walk around the far side of the museum store? How is he deciding where to go? Is he pausing where other people are?
    Third viewing: He is not stopping at all! Everyone else is pausing to face the portraits they are viewing. He just gives a quick glance as he walks by.
    Meaning: This museum trip was a task... just something to check off the list as quickly as possible.

  2. I couldnt agree more. when I see a film I really like, I will usually watch it more than once and I am always struck by what I missed the first time, the clues that the filmmaker intentionally (and sometime unintentionally) put in. I still pick up on little things that I never caught in some of my favorite films.

    When I watch a videoeth for first time I listen mostly to what the subject is saying and take in visually what is going on for context. The second time i watch more visually than verbally ( sometime I will turn the sound off). the third time I put the two together and try to make sense of the whole picture.

    I found the museum piece really interesting. The first pass what caught my attention (verbally) was the art teacher talking about connection to people. He was alone. I was somewhat aware and curious of crowd dynamics in the background particularly since he was talking about connecting.

    The second time through I watched crowd dynamics. When he was on the street he was surrounded by people in groups that seemed to be connected with each other. they were walking with each other, they may or may not have been enjoying each others company, it was all very casual and side-by-side. However his body language seemed like he was a little isolated and he seemed a bit disconnected as he walked in the street.

    In the museum, though it had a good number of people in it, they too seemed rather solitary. However the solitude struck me as more contemplative in nature. I noticed how people were coming out of the the museum one by one and they seemed a little disconnected to me. Almost like they were re-entering the world after being in a inward mental state.

    It struck me interesting that he was not conditioned to go to a museum as a child. he found it rather boring. Perhaps it was a connection thing.

    The final pass brought me to some overall observations and then of course questions. We all feel a need for human connection in our everyday lives. but those kinds of connections dont often offer the opportunity to study (stare) or close examination. Portraits do. there's more of a comfort level. It struck me that much of the museum experience was about connecting. I was struck by how everyone in the gallery seemed to be trying to connect in a very human way with the portraits, looking for meaning and resonance.

    I wondered if museums perhaps give us the permission and luxury of looking deep into faces in a way that we normally couldnt do on the street and thereby allow us to connect with our own humanity and more intense and deep levels.